I was watching this movie called “Ned Kelly,” or rather a remake of a similar movie by the same title that had Mick Jagger in the lead, which was a remake of nearly five other Ned Kelly movies over the last 100 years. This version has Heath Ledger, as Ned, and Orlando Bloom – formally of Elf stature - as Rob. Ned Kelly, from what I have gathered over the years, is like a Che Guevara/Billy the Kid for Australians. I have heard numerous songs that refer to Ned Kelly ever since I was a kid. Midnight Oil, an Aussie band, has one called, “If Ned Kelly was King;” something about “making those coppers swing,” referring to local police. He was even the theme for the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics.
Towards the end of the movie the Kelly Gang, as they are now called, are holed up in a house in this dusty Aussie town next to a railroad, (hmm, methinks it rings of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”). An enormous amount of police has surrounded the house and with the Kelly Gang are the local townsfolk and a traveling circus. I am not making this up. The possibility that this really happened makes it even more curious. (The circus troupe is important to my point, eventually.)
At this juncture you might be wondering if Ned’s gang took everybody hostage. Not from what I can gather. Here’s the Che Guevara aspect playing out. See, Ned has become a hero of the common folks, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised. Injustice pushed him over the edge, corrupt cops imprisoned his mother, and from what I gather it has to do with being Irish. So the townsfolk think very highly of Ned, except for the bastard traitor teacher guy who told the police where they were.
Skipping through a bunch of cool stuff - armored outfits that make the Kelly gang invincible, etc. – there is a shoot out in the house/saloon. Poor, defenseless bottles of alcohol are shattered maliciously by the flying bullets. Then, townsfolk are starting to get hit by ricochets and stray bullets. The Kelly Gang, b/c they are in these armor-plated vest are safe and somehow not hit at all. And then come the moment that makes me wonder if I am really as screwed up in the head as friends think I am. The circus monkey, with a cute little outfit, is standing on top of a hunkered down townsfolk’s hip. BAMN! Through the glass comes the bullet that picks the monkey off like a can on a fence post. Only the monkey screams out, whereas a can just makes a “plunk” sound, and down the monkey goes. Half caught off by what I just saw, I find I am laughing, and disturbed by my laughter all at once. And there is enough delay in the film that I feel like I am THAT guy, who everybody looks at with disgusted silence in the moment. Then Orlando Blooms’ character says with an odd chuckle, “They shot the little monkey.” I am not so alone in my awkward sense of humor.
Did some cop think that the little monkey was the infamous, murderous betrayer of the Crown known as Ned Kelly? OR, did he think the monkey was part of the Kelly Gang? Or was he just bored with shooting at glass that the opportunity to pick off a monkey was too irresistible – especially in a land like Australia where monkey’s are few?
These are some of the thoughts that go threw my mind in the aftermath of such a moment. Strange, I know.
What is more difficult to navigate is my shared laughter with Orlando as the monkey is picked off. There is a mechanism in me, likely my mother’s voice, which says, it is cruel and heartless to laugh at a little monkey’s unfortunate assassination. Healthy humans don’t find humor in such things. It is the sign of a twisted heart to laugh at monkey murders. And I can think of plenty of people who, even as I write, their faces shamefully looking at me, would seriously question whether or not they should contact the authorities or the men in white jumpsuits, and have me locked up.
This doesn’t, though, downplay the giggle I get when I think of that little monkey being shot. (Which I might add was the only humorous part of the film). I am not some psycho who gets his kicks at the cruel torture of helpless animals; especially ones caught in a gunfight with the Queens police. I must conclude it is the juxtaposed moment of the incident that brings me laughter. In the middle of so much tragedy and injustice an odd thing like a little monkey’s surprising demise makes me laugh. This is not a repressing-guilt-laughter, denying the tragedy at hand. It is more like a chuckle at the odd inconsistencies of life. Life isn’t so nicely packaged that all tragedy is without it’s light sides. Nor are all of life’s comedies not gilded with a hint of darkness. Surely, Shakespeare knew this, or he wouldn’t have been such a success.
As I grow older I find the things I should cry at always have a bit of lighted humor in them, and so I laugh. Often, though, I find this disturbs so many people around me. Many of who have recommended that I have some deep-seated issues that I am fiercely denying, and I should seek professional help. Little do they know that it was in the midst of “professional help” that I started noticing this laughable part of my heart.
Tragedy is tragic, no denying that. And I am not saying one should always look on the bright side of life while being crucified on a cross (feeling lost on that one? Go rent “The Life Of Brian.”) What does stick out is that life is so much MORE than we take it to be. There is so much dynamic color and layering in the everyday ups and downs of life. If it could be so easily packaged and sterile as others like to think it is, then it wouldn’t really be Life. I would recommend they seek “professional help” to deal with their fierce denial. God is an artist, THE Artist, full of creative genius, enough to make Shakespeare look like a dime-store novelist. The life we are given is a masterpiece in the making that has humor and tragedy weaved throughout. Lean too far to one or the other and you miss out on so much more. And you might never be able to say with a chuckle, like Orlando and I, during a chaotic barrage from the enemies of living, “They shot the little monkey!”