Monkey Love

Intimacy on the primate family tree

On the Island of Dr. Moreau, such monkey love is a perversion, a human foible and horror. On Skull Island, it is, of course, the source of redemption. And the great achievement of Peter Jackson's technical modernization of the original adventure story is that he finally presents a Kong who shows genuine emotion. Whereas the 1976 version was perhaps the most overtly sympathetic to the beast—Jack Driscoll having been replaced by Jeff Bridges' hippie primatologist who champions Kong's right to live unmolested—Jackson's Kong is so expressive that he elicits the most sympathy of any beast in cinema history. Born of incredible special effects and a vibrant visual imagination, Jackson's Kong is the most convincing character in the film.

Both a ruthless fighter and a gentle giant, this Kong battles a herd of tyrannosaurus rexes to protect Naomi Watts' radiant Ann Darrow—and then does curl up for a nap with Darrow nestled up in his hand. Half Kong, half Koko, Jackson's gorilla attacks only in self-defense and clearly prefers to quietly enjoy the sunset and sunrise with his new lady love—and sign to her about its beauty. It is just as tragic, then, as the true fate of Fossey's mountain gorillas, when Kong must be inevitably sacrificed to the human impulse for civilization. A century and a half after materializing out of myth into reality, the gorilla still serves as a mirror, now reflecting more human shortcomings than superiority. As science unites us in phylogeny, and some thinkers like Peter Singer even suggest that great apes should have human rights, I wonder whether gorillas and chimps would be flattered or insulted by reclassification. If you asked Koko or Jackson's Kong, they'd probably want to stay right where they are.

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