Wednesday, April 05, 2006

71. Still Wondering

I never entirely awoke from the dream, in large part because the inducing night has lasted so long. In the dark, my rapid eye kept moving: I was twelve when 2001 was first released, and sitting in the front row of the massive Moorestown Plaza, the triple-threat envelope of Cinerama closing around me, I was drawn like a folk-tale child into deep woods, where my breathing kept pace with Dave Bowman's, and every blink of the eye re-imagined the landscape--and remade the eye. Raging Bull held me, and squeezed; and when I heard something snap, it was almost with relief that I knew it was the end, one I could clearly see. Diary of a Country Priest filled me with so much, it felt like joy, even as the notes it sang fell down like sweat. Spirited Away folded like origami into shapes I'd never seen before, yet knew all along.

These are not childish things, which is why I have never put them away. Even King Kong, shrunk to Gumby-size as I made my way into adulthood, tilted his head and stared at me, holding my changeful heart still to be an appalled witness to his death. Every third movie I watch triggers post--oh, I'll be honest: mid-hypnotic suggestions, and I fall like the beast, where the movie itself can stand over me and mutter platitudes--no matter, though: It feels beautiful, and I let it go on, part eulogy, part invocation. All this and a box of popcorn.

My father is gone, and I do not have a brother, but my son is twelve, and my girls are in their teens, and along with their mother we often dream together, way leading on to way any number of times with The Lord of the Rings, softly cloaked or reluctantly armored, jaunty with waybread and dawn or anxious as the trees close in. When Peter Jackson decided to remake King Kong, I was relieved, if only because I had been dreading another remake, convinced no one knew Kong. Spielberg gets close, occasionally disassembling the movie machine enough to find its human heart: E.T. and Close Encounters are giddy with love and expectation, and Minority Report and Schindler's List scoop midnight so we can drink from its cold black well. But Jackson's generous, almost passive surrender to his source material with Tolkien made me feel his remake of King Kong would not be superfluous.

Watch the way Naomi Watts' Ann Darrow woos Kong: She looks at him closely and becomes what he desires, anticipating him, then re-inventing him. Jackson releases the sexual subtext from its post-adolescent bonds, allowing it to become its deeper, more instinctual self, the one that fears isolation. The original Kong's sexuality was overt; but Jackson slips his hand beneath the beast's stiff nape to find that at the core of that fear is yearning itself. And to do this, not so surprisingly he engages in unashamed passion. I find myself wanting to find movies I can describe as "delirious"; the best movies are a dream-state, where one pattern--the sexual, the social, the territorial, the moral--expresses the others, and joy meets irony in ecstatic mutual understanding.

How many Brontosauruses does one need for a stampede? How many T. Rexes for a truly thrilling battle? How many incredibly creepy crawlers in a culvert? There is an excess in these sequences that made me laugh out loud with joy. Jackson knows about dreams, that too much is not enough--but more than giddy excess, the whirling dance leads to clarity--and providential exhaustion: During the movie's pauses--as brief as they may be--Jackson allows Ann and Kong not merely to rest but to approach one another with unselfconscious grace. Their relationship is the central risk King Kong takes, and Jackson, his cast and technical crew lead us gently to the heart of this most dreamlike of images, absurd but natural--and how's that for the affirmation of a dream?

I love Jackson's in-jokes, the sly references, the Trivial Pursuits of the Nerd-king. But more than that I love the unbroken line he draws from Merian C. Cooper's Kong to his own--and more than even that, the promises he's kept, promises movies have made to me--that King Kong has made to me, since I was small. I've mentioned before that when I was a kid I thumbtacked a poster of King Kong on the ceiling of my room, the first thing I saw every morning, the last thing at night. And I've mentioned before--too many times, I know--how scared I was of scary movies. But Kong promised to mediate between what I feared and what I hoped, and to draw them together--not reconciled, but at least in agreement: that in dreams they would negotiate their places in my life, and that in movies I would see--well, just see.

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