Do We Deserve Godzilla?


Here’s a trailer for the new remake: Godzilla

Very Western. That’s okay, I suppose. As someone who grew up watching Godzilla movies on tv (and one in the theater in its original US run), you could make an argument that the nuclear lizard is as much as ours now as Japan’s. But it’s a weak argument. To a 1970s kid, Godzilla was a cool monster. To a 1950s Japanese kid, Godzilla was a personification of the horror that nuclear technology had delivered on Japan and the Japanese psyche.

So, what’s the point of the new film? We know who Godzilla is, but what is he? What is he now, to us privileged Americans? (Of course, this film will be released worldwide and so become the “experiential property” of millions of viewers, but the viewpoint characters are still American.) An article I read implies that he represents the “horrors of war”. For whom? Our wars come back to us secondhand, through the PTSD and mangled bodies of our vets, but they don’t devastate our cities and wipe out whole families in one strike.

Is Godzilla the revenge of the drone? Not likely. It’s a stretch, since he’s not remote by any means — he’s is Presence itself, whereas drones are more about brief incursions from afar and all-seeing eyes.

I fear that what this movie is “about” is yet another expression of American’s new identity: the innocent victim. Since 9-11, the number of movies where cities are collapsed is near astronomical. Those two airplanes and two towers are mythologically magnified into giant monsters (Cloverfield, Peter Jackson’s King Kong), rogue Kryptonians (Man of Steel), friendly car robots vs. evil airplane robots (Transformers), etc., etc. That event keeps reverberating through our psyches and warping our culture and our politics. We keep rehearsing it over and over again in slightly new guises, like a trauma victim who cannot stop reliving the memory, trying to make some sense of it.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not commenting on 9-11 itself. I’m simply speculating on the ripples that event keeps sending through our mythological unconscious, which in modern America is most typically displayed to us from our pop culture outlets: movies and comics, primarily. (Music somewhat, but it’s more fleeting here, and tv is still too advertiser driven to truthfully give expression to the deep rumblings of our culture’s psychic turbulence.)

So… do we deserve Godzilla? Can he become a proper voice for our trauma, or is this just cultural and commercial appropriation, cynically using the parallels to sell tickets and toys? I guess it remains to be seen.

UPDATE: There’s a new trailer out. It certainly looks like we deserve Godzilla now, as a parable for nature’s revenge against technosploitation (i.e., civilization). Having “Heisenberg” be the narrator of our doom is a nice touch.

UPDATE 2: I’ve seen the movie, and we certainly deserved a better Godzilla movie than this. Oh, the ol’ lizard looks good and his fights with the MUTOs are cool and all, but by the time we really get to them we’ve had to sit through sheer boredom. The movie begins very promisingly, but as soon as the body bag on Bryan Cranston’s character is zipped up, the movie goes into a long slump without his animating presence (he’s just a great actor to watch). The actor who plays Cranston’s character’s son is pure cardboard. Maybe his complete lack of affect is intentional, since the kid was traumatized early on, but it makes for bad drama here.

Regardless, Godzilla here is apparently Earth’s protector against… giant bugs? Huh? He’s some sort of atavism from the past who rises up to fight and kill any other atavisms before going back to bed? If he was a force of balance (as one of the characters says), why isn’t he “balancing” us back into the stone age? Now, I like the idea of ancient giants who eat radiation — that seems like “balance.” But… they’re the bad guys. Godzilla’s job is to kill them, and our job is… to keep making radiation now that we’re free to do so? I don’t get it.

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