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King Kong - Film Review

This review will focus on Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong from 1933
regarding the male gaze. Furthermore I will compare the 1933 original to Peter Jackson’s 2005
remake. My key sources are Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1985), in
which she describes the phenomenon of the male gaze, but also Damon Young`s “Ironic Identities
and Earnest Desires: King Kong and the Desire to- be-looked-at“ (2006) because she reflects the
original to the remake very objective.

The movie tells the story about a film team that travels to a far island in 1933. But when the main
actress Ann gets kidnapped by a giant Gorilla called Kong, the whole team is trying to save her.
However they are able to save the young woman, capture the beast and bring him to New York.
Yet he escapes again, takes the woman and causes havoc around the city.

“The manifestations of spectacle in the

cinema, they are all...sooner or
later...about men looking at
women” (Grindon 35).

Fig 1 - Ann and Jack on top of the Empire State

This statement can be connected to the way women are display in King Kong. The film shows a
specific representation of gender and sexist stereotypes, as it shows the women as the helpless
and weak character. Her helpless character is supported by her very loud and regularly screams
within the film, which is her help call until she gets
rescued by a men. Ann is shown as a victim that
needs to be saved by the hero Jack, as seen in
figure 1.

The fact that Ann is the only real female

character in the film creates a sexual tension
with all the other male crew members. That can
especially be seen in the scene when Ann acts
on the boat and all men can not stop staring at
her (Figure 2).

She is “constructed as the apotheosis of

desirability, all that a man could want” (Dyer,
1988). But even in the movie itself its is being
said that they need an actress because the
“public must have a pretty face to look
at” (Denham, 1933).

Therefore Ann can be considered as an object

for the male gaze instead of an active participant Fig 2 - Ann action on board
in the story of King Kong.
Fig 3 and 4 - Ann half undressed and in fear

The approach to this theory points to Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in
which she points out that the male gaze denies women their human identity, relegating them to
the status of objects to be admired for physical appearance and male sexual desires and

That especially refers to the scenes in the film, where Ann is half naked with her ripped cloth. As
seen in figure 3 and 4 the specific gestures and movements of Ann trigger the male gaze. That
image is supported by her tempting facial expressions and body language.

“Once again the male gaze and the imperial gaze are linked: males travellers envisage their
journey through the sexual metaphor of mastering and conquering the female body – something
the male gaze aims to accomplish also.” (Kaplan, 1997)

To go even further, the male gaze can be connected with the imperial gaze which is in the case of
King Kong is the western view on a strange land and their need to conquer and master it.
Therefore Kaplan`s quote says that the dominant, masculine men needs to be in total control of
the woman’s body.

Mulvey herself said that “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been
split between active/male and passive/female. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are
simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic
impact…“ which underlines the above statement and describes the general female role in King

Fig 5- Kong smelling his finger Fig 6 - Kong capturing Ann

This could also be applied to the association of the Gorilla being a male. Therefore he could
represent the male gaze and his sexual desire to own this woman. Especially the scene where
“Kong“ undresses Ann and smells his finger afterward (Figure 5) could be a hint for his sexual
desire in the female character.

To trigger the male gaze even more some of the camera shots were taken by looking through the
eyes of “Kong“, which makes the viewer feel like being part of the act. That is supported by her
terrified facial expression, fainting and screaming expressing the white woman’s fear of being
raped as seen in figure 6.

Fig 7 - Ann and Jack in the 1933 version Fig 8 - Ann and Jack in the 2005 version

While the original King Kong was considered a horror movie and was very scary for the people to
watch at the time, the 2005 remake triggered completely different feelings.

Since the original was later on being labeled sexist because of the reasons I mentioned earlier,
Peter Jackson had the hard task to not provoke any of these issues in his remake.

While the original may or may not showed a love interest, the remake just showcase the
relationship between Ann and “Kong“ as a friendship.

Scenes like the undressing or sniffing in the original, which were even considered sensitive at the
time, wasn’t shown in the remake at all.

In the remake the Gorilla is much more animal like but also shows some human values and even
ability of communication, which made the audience feel way more sympathy for him rather then
the brutal, testosterone controlled “Kong“ of the original film.

Furthermore in the 2005 version Jack is shown as a modern hero, since he’s seems to do
everything by himself. He finds the necklace, he searches the boat for Ann and he ignores the
authorities at the end of the film and saves Ann on his own.

The modern need for a clear hero at the end, connected with the over scale of this film because
“everything is bigger, louder, more grotesque and more majestic“ (Hartwell, 2017) makes this
version completely different to the original.

Nevertheless the remake adopts some quotes of the original for example the famous ending
scene saying “it was Beauty killed the Beast“.

In conclusion it can be said, that the 1933 King Kong version shows women as an object of desire
for the male viewer, which was proven by Laura Mulvey`s theory of the male gaze. However the
2005 remake manages to showcase the story of Ann and “Kong“ in a totally new light, which
maybe was the intention of the original movie after all.

Harvard list

Eimear Dodd. (2018). A Monster Classic’s Complicated Legacy. Available: https:// Last accessed 7th of October

Chris Hartwell. (2017). It's Time to Rethink Peter Jackson's 'King Kong. Available: https://
movie-983493. Last accessed 7th of October 2018.

Laura Mulvey (1985). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Los Angeles: n/a. n/a.

Sam Strudwick. (2013). The portrayal of Women in Movies. Available: https://
sam-strudwick-u1114943/. Last accessed 7th of October 2018.

Christina Wehner. (n/a). King Kong: 1933 and 2005 – What Each Movie Reveals About the
Era They Were Made In. Available:
Last accessed 7th of October 2018.

Damon Young. (2006). Ironic Identities and Earnest Desires: King Kong and the Desire to-
be-looked-at. Available:
files/2013/02/epaper26-damon-young.pdf. Last accessed 7th of October 2018.

Illustration list

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