English Composition
Washington State University


[Immediately after viewing the film, composition students in English 101, knowing that they would eventually have to write a formal interpretive analysis, were asked to offer some initial, ideally valuable, commentary. Their comments appear below in excerpted and italicized form. My own commentary on their commentary follows.]

kind of dumb because of the way characters are acting

[A vague and worthless observation, unless we ask and answer some questions: characters acting dumb how? Their overdramatic, self-important chatter?: "Yeah, that's a track alright!" "It's Kong alright!" "Just listen to those birds -- it's dawn alright!" "Keep quiet so he doesn't see us!" "Say, just look at the size of that brute!" "Boy, one swipe of that!" Dumb? Yes. But here was another way of expressing it:]

If the men are tracking, shouldn't they be quiet?

[Exactly! Why don't they? Obviously the director wanted to increase the sense of chaos with such noise; but consider further. Do all people in the film yammer endlessly like this? The natives have exciting rituals, but also keep a reverent silence when waiting for Kong. So look also at the result. In the world of the film, the white explorers seem unable to stop themselves -- they have to comment, usually about the size of everything they see, or about the damage it could do. We can add to this.]

How did Kong end up with dinosaurs?

[On the surface, of course, this is just the fantasy of the film -- big things that can kill you on an uncharted island. But the question does point out how Kong is different, and this is useful. How is he different from other monsters here? Other observations offer examples:]

Kong is a mammal instead of a reptile.
He comes to the sound of the gong.
King Kong must protect his woman.

[In some ways, this goes beyond animal instinct. Indeed, Kong seems more and more human as the film proceeds, which raises some ethical questions: The natives do kidnap Ann; but their relationship with Kong is what? They consider him as what? Is there a problem with this relationship? White society considers Kong what? How do they justify this to themselves? We're on the verge.]

If Kong is a giant gorilla, why the enormous fangs?
Why does a brontosaurus (a vegetarian species) attack and eat humans?

[The easy cheese-out here is to dismiss these as "dumb" mistakes, or as "totally unrealistic" (what exactly is a "realistic" dinosaur scene?). But the "errors" at least reflect (in the film) a way of seeing the world. So these reflect what view of the natural order? Once we're past the village wall, every living creature seems intent upon eating the white humans (and note how the natives and Kong innately value the white woman). So, on these grounds, what is the final perspective of the film?! How aware does the film finally seem about this?]


Why "King Kong" and not just "Kong"?

Status and power? Bull; to the natives he is a god. King = white male power-politics version of god, or god politicized so that we can manipulate it. [Cp. "Tyrannosaurus Rex."]

What is the final moral of the film?

At the opening of the film we read this proverb: "And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty and from that time he stayed his hand from killing and was as one dead." Aboard ship, Denham harps on this beauty/beast theme (in development for movie, probably), regarding, as a joke first, Ann and the small monkey chained up, and then concerning Jack losing his edge (going "soft"). "I'm goin' right into a theme song here," he admits, concerning the beast who "could lick the world," but who "forgot his wisdom and the little fellahs licked 'im." [Wisdom?] At the show, the press stumbles into his set-up: "Beauty and the Beast, huh?" "That's it! Play up that angle! Beauty and the Beast. . . . That's your story, boys." Finally, the last words of the film are those of Denham saying, "It was Beauty killed the Beast."

So what is the final perspective of the film?
("Perhaps if you didn't see it, you could scream.")

Despite all the heavyhanded and sanctimonious moralizing inside the film (almost exclusively by the reprehensible Carl Denham) which has more or less been accepted at face value ever since the making of this film, King Kong is a movie about P.R. The film depicts the white male's cultural blindness to all else, even to "gods," which is what "King" Kong represents to the reverent natives (who are no goofier than the white explorers). Denham and the audience are blind to the crucifixion of this god, symbolically represented by Kong manacled to a wooden structure--so blind that the cheesy moral can pass unquestioned finally, which is the true horror, the real monstrosity.

King Kong