Okay, first of all I have to rant a little bit about how unbelievably stupid it is that the Empire State Building is trademarked. Seriously, you have to get permission to use a picture of the thing in your movie.
You know, if you build a great big frickin' skyscraper in the middle of a great big frickin' city, I don't think you get to tell people how they can use pictures that happen to include it.
Intellectual property law in service to the marketplace. It's an ugly, ugly thing.
Done. Sorry about that.
But I did want to talk a little bit about the Empire State Building and its place in King Kong. Hope I don't need somebody's permission to do that.
Just to deal with one typically asinine point -- the notion of skyscrapers as phallic symbols. Tall buildings don't look the way they do because that makes them resemble erect penises. They look the way they do because in order to maximise the value of a single piece of real estate, you build straight up in a floorplan that as much as possible completely fills the area of the lot.
Kong climbing the world's largest phallus, while an arresting image in and of itself, doesn't, in my view, offer a very interesting take on the story.
Kong climbing the world's largest symbol of civilization and progress, on the other hand, does.
This of course is why the film ends as it does: because Kong, as the perfect symbol of primitive individualistic power, can only prove himself against the ultimate symbol of civilized cooperative power. If he doesn't tame the greatest structure in the world, the supreme achievement of many little people working together, then how will we ever know if he's really as bad-ass as we want him to be?
It's been said (dunno who by) that Skull Island represents the human mind -- with its minute portion tamed (conscious) and settled, and a great wall that blocks off the savage, untamed portion. The notion is that we each have a Kong wandering the jungles of our minds, a beast of pure selfish need and fury that is capable, when it wishes, of dominating all else that lies within our subconscious. This, of course, explains why there's a gate in that great big wall -- because we each of us have a gap, an opening whereby that beast can emerge and run rampant in the streets of our mental New York.
You can go too far with this, of course, but hidden in the Freudian mumbo-jumbo (don't you sometimes want to just slap Sigmund Freud upside the head? Maybe it's just me) is the truth that everyone likes to watch monsters go crazy. Animals, people, little stop-motion figures, whatever. Movie-going audiences have been eating up destruction and mayhem since the earliest days, and there does not exist the little kid who doesn't giggle with glee while stomping a sandcastle into oblivion.
When Kong unloads on the overhead tram, or when Godzilla starts torching Tokyo yet again, or even when Norman Bates puts on the dress and starts running around (um, everyone's seen Psycho, right?), we are watching chaos overwhelm order. We are watching the monsters go crazy, and monsters going crazy makes us happy. It reminds us that we don't have to put up with all this crap. We don't have to kowtow and scrape and ass-kiss. Heck, no! We can wrestle tyrannosaurs, break chains (even ones made of chrome steel), and toss automobiles about with abandon.
We can climb the Empire State Building, if we want to. But we know what's waiting at the top. And it's not bigger than us -- it's little. Little buzzing fussbudgets that individually are fragile and easily brushed aside, but in swarming masses overwhelm us with their insistent poking and annoying and relentless drive to injure us, to force us from the position we've climbed so laboriously to achieve. Suddenly, being the biggest doesn't seem so important. Because in the world of rationality, of civilization, the lesson is that the biggest, the loudest, the scariest doesn't always win.
Being the biggest thing in the world is a liability.
King Kong is NOT a tragedy. Nobody cries when the monkey dies (sorry, Mr. De Laurentis). We feel regret, sure, because Kong is magnificient, and because part of us yearns to roar and demolish and defy the great structure of our society. But part of us also knows that what thrives on the secret dark portion of Skull Island has to stay there, and when it escapes, or is dragged in chains into the light, it must be tamed and thereby destroyed.
Kong reaffirms us in our knowledge that the social order we subscribe to is necessary. That the rationality we impose on our own souls is healthy. But it also refuses to let us kid ourselves into thinking it's easy, or that no price has to be paid.