"Did you see us fighting? No? TRAP!!!!!!!" Want the context? Then I guess you'll just have to buy the Serenity DVD and watch the outtakes now bluh.
So last week I was talking to my favorite fetus-spitter in the whole hemisphere, Garrett Shikuma, about that prehensile delight of gorilla filmmaking known as King Kong (the P. Jackie edition, naturally) and GShik mentioned how the whole heaving thing completely held up on the second viewing. The only exception was that he couldn't understand the screen time given to the relationship between the black guy (was his name Hayes? For the purposes of this post it will be) and Jimmy. At the time, I gave a pathetic speculation on the why and wherefore of this particular friendship, but even then I knew I was reaching.
Well, over Christmas I took my family to see Kong and altho due to a power outtage in Escondido that shorted out the entire theater just as the epic tyranosaur battle concluded (GROAR!), I kept Garrett's predicament in mind the whole time I watched the first half of the movie again and by Saint George's dragon I think I may have figured it out.
If there's any two things this movie is about, it's desperation and relationships. Set during the Depression era, the movie shows us a time when public-wide poverty left us with nothing but the companionship of each other. Even when you look at the film's opening montage, the longest-held image at the zoo is of two monkeys hanging together on a branch after which we see shots such as two hobos sleeping head-to-head on juxtapositioned benches, children playing stickball together, etc. We're told that in desperate times, the only way people survive is by bonding together to take our minds off our squalid surroundings. And our leading protagonists need as strong relationships as they can get because they're as desperate as they come--Naomi Watts is literally starving from unemployment, Jack Black in anything he does to salvage his career, Adrien Brody in quartering himself in an animal cage just to finish a B-movie screenplay, the ship's captain as he's willing to endanger his crew by being bullied by a mad filmmaker, heck, even Kong is desperate in that he's the last of his species. These characters latch onto each other to escape their lonely, troubled lives but these pair-ups don't seem to last because there's a monkey on the back of each relationship, and it's not Kong. The problem is that while many of these characters match with some kind of mate to ease their current misery of a larger problem looming over their heads, many of these characters dream of a fabulous future meaning that as soon as opportunity strikes, they're gonna abandon the "now" along those people associated with it that helped them thru this troubled time. This is why poor Naomi keeps getting let down--she's not looking for fame and fortune, she's just trying to survive in the now. This is probably why she hits it off with the Brody--like her, he's not dreaming of lobster dinners and Model T motor rides, he just wants to create theatre. The only difference is that he is only desperate in that he does what's necessary to create (aka, he has the luxury of not starving for his craft) whereas Naomi does what's necessary to survive. And because of this, she has a stronger and truer character, an indomitable spirit--she may be hungry, but she won't go nudey to compromise her soul (all that she has left in the world) whereas Brody's a successful playwright but he'll let Jack Black lock him in a cage to dictate a screenplay. But likewise, Naomi's sense of survival is what lends her such a powerful bond with Kong--she's a pseudo-hobo ekeing out a living in the concrete jungle; he's an animal fighting for life in the jungle jungle. But whereas everyone else is trying to abandon their poor, simple lives, Kong, being a wild creature, teaches Naomi to embrace this existence therefore teaching her to embrace herself as she is and not a noble pipedream of what she can be. In the entire movie, it's not the glamorous moments such as becoming a screen starlet or romancing her creative hero that make Naomi happiest, it's the littler, simpler moments like working the vaudeville stage, sleeping in Kong's hand, or skating on the ice with him in Central Park. Since she's the only one to really get to know Kong, to see his vulnerable side, she's the only one who receives such self revelation and contentment making her happy in the reality of now with his company instead of torturing herself with an imaginary ideal she can never attain. Likewise, by treating him like an equal, Naomi teaches Kong that he can be the gentle creature gorillas are meant to be instead of the savage monster facade he had to assume for the pressures of retaining his king of jungle status. These two characters can truly be themselves around each other and since that's all either character really wants in life, to just be themselves, they share the strongest relationship of the film.
With all that out of the way, let's look at the other "monkey-backed" pair-ups. The first of the movie is Naomi's vaudeville family, with old Sneezy as the father figure. Sure, she's not making any money, but she's surrounded by like-minded performers doing what they love, so she's happy living "in the act," trusting in daddy-Sneezy to provide for the family and sustain it. Unfortunately, by not living in the now and with financial setbacks looming over his head, Sneezy dreams of returning to his glory days in Chicago and therefore sells out the theatre to try and escape his "now" and therefore abandoning Naomi with it. Then we have Jack Black and his assistant. Jack latches onto his assistant because being a biscuit away from being washed-up with incessant studio threats looming over his head, it is his assistant who is the only one who actually listens to him and treats him as the respected artist that Jack envisions himself to be. But it's this envisioning that keeps putting Jack back in the pickle farm--to compensate for his constant failure he acts like the visionary director he isn't: he keeps thinking too big, setting standards he can never reach and envisioning epics he can never direct thus creating disaster for himself and everyone around him. He is so deluded in his daydreams, in fact, that he willingly expends the lives of his crew on Skull Island in the name of his picture, his legacy. And in his vehement fear of failure, to escape his hack status, when his film is finally demolished, he's willing to risk more lives to capture Kong just to see his name flashing on Broadway. And as soon as he becomes the toast of New York, what does he do? Abandon his assistant, the one person who stuck by him in his career crisis and thus leading to their awkward stare in the operahouse. Of course, part of this falling-out can be contributed to the assistant finally seeing Jack as a deluded egomaniac and separating himself from him and therefore becoming a sympathetic realist instead of a selfish dreamer. When we come to Brody and Naomi's relationship, it eventually falls apart not because a gorilla comes between them (which it does) and especially not because he hopes he's more than he is (because he doesn't), but because he sees her as more than she is. He falls for her because he envisions her to be an ideal, loving her for her potential as a glamorous movie and theater starlet instead of the poor, trusting woman and comedienne she is. But thru losing her he arcs and learns what he had and therefore learns to accept people for who they are and not for who they could become and he stands with her on top of the Empire State Building to say, "I understand now. I understand you. I understand what you've lost. I understand everything and altho you've lost everything, you haven't lost yourself. And that's the one thing I don't want to lose again." The Captain and Hayes. Being the loyal and professional sailor, Hayes follows whatever orders the Captain gives and the Captain respects Hayes as his most dependable crewman. But the Captain's back-monkey is his ship, the need to keep it going adventure after adventure to make a hefty profit. And because of this greed, he ultimately imperils Hayes and his whole crew by letting Jack Black manipulate him, and by the time he fully realizes you can't put a price on human life, it's too late and he's lost the best of his crew, with Hayes among the body count. And this brings us to the original point of this manifesto: why Hayes and Jimmy's relationship belongs in the film. As I see it, Hayes has lived nothing but a life of adventure making him the penultimate bad-ass. Granted, it's exciting, but has he ever experienced true love? Is life on the open sea anywhere to raise a family? Being raised on weaponry, wilderness, and swashbucklery, could he give this all up and join the real-world workforce even if he wanted to? The answer is probably no to all accounts and of course it's a regret and a morbid curiosity he always had to live with. Don't get me wrong. Hayes is amazing at his job and I do think he enjoys and accepts his station in life, but I also think that that "what if" is something that's always in the back of his mind. Jimmy, on the other hand, comes from an abusive background and has no real lot in life and therefore is the ultra-dreamer--to escape his past and lack of identity he sees life on the open-seas as an euphorically adventurous and optimistic dream. And being someone with no real identity and a thirst for bravery and excitement, it's only natural that he'd look up to Hayes. He wants to be like his "mentor" and therefore his back-monkey of infatuation is to become just like him which he feels he can only do by being as manly and courageous as possible. Hayes, altho finding his job respectable in its own way, does what Brody did to Naomi and sees unmatched potential in Jimmy and doesn't want him to live with the "what if" that plagues himself. Therefore, Hayes wants Jimmy to live a "real" life and become more than just a sailor--to seize opportunities and youth as Hayes himself never took advantage of. Their relationship fits into the movie because they're the anti-Kong and Naomi--whereas Kong and Naomi were able to see self-truth in each other, Jimmy and Hayes only see each other as ideals: Jimmy as the uncharted youth with all the world available for his success, and Hayes as a real-world Superman. Of course, being a relationship based on what-could-be instead of what-is, it ends badly: Hayes, living up to his adventurer stereotype, sacrifices himself so that Jimmy may live and tap into his unbridled potential. Unfortunately, I see Hayes' self-sacrifice as strengthening his romantic deification in Jimmy's eyes which will probably prod the lad even more so into becoming his hero, meaning he'll spend the his life trying to live up to the glorification of Hayes therefore cycling him into the self-destructive desperation of trying to be something he's not that plagues so many other characters in this movie.
And to clarify, I don't think this film's message is that dreaming and aiming high leads to disappointment--to the contrary, it's good to dream for the sake of self-betterment, but not to abandon your identity and roots. The problem with the dreamers in this movie is that they don't want to be better people, they just want to have better stations in life. Success shouldn't happen for the sake of escape, it should come from accepting and utilizing your self and surroundings and making the most of both. Recognize your potential but don't distance yourself from what you are. When you're not true to yourself, you ultimately deny yourself of success because you will never find yourself and therefore never find where you belong and become as incongruous as a 50 foot ape roaming the streets of New York. And when you become a fish outta water that big, that's when you get shot down by the biplanes. So once you know yourself, you'll know what you want in life and how to obtain it, even if it means climbing the Empire State Building or hijacking a boat to Skull Island to get it. Draw your dreams from motivation, not desperation and you'll be all right kids. Just don't get stepped on by a brontosaurus.
Well, I hope this has been on-base and has helped some Garrett. As far as the image, a cashier at work gave me a new pair of Doc Marten wingtips for absolutely spanking free, so her being a Tim Burton fan, I made this drawring for her as a thank you and I'm posting it as a thank you to those of you who actually read this whole post. Granted, there's a lot to this pic I don't like, but then there's also a lot I do, so I don't know how to finish this sentence. Til next time.
Your Scrumptious Spoonful of Supervillain Sugar,
"Dimension mean contradiction." --Robert McKee