Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Nature of Nature

On Sunday, we went to the Uptown, an 800-seat, classic movie house in DC, to see the new King Kong with Deborah and Dave. It was good, clean fun, except the bug scene, which I have to admit to cringing through and watching parts of through almost-closed eyes and even turning away at times. I figure it this way: I'm a big boy now, I don't need to prove to anyone that I can take it--especially when I don't want to and don't have to take it. Yeah, bugs. Hate 'em. Big bugs--can't stand 'em. After we were past that, it was on to the scenes that everyone remembers from the movie: Kong in New York City.

After the movie, as we were wandering around, looking for a place to get something to nosh (Dino, across the street, had just shut down for brunch and wasn't seating for dinner for another two hours), we got to talking about the movie. While there were certainly holes that you could drive a truck through--where were the Skull Island residents when the boat crew was bringing Kong out through the gate, for example? And while there are strong racial, and quite possibly racist, elements throughout the story, what I was watching throughout the film was the way that nature and civilization interacted.

The film starts with a montage of NYC that includes shots of steelworkers raising and placing large beams in skyscrapers, demonstrating that industry, technology, and civilization are booming. Once we move to the island, the animals--and bugs--of the island are no match for the rifles and machine guns of the ship's crew, even though it appears that bullets would be far too small to stop any of the nonhuman residents of the island. Even Kong is felled by the technology of the crew--a harpoon and a bottle of chloroform. Back in NYC, the only time that Kong appears to enjoy himself is when he is in Central Park--a sculpted, manicured simulation of nature. Prior to that, he is roused from his slumber (nobody thought to have extra sedative on hand at the premiere? even a loose bottle of chloroform? a rather large plot hole or further evidence of the hubris of Denham and the other characters?) by flashbulbs, and following the skating in Central Park scene, he takes to the air via the Empire State Building, which is surely the largest symbol of the successes of industry around, from which he is shot down by airplanes, which were at that time a remarkable new technology. And this whole chase was brought about by Denham--a filmmaker at a time when motion pictures were also seen as one of the great achievements of technology. Throughout the film, it seems, technology and civilization triumph over nature.

Ironically, of course, technology and civilization, which teach us that there are rational, well ordered solutions for any problem, are the cause of and at the heart of all the troubles and are shown to be the least effective at dealing with the chaos that they create. After all, if Denham was not chasing adventure as a filmmaker, and if the tramp steamer, guns, harpoons, chloroform, and so forth were not available, none of this would have come to pass. Once Kong has been discovered, Ann Darrow, separated from all forms of technology, learns to communicate with him, in large part by following her instincts rather than her rational initial reaction (run like hell). Although he does not always bend to her will, Kong is mindful of her, as best he can understand her. When they return to NYC, the same is true, and it appears that she is able to calm him and make him behave in a predictable fashion, which could have brought a happy and peaceful resolution to the film. But her ability to do this is not to be believed. It is neither rational nor well-ordered, and so the problem that is Kong must be solved in the only way that technology allows: he must be killed. But, what is Kong in all of this? And what is Ann Darrow? Denham?

It seems to me that Kong is the monster that we call nature, with Darrow playing the stereotypical female role of instinctive, nurturing, irrational communicator and Denham playing the role of daring rationalist who not only controls nature, but destroys it. Is the movie, then, a warning of the consequences of industrialization, which we call "development" these days? Or, is it a celebration of our continued dominance over nature through the spread of civilization? At the center of the film are Kong and Darrow who discover first that industrialized people can live with nature and then that nature can live in an industrialized world, but they are both punished for this belief with the death of Kong, so it seems that we are to believe that industry, civilization, technology, and rational thought will continue to triumph over nature--and there is no one in the film who seems to mourn that victory.

There are, of course, other interpretations--perhaps this is a horror film and Darrow is the "final girl," as Jamie Lee Curtis was in Halloween. Perhaps this is a story solely about race. Or, perhaps it's many things wrapped up in one movie, which is perhaps why it's so compelling to so many people. However compelling, if any of those elements are reflections of ourselves and our society, I'm not sure that they're very flattering.

This interpretation was influenced, I'm sure, by my listening to a Soundprint show, The Public Green and the Poor, on Saturday. It's a fascinating look at how we view the natural world and define people, their character, and their morals by their connections with nature and civilization. I'll write more about that later. (And then, kids, we'll ruin the movie Curious George with a look at the imperialist and colonial overtones of his capture and subsequent adventures!)


  1. Anonymous3:04 PM

    Now now have u seen the Curious George trailer? He stows awau he is not captured, at least I think not because the cowboy is shocked when he shows up.

    PS did Johnny Harris do the Kong music?

  2. Oh, I'm supposed to view what I link to? That seems like work, which I thought wasn't required of bloggers. In my defense, although I haven't seen the trailer yet (our DSL is down right now, since we're between providers), I have read the books. In fact, I have the entire CG collection on my shelves--the sum of the H.A. Rey oeuvre, if you will--including extensions of the original (pop-up books). Perhaps the CG movie will be a valuable interpretation of the text, like the recent Pride & Prejudice--we'll just have to wait and see. (Does CG kiss Mr. Darby? I can't wait to see.)

  3. Anonymous4:34 PM

    I knew you were big GeorgeHead, thats why I posted that, thought you maybe hadnt seen the trailer.I think it has been updated to meet todays monkey stealing sensative viewer.

  4. btw, check out the fat fingers on Bradstein...I was just re-reading this since we just saw P&P again tonight...it's Mr. Darcy, not Darby.

    Pretty fat to skip over a key, but on this Treo thumboard, it's not the first time, either.