Have you ever had that moment when you’re watching a movie or a TV show and out of nowhere it references something else that you’ve just learned or that you’re currently reading? This happened to me the other day and it was literally one of the most fantastic feelings that I’ve ever had the pleasure of feeling. The feeling is placed on the awesome scale somewhere between finding money on the ground and realizing you don’t have school the next day. In my case, I was watching Percy Jackson’s King Kong the other day and it made the most beautiful reference to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Upon hearing it, I soon realized that the connections between King Kong and Heart of Darkness were everywhere. This is a post about that amazing reference.
Jimmy:Why does Marlow keep going up the river? Why doesn’t he turn back?
Hayes: There’s a part of him that wants to Jimmy. A part deep inside himself that sounds a warning. But there’s another part that needs to know. To defeat the thing which makes him afraid. “We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were traveling in the night of first ages of those ages that are gone leaving hardly a sign, and no memories. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there, there you could look at a thing monstrous and free.”
Jimmy: It’s not an adventure story, is it, Mr. Hayes?
Hayes: No, Jimmy. It’s not.
Sweet Aunt Jemima’s pancakes that was a beautiful literary reference. It’s a perfect example of a director utilizing culture and easily blending it into their work. In the movie, the deckhand Jimmy reads Conrad’s Heart of Darkness on the voyage to the unknown and mysterious Skull Island. This is such a great reference because while he’s reading about the Belgian’s corrupt journey up the African Congo, his ship and crew are busy exploiting the island for its scenery and savage culture for the director’s film. Although Hayes and Jimmy are discussing Heart of Darkness, the conversation could easily apply to King Kong, and through the exchange, Peter Jackson warns us that King Kong is much more than an action flick.
In addition, King Kong plays out like Conrad’s novel through its use of two eerie settings: Skull Island and Manhattan. In both of these areas, the struggle to survive is just as dangerous as it is for Marlow on his journey along the Congo. Each one paints a perfect picture of darkness and corruption, the Congo with its imperialists and savages, Skull Island with its dinosaurs and voodoo inhabitants, and finally Manhattan with its depression-era extortion and raggedly poor inhabitants. When I think of the juxtaposition between Skull Island and Manhattan I think back to the quote Marlow said, “The earth seemed unearthly… We are accustomed to look upon the shackled for of a conquered monster,” because even though Manhattan is paved and civilized, it is still called the Urban Jungle for a reason.
Finally, both Jackson and Conrad embark upon similar thematic excursions in both of their work. Each piece shows the audience that neither an industrial power house nor a savage civilization is necessarily better than the other, in fact, it seems that both settings fail to respond correctly to the beautiful monstrosity that is King Kong. They are both tales of what happens when humanity comes into contact with the unrestrained mystery of life. They are not stories of adventure, rather than case studies of the dark depths of the human mind and soul.
As Peter Jackson proved in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, fantasy can still be attached more deeply in reality than much of what passes as realism. King Kong is such a fantastic movie because it tells the story of two islands that, even though they are seemingly as different as night and day, are both lacking the superior path. It tells the tale by utilizing dark journey’s both into a mystical island, and into the depths of the human soul (sounds familiar does it not?). Essentially, King Kong is the sequel to Heart of Darkness, that is if Kurtz made it back to Europe and Marlow was the beautiful Naomi Watts. Feel free to discuss!