A Gorilla and a Girl, Twirling on the Ice?
Age Rating: 10 +
I watched the 2005 version of "King Kong," directed by Carl Denham, enjoying the adventure, the drama, and the special effects, suspending my disbelief, until I came to the part when Kong takes Ann Darrow to New York City's Cental Park for an evening twilight frolick. That was when I thought, "Enough is enough": here is Kong, in the midst of his tirade, the mayhem and the destruction, strolling into the park, where he captures a moment with his girl, in complete and peaceful silence, without tumult or interruption-- the enemy soldiers suddenly absent from the scene-- as he begins to slide and spin on his buttocks along the thin frozen pond, all the while holding his dreamy-eyed blonde who giggles and stares into his large liquid eyes. "How silly," I thought. "Ridiculous"!
But several days later, my opinion of the scene changed when I read a short story named "Misery," by Anton Chekhov. It is about a poor, physically and emotionally worn Russian sledge-driver whose son has died just days ago. He spends his work-day picking up passengers with whom he tries to pass the time by relating his anguish and bereavement over the death of his son. But no one hears him. They are cruel and obnoxious, and spend their ride deriding and chastising him instead. Catharsis and communication prove futile, and at the end of the story, he is left emotionally barren and isolated. His only success is his attempted discourse with his lanky horse. The story is a scathing commentary on the cruelty and indifference of modern man in civilized society.
Chekhov's tale made me recognize the wisdom of the scene in "King Kong": that the seeming implausibility of the scene-- the silent rendezvouz of a monster ape and a girl in love, despite the noisy violence all around-- is the very point and beauty of the story: that love and communion are in fact possible, even between the most unlikely of partners, and during the most difficult of circumstances. The scene offered the answer of hope that the Chekhov story failed to provide. I was reminded, too, of a scene in the penultimate chapter of James Joyce's "Ulysses," when the Homeric Leopold Bloom returns home after rescuing Stephen Daedalus from the ghostly terror of Nighttown. In his flat, the two men commune over a Eucharistic cup of cocoa, the rest of Dublin's citizens continuing their hustling and bustling, immersed in their selfish hatred and insatiable greed, making the surrounding city a virtual hell. (1) And I thought of another one of my favorite writers, Virginia Woolf, and how both she and the characters in her novels struggle with feelings of isolation, even in large gatherings, among friends and family.
What can I learn from such experiences? What can apparently different forms of art teach me, be it a modern masterpiece of literature or a B-movie re-make? Perhaps they offer an invitation to participate in the unknowable and infinite, even amid the mundane and ordinary; perhaps they allow me to accept the joyous oddities and complexities of life, even if doing so generates more questions than answers; perhaps they permit me to to eschew fixed beliefs and philosophical extremes, to take the middle way and see the world's events as neither meaningless and random, nor naively harmonious and unrealistically optimistic. Today, I ask myself if I have the courage and the freedom to live in the moment, to be that savage, civilized gorilla with a warm and tender heart, swinging my gal with an open arm across the thin ice, in the center of the bustling urban jungle. I must surmise it is both necessary and easier than I think.
1. Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist and James Joyce scholar, saw Joyce's canon as a tripartite structure, resembling a modern-day "Divine Comedy," with the "Ulysses" as the "Inferno," "Finnegans Wake" as the "Purgatorio," and a planned, unwritten work as the transcendent "Paradiso."