Beauty Tamed the Beast: King Kong

HALLOWEEN 2014: BY HANNAH PRICE

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As long as there have been stories, there have been scary stories. As long as there have been scary stories, there have been monsters. And as long as there have been monsters, there have been two kinds of monsters: perceived monster and actual monster. What makes a monster? Appearance? Size? Intent? Action? The dictionary defines “monster” in two ways, as “an imaginary creature that is large, ugly and frightening,” and/or as “an inhumanely cruel or wicked person.” By the first definition, the infamous character of King Kong is indeed a monster. He is very large, ugly (if you don’t like the look of gorillas) and indeed frightening. Though not driven by evil motivations that would brand him a complete monster by definition, his innate animalistic instincts and behaviors seem almost cruel at times, at least in the beginning.

The character of King Kong has been around since the early 1930’s. Merian C. Cooper created the gigantic ape for the 1933 film starring Fay Wray as Ann Darrow, Bruce Cabot as Jack Driscoll and Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham (using stop motion puppetry and models for the lord of the monkeys). It is cheesy but visually and technically groundbreaking, well accepted by audiences then and now considered a classic. The popularity of the character coined as “the eighth wonder of the world” resulted in many sequels over the years, remakes and adaptations. Japanese filmmakers even paired Kong with Godzilla for an epic 1962 movie monster showdown in which King Kong was the conquering hero.

Audiences all over the world have come to embrace the giant “Megaprimatus kong,” perhaps because of all movie monsters out there, King Kong is one of a kind. There are dozens of lizards, dinosaurs, overgrown mutated animals and insects, creepy crawlies and crazies, but only one King Kong. Although each director of a Kong movie differs on exactly how large the primate king is (his height ranges from 18 feet to 80), he is still one large angry monkey.

On his home of Skull Island, Kong is the undisputed king of the large animals, worshipped by the natives and defeater of many a dinosaur. He is very loud, extremely strong and can be incredibly dangerous. The female protagonist of the Kong centric films, Ann Darrow, first meets Kong as a human sacrifice from the superstitious and violent island natives. The natives have come to know and fear Kong’s might and penchant for violence when disturbed and leave Ann to die by Kong’s hand. She is undoubtedly and with good reason terrified of the great beast that snatches her and takes her deep into the frightening landscapes of Skull Island.

While King Kong is a monster by definition, he is much more than a one-dimensional villain. Indeed, he is not a villain at all, as the long suffering Ann comes to realize. Her journey with Kong on and off the island leads her to a much greater understanding of who the great monkey king really is. To quote character Carl Denham, he is “neither beast nor man.” Kong is extremely intelligent, capable of feeling and expression with almost human like tendencies at times, although those tendencies are tempered with his animal nature and innate aggression. Ann is the conduit through which the audience comes to understand and sympathize with the eighth wonder of the world. Peter Jackson represents well the strange but sweet relationship that forms between Kong and Ann in the 2005 film adaption. Jackson’s portrayal of Kong as a old, grizzled, world weary, battle scarred giant gorilla whose ancient heart is tempered by an intelligent but timid woman is a captivating character journey, despite it’s great length (over 3 hours).

From their first frightening meeting to the moment where Ann wins over Kong with her juggling skills, to their fateful final journey in New York, the budding relationship between woman and beast is the sweet and compelling center of the entire story. The best scene, which is also my favorite, occurs shortly before Kong’s tragic end. The sweet ice skating scene between Ann and Kong in Central Park is a truly eye opening moment when so much emotion and capacity for joy is revealed in Kong’s expressions. The monster is gone, replaced by the creature Ann has grown to care for, a being of courage, affection and protectiveness. It makes the finale atop the Empire State building so much more heartbreaking because the audience can experience the sadness Ann feels when Kong is brought down by gunfire and falls to his death on the New York streets below.

There are other real monsters in the story, such as dinosaurs, giant insects and superstitious natives. I would also argue that the antihero of Carl Denham quite possibly stretches into the realm of villain with his pride, disregard for other’s feelings and safety, his run from the law, his carelessness and his shameless pursuit of fame and fortune. Bruce Baxter is also a significant antihero, contrasted against the writer Jack Driscoll who turns out to be the story’s most courageous and self-sacrificing heroic figure. Nature is a significant antagonist, propelling the plot forward and causing more than its fair share of pitfalls and problems for the story’s main characters. But when it comes right down to it, King Kong is such an attention grabbing personality that all else pales in comparison… the heroes, villains, and the forces that try to get in his way. Kong even leaves life on his own terms, atop a famous tall structure, silhouetted by a gorgeous sunset, secure in the knowledge that he has successfully rescued the lady he let into his giant gorilla heart. I don’t know about you, but I see much more hero than monster in that kind of ending. ☠

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Hannah Price thrives on creativity and love to be inspired by the creativity of others. Her passion is storytelling in all its forms of expression. Some of those loves are American Sign Language, theater, film, audio drama and the varied mediums of art (painting, drawing, etc.). She wants to be involved in film production someday, as she is already involved in theater production and would like to be able to turn her hobbies into a full time occupation. 

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