How Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla Could Make the Monster Relevant to Today’s World
Since the announcement of the 2014 reboot of the popular Godzilla franchise, fans of the silver screen’s most famous giant lizard have been watching the relevant blogs with a mixture of excitement and nervous tension. On the one hand, the promise of seeing the beloved monster is always something to look forward to. On the other hand, a previous Western remake of dubious quality has given fans plenty of reason to approach the new movie with caution. As the web trickles out tidbits of information, fans have been using what little they do know to ask questions about what they might see come May of 2014. For the most part, these questions seem to fit the standard “Who, What, When, Where, Why” of Hollywood speculation: who will be in the film, where will it take place, etc. One question that stands out to me, however, is “Will the film be as symbolic as the original?”
Ishirō Honda’s original 1954 film served as an apt metaphor for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two tragedies that left a major scar on postwar Japan. The images of victims being hauled from a ruined city created a haunting parallel to the gut wrenching horror that Japan had faced not even ten years prior to the film’s release. The fact that Godzilla’s rampage was triggered by nuclear testing and left behind nuclear fallout also served to connect the horror on the screen to the horror of the recent past. Featuring a beast awoken by radiation and capable of causing destruction on a massive scale, Godzilla was the perfect monster movie for the atomic age.
Such a metaphor was certainly a contributing factor to Godzilla’s popularity. At the time the original film was released, the effects of nuclear radiation were not completely understood. However, its potential for chaos and death was seen clearly by every nation, especially Japan. As a film, Godzilla was effective precisely because it played into the fears and tragedies that already lay in the minds of its audience. Perhaps the connection to nuclear destruction even contributed to Godzilla’s success abroad, as the world lay in the grip of the Cold War. In this way, Godzilla could be seen as somewhat emblematic of its era. How, then, might Gareth Edwards update this metaphor for the modern world?
The answer is really quite simple: global warming. As the effects of climate change are felt around the globe, stories about natural disasters are becoming more and more popular. Whether you believe in global warming or not, its hard to deny that ecological catastrophe is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Natural disasters hold the public in a grip of apprehension not entirely dissimilar to the way nuclear weapons paralyzed people with fear during the cold war. It’s a topic that commands public attention, involves a certain amount of destruction and spectacle to address and carries some amount of relevance in modern times-the perfect fodder for a blockbuster looking to dip it’s toes in the pool of symbolism.
Godzilla’s nature as a monster makes him a great choice for representing ecological disasters. In the original film, Godzilla was an ancient dinosaur awoken by nuclear testing. He therefore began as part of the natural forces of the earth. His behavior also mimics that of an earthquake or hurricane. He arrives suddenly, often without any warning, and retreats just as quickly, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. He blasts away what lies in his path, not because it bears him any ill will, but simply because it is in his way. Governments even respond to his attacks the way they would a storm. Officials scramble to mobilize forces to minimize the destruction, but rarely are they able to do much except evacuate the citizens in his path and provide relief to any survivors of the attack. Godzilla is a hurricane in lizard form, a volcanic eruption made flesh and bone.
Godzilla could also be used as a warning against man’s hubris in tampering with the environment. However natural his origin may be, it was interference by mankind that unleashed Godzilla in the 1950s. Assuming the new movie keeps the nuclear angle (recent pictures of radiation containment doors would suggest this is the case), the film could easily connect the carnage onscreen with the acts of humankind. The original movie did this by having a small amount of radioactive fallout trail behind Godzilla, meaning that the mark of human interference was left in the monster’s footprints. The new film could use a similar approach.
Of course the symbolic aspect of the Godzilla franchise has always been the most subtle aspect of the film. It’s easy to lose sight of the metaphor as one watches monsters destroy cities on the silver screen. In fact, many of the sequels discard the metaphor almost completely, and just focus on giant monsters duking it out in Tokyo. It’s certainly possible that Edward’s new movie could fall into the latter type of Godzilla film. However, subtle metaphors have creepped into the realm of the blockbuster before, albeit with varying amounts of success. We will have to wait another year to see if Edward’s reboot will try to make us of this often overlooked aspect of its forebear or not.
What do you think? Leave a comment.