Let us consider, not a trip into the domesticated wilderness of Yosemite National Park, but a far less strenuous pastime, a visit to the movie theatre. On screen you witness a climb, though this time the ascent is not up a trail in California’s most popular national park, but instead the conquest of another national monument, Manhattan’s most famous architectural landmark, the Empire State Building. You watch the scaling, not of a cast-iron stairway leading towards a splendid view of Nevada Falls, but the mounting of craggy skyscraper surface to a roof that will reward you with a prospect of the cityscape below. You recall where it all started, visualizing the camera’s entry into the womb of Nature, past a huge wooden gate whose ritual opening for the sacrificial victim and our own riveted gaze provided access to the heart of darkness and to the realm of its dreaded master. The image of this monarch of the wilderness evokes the memory of how he was captured and carried back to the American wilds, a jungle that consists of man-made trunks of concrete-and-glass palaces. Our gaze also re-encounters the scene in the theatre where the giant ape was displayed in chains to serve as a spectacle of primeval horror. This trip into the wilderness has been a story of striking commercial success: Nature, first colonized and enslaved, is now being commodified in the music hall. Yet the brute beast of the forest cannot be contained; he pulls the pillars of the commercial temple on the gaping crowd and, like Samson, regains his virility, mounting to the top of Empire’s phallic tower, the colonizers’ symbol of absolute control.
From Muir’s genteel invocation of the wilderness designed to inspire the reader with Wordsworthian sentiments of aesthetic pleasure, we have turned to a confrontation with the deadly forces of the Other and have been titillated by its powerful sexual symbolism. Instead of contemplating the wilderness, a mere waterfall, across an abyss that benevolently saves one from direct contact with the Other, in the movie we are kept at a safe distance from, yet directly involved with, the horrors of Nature. The film traces an inverse path to the trail followed by Greenblatt’s hypothetical visitor to Yosemite National Park. In the cinema we trail the camera team into the very heart of the jungle and observe them take