Yes, I forgot to post on Monday. Entirely forgot to post!! It was my birthday, is my excuse. But! I did get inspiration for a post on Monday night and then was very confused when it was Tuesday the next day and I realized I had missed the correct posting day.
I’m generally behind the curve on movies, and the new King Kong directed by Peter Jackson is no exception – I saw it for the first time on Monday. While I have a rather mixed-opinion Official View about the movie as a whole, when it came to Kong himself, I was wholeheartedly thrilled. Five years old again and King Kong is my hero, the best thing in the world, a miracle on screen. As a kid, I would likely have taken a bullet to save Kong (in spite of the fact that such a sacrifice would probably not have helped the situation) if that gives you any idea how firmly rooted in my childhood psyche the gigantic gorilla really was.
I’m a sucker for monster movies in general, especially the old ones, and the “monsters” like Kong – who simply are what they are, doing what they do naturally, pure, natural, intelligent, and destroyed essentially because of their inconvenience to humans (because they don’t fit into our world) – are the ones I fall the hardest for. There’s an innocence to such monster archetypes, an incomprehension in the face of betrayal and manipulation and dishonesty, that makes us pull for them. Particularly in the case of King Kong, since it wasn’t even his fault he ended up in New York. He was minding his own business, being awesome and fighting dinosaurs, until the stupid Americans showed up and decided to make money off him.
Anyway, the point for writers here is a lesson in sympathy and vulnerability. Godzilla, King Kong, Frankenstein’s monster…they’re all big (Frankenstein’s monster far less so than the first two, but he’s really just a smaller scale of the same archetype), powerful, capable of sweeping destruction, have bad tempers, and aren’t easy to take down. You’d think that would add up to their being the “bad guy”, but viewers pull for them instead. There’s something about the fact that anything so big and strong can still be hurt, can still be betrayed, can still die, and not even comprehend why everyone is out to destroy them, that makes them lovable (or at least sympathetic). In King Kong’s case and in Frankenstein’s monster’s case in particular, it’s heart wrenching to see them taken down, confused and angry, because they had bonded with humans, had shown intelligence and the capability to reason and love and appreciate the world around them.
Maybe you don’t write in a genre where monsters are a feasible character type, but any of this can be applied just as easily to a regular ol’ human character – if someone has a lot of power, whether it’s physical strength or political clout, people will inevitably want to cut them down to size, and if your strong character isn’t pure evil (which would be lazy writing) that will garner them some sympathy, even if (and maybe more so because) they make mistakes. A character with a terrible temper can be tragic in their ability to strike fear into people they don’t want to drive away. Unquestioning and misplaced trust or innocence of deception can make for an extra-poignant vulnerability in an otherwise intense, dominant character you’d never expect to get hurt.
And I would still be King Kong’s real friend, because he deserves one.
Wonderful post, as always. You’ve put your finger right on the pulse of storytelling.
These are great observations about what monsters have in common. Another trait seems to be that they attempt communication with us, and for a while it looks like there’s hope; there might be a bond created. But language fails, or a misunderstanding occurs that turns the bond sour. Something in the attempt to connect makes the monsters’ defeat all the more tragic…. I don’t know if this applies to every scenario or not (?).
Thanks! I agree that the attempted bond makes it all the sadder when things turn bad between monster and human. In many contexts – not just monster movies – it’s the spark of hope that really makes a downfall get to a reader/viewer.
“It isn’t the despair…. It’s the HOPE.”