King Kong & Brokeback Mountain

King Kong
The only thing I remember from the 70s King Kong was the awful mixed feelings I had watching Jessica Lange writhing around in the palm of the big ape. It’s so pornographic. In this new version what made an impression on me once more was the girl in the palm. But this is no ordinary girl, no, this is a wonderfully empowered, and might I say fearless, girl, who can juggle (literally), even under extreme stress. Naomi Watts is luminous and unforgettable. She has been a stellar performer in a string of movies, but I suspect that like Lange, it’s her winning-ape-ways that will catapult her into the stratosphere of superstardom.

The rest of the film is okay, especially if you like video games. The action sequnences had me going for the control button and I haven’t played a video game in a very long time. The sequences are effective, but they’re over the top: just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to. Like the movie within the movie, King Kong doesn’t hold together as a script, and given director Peter Jackson’s work on the Lord of the Rings, I wonder why he wouldn’t have wanted to make it as seamless as he could. But like the Rings, this is a comment on the failure of man–in the character of a charlatan director played by Jack Black–the corruptable nature, the greed, and the hope found in a shining, luminous bit of beauty.

It’s hard not to have empathy for Kong, too big, too wild, alone, misunderstood; the world just isn’t big enough, or compassionate enough for him. And Anne Darrow, a small (size 4), good thing, having difficulty being seen in NY suddenly becomes very visible. A winning narrative despite its implausible nature, and wonderful, dizzying scenes of a New York long gone.

Brokeback Mountain
While King Kong has a video game quality from start to finish, Brokeback Mountain has the feel of a travel documentary with wide, sweeping, panoramas of an edenic world. That the garden should play a backdrop for an illicit love affair between two men is hardly news these days, at least in many parts of the world, but the movie offers us a slice of consciousness that’s outside of time and contemporary culture–and not just because the movie is set in the recent past. Poverty, not just economic and cultural, but poverty of imagination is what struck me most about this movie, and it’s what genius director Ang Lee explores most fully.

The world presented here, the world in which Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet and fall in love, is as plain and simple as many small towns that dot the highways from Alberta to Texas. This is a man’s world, a man’s man’s world, with grunts and thrusts, the world of family values and hard work, which usually means that the women are behind the scenes, rarely seen, perhaps heard. And it’s a world without a lot of imagination. It’s a world that fears imagination as much as the devil. In fact, where Jack Twist is concerned it isn’t his sexuality but his imagination that makes him stand out so much.

I’ve known a few guys like Ennis Del Mar, too, and Ledger does a remarkable job of bringing him to life. Lack of education and lack of imagination give Ennis little room to move. Though the fact that Ennis continues his relationship with Jack is a surprising twist, particularly given the scene in which Ennis’ father shows him the murdered homosexual. (Someone please do a study of this. I’m not sure what one would discover if they started to look into the historical records of small towns across America, but I’ll bet there are many tales such as this, and I’ll bet many of them are also true.)

Lack of choice, lack of imagination, that’s what I hope people understand about Brokeback Mountain. The lack of choices for someone like Ennis Del Mar. Where was he going to go? What was he going to do? He might not have fit into his married life, but what life was he going to fit into? What could he do other than be where he was? It’s hard to imagine. Jack had imagination, he was able to move outside of the small Wyoming world, but Ennis wasn’t able to even imagine himself anywhere else. Sadly, not everyone can move to New York and live happily ever after. And as the recent piece in the New York Times shows, it’s still impossible to come out on the range.

The saddest note I can add to this post is that I know a dozen men, and probably half as many women, right now who couldn’t sit through this movie. Couldn’t. End of story. In fact I wonder if Ennis Del Mar could sit through it.

Now what do you do with that?