Cinema Matters #5: We Live In a Monster World
I believe cinema matters. This is a continuing monthly series of personal thoughts on film in no more than 750 words.
**This article will mention the ending of Gojira (1954) and Godzilla (2014), and could be regarded as spoilers.
I think it is rather obvious that Gareth Edwards’ monster movie inspired this write-up for May 2014. The film has had decidedly mixed reviews, tending towards more positive than not. I gave a solid four stars to the movie – my review is available here (http://bit.ly/1uUUUV7).
However, this article does not seek to defend the movie from its detractors, but rather to use it as a case study to illustrate the political subtext embedded, covertly or otherwise, within the generic nature of such films.
It is fair to say that humans in general are monsters in some way or another. It doesn’t imply that we are necessarily evil, but that we simply live in a monster world, befitting our existence as creator and destroyer, as cause and consequence.
Godzilla is very subtle in its depiction of underlying concerns. But maybe it is not so subtle after all. MUTOs, the villainous creatures of the movie, consume radioactive sources to survive, alluding to Man’s fascination and desire for nuclear energy not only to prolong his survival, but to make himself more powerful.
The only way for these monsters to be defeated is by another monster. On the surface, it is a play on the ‘survival of the fittest’ ploy, nature’s answer to ecological balance. However, Godzilla’s defeat of the MUTOs can be seen as a thinly-veiled attempt to portray Man as harbinger of the apocalypse, only that true apocalypse is only temporarily avoided.
After all, Godzilla is anything but a natural force. It was created by Man and his Bomb. In Gojira, the original Japanese classic, Man tried to eliminate it, not surprisingly, with the Bomb. Assuming between Gojira and Godzilla, there were no other Godzilla movies, and that Ishiro Honda’s work and Edwards’ share the same universe, the re-appearance of Godzilla in the 2014 movie functions as three-fold: it is a haunting reminder, temporary alleviator, and final warning to Man.
It is a haunting reminder because it has grown bigger, or some have pointed out, more chubby, not because it has had an American diet for sixty years, but that radioactivity has distorted his size, made a monster out of a monster. Godzilla has cancer that it can never die from. It has to grapple with that permanence.
It also unashamedly reveals its true self (and shape) by intervening in Man’s crisis. It forgets what horrors Man has done to it. In a genuine act of kindness and forgiveness, Godzilla helps Man, despite its destructive rampage and seeming recklessness that is only natural to a monster of its size. It is a compromise we are willing to bear, if only for a moment of peace.
Godzilla becomes a temporary alleviator. Unlike other standard monster (or alien invasion) movies where the US Army always come to the rescue and restore order, the fate of humanity in Godzilla lies primarily in a monster’s hands. For once, the mighty American military cannot save the world.
The last shot of Edwards’ film sees Godzilla, a despairing figure of isolation once prejudiced by Man but now revered as his saviour, returning to the sea, perhaps to die. But can it die? Or is it condemned to eternal suffering?