Why Root for Kong?

Watching King Kong for the umpteenth time this weekend, I was hit by an unexpected realization: Kong is the bad guy. We’ve been trained to cheer him on, to cry when he falls, to empathize with his “misunderstood giant” plight, and yet, look again. He’s the bad guy.

King Kong

The idea – amplified in both the 1976 and 2005 version, which extend and complicate the relationship between Kong and Ann – is that Kong is just a big lug in love, and darn it if he doesn’t know any better. His mistreatment by Denham, who shackles him in chrome steel and parades him in front of a New York crowd paying twenty bucks a pop, is played to the hilt, asking for our pity. He’s a guy willing to fight dinosaurs to protect his woman, and now he’s lost in a world he never made.

But look back at Kong’s actions, starting with his routine on Skull Island. The natives plan to sacrifice a “bride” to Kong; we can assume this is a common ritual, and we can assume the bride never survives as long as Ann does. Later, Kong, in search of Ann, tears apart the village, but watch his actions – this isn’t a “oh my, I’ve lost my beloved,” it’s “I am going to step on, throw, and/or eat every one of these people, because that’s what I do.” Stepping on and throwing, sure, maybe he doesn’t know any better. But eating people? Not eating for nourishment – eating solely to kill. Most victims get spit out. What a jerk.

On to New York. Following his Broadway escape, the routine repeats: stepping on, throwing, eating. He casually drops a woman to her death simply because she’s not Ann. His final actions – demolishing a train, climbing the Empire State Building, swatting at the biplanes – are more forgivable in the realm of a creature attempting to use jungle survival skills in the big city, but everything before? What a jerk.

Even then, we must remember that Ann is screaming all the way, an unwilling Beauty kidnapped by Beast. In this version, there’s no love returned, no sympathy felt; Ann only wants Driscoll, not the ape. There are no moments of Naomi Watts looking concerned here. Fay Wray is screaming for her life, repeatedly abducted and assaulted by the world’s largest Pittsburgh Steeler. What a jerk.

Again: why are we rooting for this guy?

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