The Great Grandson of King Kong

“If you need any help with the coffin, call me.”

Thus spoke the scary butler guy in white gloves as the gloomy mansion spread its dark wings around Joe Gillis for the first time. He had just entered the dim expanse of Norma’s Desmond’s lair, the surroundings that had haunted and imprisoned her since losing her stardom and fame a couple of decades ago. Shades of Miss Havisham inhabited the place, and a dusty dryness left everything feeling a bit brittle and broken. He expected to find doll limbs or the remnants of tattered crinoline on the closet floors. Instead, a newly-dead monkey lay on macabre display – a monkey that the doyenne of the establishment was clearly upset about.

She set about planning its funeral, plotting what color the coffin lining should be – “Bright flaming red, let’s make it gay!” – but her grief, even over a monkey, was palpable. Gillis sensed it had been her only friend. There was an unspeakable tragedy in that, a loneliness that public adoration, especially in its fleeting, temporal form, could never combat.

“Any laws against burying him in the garden?” ~ Norma Desmond

In the movie version of ‘Sunset Boulevard’, the scene is harsher, less sympathetic. Billy Wilder’s acerbic cynicism overrode any vulnerability, the comic relief played in uncomfortable silence. The musical gives Norma a bit more heart. She weeps openly over her lost friend. She sings a song of Surrender. She uses her sunglasses, even in the darkness of the mansion, to hide swollen, wet eyes. It is but a moment.

The survivors – and despite some of her efforts Norma Desmond is a survivor – always get over their pain. Whether they bury it or display it, crumble under it or rally around it, they take their pain and transform it into something that serves their purposes. Sometimes the goal is merely to live for another day.

Though she may have survived, she never thrived. The declining years of fading celebrity must feel like a ghostly winter that never ends. Still, the heart beats, and the heart wants, and the heart carries the only thing that can truly hurt itself: hope.

“And then there was something else: the chimp’s last rites, as if  she were laying a child to rest. Was her life really as empty as that?” ~ Joe Gillis

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