So much, in fact, that I grab any and every inspiration I can find to love her better. And one of the most powerful sources I’ve tapped into in recent memory is Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong. Yes, the giant ape movie. What can I say, I’m a geek.
In the closing scene of the flick, as the crowds gawk over the hulking corpse of Kong splayed at the foot of the Empire State building, a passerby comments, “They got ‘im.” Meaning, the planes did. But Carl, the sleazy moviemaker, whispers, “No, it was beauty, killed the beast.” As he said earlier, “Lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty, and beauty stayed his hand. And from that day forward, he was as one dead.”
As I watched the movie, I asked myself, What is a real man? What is it that Shauna (my wife) truly needs from me?
Sometimes the most powerful message in a piece of art is the one we didn’t realize was there as it takes on a life in itself, overwhelming all the clumsy things we tried to say on purpose. This is one of those times, one of those movies.
Ann Darrow is the beauty Kong falls for, but this particular version of the film does something none of the earlier iterations do: Ann falls in love with the great ape. In the end she risked her life trying to save him, trying the hold on to the true love he represents. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As the movie begins we see the world has let Ann down, leaving her to sink into the beige obscurity of the great depression. She’s a stage actor dreaming of being noticed, aching to get her big break. Unfortunately the theatre that employs her goes broke, tossing her to the streets.
“You’re not bad looking,” a slimy businessman advises her. “Use that.” He steers her toward a “skin” gig but she can’t bring herself to stoop that low. Still, the cry of her heart wrenches my soul: Why does no one notice me?
Anne believes she’s been noticed by Carl the film producer, but he puts her in harm’s way on mysterious skull island because he is seeing her through what she can do for him and the film he’s trying to make.
Next Anne thinks she’s been noticed by Jack the script-writer, who falls in love with her but is too afraid say the words.
Her monstrous captor, Kong, is the only ‘man’ in her life who sees her for who she is. Early on Ann thinks she has to perform for him too, just like she has for everyone else. The show works for a few minutes, but Kong quickly tires of her antics and lets her escape. Good, right?
No. Not good.
Totally alone in the world, Ann wanders into a bevy of hungry T-Rexes. She’s nearly eaten alive, until Kong stomps in to the rescue, enduring savage wounds to save her from their jaws. As she watches him protect her, Ann is awakened to Kong’s heart—for her—and comes willingly with him back to his lair. Atop the island she pauses long enough to look deep into his eyes. The wonder written on her face is stunning. You can see her realize, He sees me. He treasures me. He will fight for me.
Which helped me realize something myself: This is how a woman wants to be seen. This is how Shauna wants me to see her.
But on with the movie. The unlikely pair spend a glorious sunset in each other’s arms, simply being still together. She falls asleep next to his muscled breast. Of course, this isn’t romance in the sexual sense—but it introduces all the stuff that makes true romance what it is.
Finally, just when Ann no longer needs to be rescued, Jack arrives. Typical. Thinking he’s solving her problem, Jack helps her ‘escape’ the clutches of Kong atop his mountain lair.
Does the ape just let her go? No. He charges madly through the jungle on a mission to get his beauty back. He can’t live without her. Even after Kong’s capture, he sits in chains in a New York theatre, his spirit broken—not because he’s off the island, but because he misses Ann.
And you know what? She misses him too. A few blocks away we find Ann on a chorus line, a cookie cutter girl playing a role anyone could play. She’s dying inside until she is reunited with Kong, who takes her to the top of the world once again. When the ape looks at her, she begins to believe again, begins to see herself through his eyes once more. It’s breathtaking to watch.
As it turns out Jack does have a real man somewhere there within him, but he needs the untamed passion of Kong to draw it out. He has to fight through both his own spinelessness and the passion of the ape to finally see Ann for who she is—someone worth fighting for, the love he so deeply needs. As the mighty Kong slips off of the top of the building to fall to his death, Jack steps in without doing any of the work, taking the beast’s place holding Ann in his arms.
Granted, Jack is becoming a man. His own fierceness is emerging. But I still wonder in the closing moments whether he’ll prove as loyal and life-giving as his primate competition. I find myself hoping Jack will love her like she needs him to. Ann has now tasted the real thing and will probably not settle for less. Kong saved her—not from the planes, but from the lie that she was beginning to believe about herself, doubting her God-given beauty and what she had to offer the world.
It’s a rare gift when a movie speaks this clearly. And you know what? Our marriage is better for it.