Patriarchal-Industrial Anxiety and the Return of the Repressed (Eco-Critical) Simian Monster

  • David Christopher


Apocalyptic monkey monsters just keep coming back. Many of the stories have been subject to numerous remakes that date from the early-mid twentieth century, into the new millennium with myriad recurring visions of the simian monster, including Murders in the Rue Morgue (1917, 1932, 1986), King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005), Planet of the Apes (1968, 2001, 2011), and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (1963, 1983) to name just a few. And in the new millennium, Peter Jackson’s Kong (2005) participates in a rejuvenation of the giant monster movie cycles. In Living in the End Times (2011), Slavoj Žižek states “one of the best ways to detect shifts in the ideological constellation is to compare consecutive remakes of the same story” (Žižek, End Times, 61). By doing so, and in conjunction with his articulation of the socio-psychological mechanics of fantasy, Žižek introduces an analytical framework through which to examine the intermittent return of the simian monster to popular cinema. As suggested here, the simian monster recurs not only because it is an effective uncanny receptacle for capitalist Othering, but also because it represents a larger patriarchal anxiety regarding the monstrous threat of nature and its conquest. Jackson’s Kong, for example, seems to have less to do with the atomic fear of the 1950s giant monster movie cycle with which it participates than with eco-disaster anxieties. Following the trajectory of both the films and their surrounding discourse, this article seeks to demonstrate that these films can be read as the evolution of nearly a century of eco-anxieties signified by cinematic simian monsters into increasingly explicit fantasies of redemption from the fear of ecological disaster that is embedded in the repressed contradictions of an aggressively industrial and patriarchal capitalist culture.