As a child, I was fascinated with monsters. And not just any monster would do—it had to be big, ferocious, and savage, capable of drawing fearful gasps from its beholders. It had to have sharp fangs and talons, and if it could spit acid or breathe flame, that was even better. Shape-shifting ability and bulletproof skin constituted an additional bonus.
King Kong, the monstrous ape in Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 classic, fits the bill nicely. From the moment Kong first appears on the movie screen to snatch blond heroine Ann Darrow (played by Naomi Watts) from the sacrificial post of the Skull Island natives, we know we are in for a ride. Kong, a 25-foot package of black fur, deafening roars, and bestial wrath, shakes the ground with each stomp and swats aside palm trees as he walks. When Kong is on the screen, he rivets our attention with magnetic power. Whether bashing dinosaurs, climbing the Empire State Building, or enjoying the sunset, Kong is the star of the movie and the main hero, as Peter Jackson intended. In contrast with Kong’s arresting presence, most of the human cast is expendable. After the initial 70 minutes, where Jackson sets up Carl Denham (played by Jack Black) as a fugitive filmmaker who travels to Skull Island to “view the beast unshackled,” the human actors seem to have little to do but die. And die they do – in horrible, fantastic, and altogether pointless ways. Denham’s filmmakers and the ship crew launch a doomed expedition to recover Ann from the clutches of Kong, only to be crushed underfoot by a brontosaurus stampede, dashed to smithereens by Kong himself, and finally torn apart by three-foot cockroaches and car-sized crabs.
Meanwhile, King Kong’s curiosity with Ann begins to develop into love. He chooses to let her roam free instead of eating her, and swings to her rescue when she is attacked by Tyrannosaurus Rexes in the jungle. In a crowd-pleasing action sequence, Kong fights three T-Rexes simultaneously while protecting Darrow from their salivating jaws. As Kong rips apart the last dinosaur and stands atop its carcass, bellowing and beating his chest, we see how Ann begins to appreciate the unique ape. Kong is truly a king among beasts and lord of the Skull Island jungle. Powerful and savage in dealing punishment to his foes, Kong is also a loyal protector and a savior to the woman he loves. With unparalleled loyalty, Kong follows Darrow to the very shores of the island when she is rescued, but in Kong’s eyes kidnapped, by writer Jack Driscoll (played by Adrien Brody). Even after being hit by bottle after bottle of chloroform and harpooned in the knee, Kong never gives up his attempt to rescue Ann, crawling on all fours towards her boat before passing out in the end.
This image of a loyal protector and all-powerful savior figure in the form of an animal brings to mind the lion Aslan from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. In the first book of the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which came out in theaters earlier this year, Mr. Beaver describes Aslan: “I tell you he is the King of the wood… Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts?… He isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Like Kong, Aslan is the indisputable King of the wood and the Beasts, not “safe” but “good” nonetheless. In Lewis’ tale, Aslan returns to Narnia as a savior, freeing the land from the 100-year winter of the White Witch and offering himself up as a sacrifice on the Stone Table in the place of Edmund. As King of the Beasts, Aslan is a dangerous and powerful foe, leading the Narnians into battle and slaying the White Witch with his own paws. A protector of Narnia and those he loves, Aslan is the perfect savior figure.
While not nearly as noble as Aslan, Kong bears many similarities with the lion. Both show deep, sacrificial love toward humans. Aslan so loves Edmund that he is willing to die in his place on the Stone Table so that Edmund might be saved, while Kong’s love for Ann drives him to fight dinosaurs and face certain death by human weapons in order to rescue her. In the rescue attempt, Kong is eventually subdued by the ship crew’s chloroform and transported to New York City to be displayed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” As Kong escapes the theatre and searches for Ann in the streets of the city, the film closes in with unforgiving intensity on his death. We follow Kong as he runs from mechanized infantry in Times Square, to tanks in Central Park, and finally to his inevitable death atop the Empire State Building, his body riddled with machine gun fire from fighter planes.
Yet while Kong is being strafed by planes and gradually grows weaker, Ann chooses to climb the tower to stay close to Kong even after he repeatedly pushes her back into the building. Darrow remains at his side continuously, from the beginning of the agonizing death sequence, when the first bullets slam into Kong’s body, to the very end of the movie when Kong releases his final breath and slips off the tower. In the moment of Kong’s death, we see another striking similarity—both Aslan and Kong are protective of and loved by young women, as the women—Ann with Kong, and Lucy and Susan with Aslan—are the only ones who remain with them as death approaches.
Yet here, at the moment of death for these two figures, the similarities between Aslan and King Kong end. Kong dies a permanent death, hurtling 85 stories down to crash in the streets of New York with the finality of no return. Aslan, on the other hand, dies and rises again to finish the fight against evil and save Narnia. While Kong and Aslan may both be kings of the jungle, King Kong is a flawed savior – one who is too human, so to speak. Kong made himself King of Skull Island by force and does not understand anything outside of his animal kingdom. Ruling by might and size, Kong was, in the end, doomed to fail and die like all mortal beings. On the other hand, Aslan created Narnia and understands perfectly the world he rules. Far from ruling by might or size —human concepts—Aslan was simply the True King, the perfect savior from the beginning of time. Consequently, Aslan is able to resurrect himself after death and save the Narnians from evil. For all of Kong’s might and power, he is unable to save anyone, not even himself, in the end.
What makes King Kong a flawed savior? The nature of his love. Kong’s love for Ann is an all-too-familiar human love – one that is born out of Ann’s beauty and characterized by natural instinct. Kong’s love is something intrinsic that he cannot explain or grasp, but which draws him inexorably toward Ann and ultimately toward his death. As Carl Denham concludes upon viewing Kong’s battered corpse in the street: “twas beauty that killed the beast.” Only the love Aslan bears for Edmund and his fellow Narnians – the love of Christ – can save a person beyond even the doors of death. It is this love that King Kong lacks. Kong’s love, derived from instinct and based upon superficial beauty, is limited by his understanding of Ann. Kong does not know who she is, who he himself is, or even what the world is and the place love has in the greater scheme of events. In the end, we see the King of the Jungle is just a much larger version of everyday man. Unable to understand how limited we are, we human beings often believe that we can love, protect, and save the people around us. In reality, we are easily defeated, and even the strongest of us, like King Kong, cannot endure because of our limited nature and our inability to understand and master the world around us. Kong loved Ann for her beauty, believing he could save and protect her from dangers he could not understand, and paid the price with his own life.
Christ, in comparison, does not love us for anything. Rather, Christ, embodied in Aslan, loves us despite everything—despite our sins, our ugliness, our very nonbeauty in his eyes. Christ understands us completely —knowing our weakness, our sin, all the things that are ugly and all the things that are beautiful, the parts of us that are like King Kong and the parts of us that are like Ann. Christ has such a perfect understanding of the world and of our sad situation, that He alone can be the perfect savior and have perfect love, for He knows all our faults and knew exactly what He was dying for when He died on the cross. Aslan knew the price of Edmund’s sinful betrayal, and still loved the boy completely as he submitted to death under the White Witch’s knife. In contrast, Kong could not comprehend why he died, and only saw Ann’s beauty, not her flaws. Thus his love was limited, as all human love is. What is true love? Being willing to give up everything for someone despite their imperfections and offenses against us (as Aslan gave up his life for Edmund despite his betrayal), not for the good things about them (as Kong loved Ann for her beauty).
This is the essence of Christ’s love. As Christians watching this movie, what can we take away from an overly-indulgent, overly-long, and overlyextravagant blockbuster flick about a 25-foot tall ape who fights dinosaurs and bats airplanes off the top of the Empire State Building? A new appreciation of the power and uniqueness of Christ’s love for us all, and how difficult it really is to be a savior to even one person, let alone all the masses of humanity.
Jonathan Lai ‘06, former Business Manager, is an Economics concentrator in Currier House.