09 January 2006

Heart of Hardness

At last, some time to myself on this rainy day of leave for an overdue entry on King Kong and Conrad.

Before I watched King Kong, I had been told to bring Kleenex, and sunglasses too if I weren't watching the movie at night. Apparently, even big men sitting beside Ms T were sniffling away.

So when I did not cry at the movie, I was a little disturbed. Yes, my lachrymal gland worked some during the show, but those tears that welled up eventually did not fall. My frowning brow muscles were working much harder than my lachrymal gland. Is that a sign of cold-bloodedness? (The word that Ms T had incredulously blurted when I first told her Ms Y did not cry at the movie.)
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I want to say it is stoicity instead. You know how when something whams you so hard and leaves a crater so deep that no more signal can be sent to the lachrymal gland? Stocity is the day-to-day version of this. Doesn't mean you don't feel anything, but some things in life have to be borne.

In this case, the truth is that King Kong was not a crying movie for me. I liked it (save for the Jurassic Park deja vu and utterly GROTESQUE scenes of giant cockroaches and slugs!), but the movie evoked in me much more frustration and despair, compared to sadness.

Many thoughts and ideas came up when watching it. Some were less frown-inducing. E.g. Is Ms Blond suffering from Stockholm syndrome? 人与兽之间的恋情是否终究注定失败的?(以此类推:难道就真的竹门对竹门,木门对木门不成?)But most of them brought about despair. What on earth have we done to this world - especially nature and natives? Why are we so fascinated with extermination rather than merciful co-existence? Why the determination to transplant a being that clearly does not belong to New York City? Just how much damage will we do for the sake of fame and wealth?

One of the most direct consequences of watching King Kong was that it got me to finally read Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I knew its anthropological significance and it has been on my KIV list for more than 5 years, but funnily enough, it took an ape movie to get me reading.

It was a much thinner book than I expected, which was a saving grace given this past crazy week at work. It was also expectedly politically incorrect, with references to improved specimens, white men appearing to natives like God... in short, the white man's burden.

Even so, there are admissions that perhaps the white men were not so different from those that they attempted to bring light to after all:

...They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force - nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others... The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.

...We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were - No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it - this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity - like yours - the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar.

I also liked the discussion of death towards the end:

...I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be... Perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible.

The book is strangely introspective and inclusive, so much so that you are willing to forgive it for its politically incorrectness. Reading it reminded me of the solitude that one feels when travelling alone. I didn't think that was possible in a crowded commuter train.

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