Godzilla as a Man-Made Force of Nature: A Monstrous Contradiction
The man-made monstrosity taking revenge on its creators for daring to push science to its limits is a well-worn trope in science fiction film and literature. This concept was used to full effect in the years following World War II, when fear of the atomic bomb and its destructive potential was arguably at its highest point, and science was viewed as a double-edged sword which could simultaneously bring great prosperity and horrifying destruction. The most famous example of the nuclear scare’s personification in science fiction is the king of the monsters himself, Godzilla. Godzilla, however, is a bit more complex than the average radioactive monster from the 1950’s. While plenty of films made during this period deal with similar subject matter, Godzilla is unique in that it is characterized as both the result of man manipulating natural forces in an unnatural way and as a force of nature himself.
Godzilla’s origins, abilities, and temperament tend to change from film to film, so for the sake of simplicity the focus will be on the first, eponymous film, Godzilla (1954). In this particular film, Godzilla is said to have been released by, rather than created by, the nuclear weapons testing with which he has become so closely associated. In this sense the act of unnaturally splitting hydrogen atoms, effectively defying one of the four natural forces that define how matter behaves in our universe, has resulted in a horrible backlash. Not only is the force that awakened or released Godzilla unnatural, but Godzilla’s very presence in our world is shown to be unnatural. Shortly before the monster’s first on-screen appearance, some of the film’s main characters stumble across enormous radioactive footprints and a trilobite. Godzilla’s saurian appearance and the presence of extinct, prehistoric species in his wake suggest that he is a creature living in the wrong era, a monster that by sheer force of will or survival skill has persisted long after other species like him have perished. This shows that the unnatural act of nuclear weapons testing has resulted in a creature from a time very different from our own being thrust into the modern era, resulting in an unnatural clash between epochs. In this way, Godzilla is turned into a sort of prehistoric invader of the modern world, and the havoc that it wreaks across Japan is a clear indication of the friction caused by its presence in the wrong type of world.
While Godzilla’s origins are decidedly unnatural, its actions and effect on the world around it are strongly reminiscent of a force of nature or natural disaster. Godzilla’s first venture onto shore occurs off-screen during a vicious storm, and the monster’s roars are misconstrued by some as the natural sounds of the intense wind and rain. The parallels between the monster and the storm are readily apparent; both are powerful destructive forces that seem to have no regard for human life, both approach from the sea and devastate the island and its inhabitants, and both arrive in the night but leave before their terrified victims have the chance to fully understand the scope of what is happening. Later on in the film, when Godzilla makes its climactic assault on Tokyo, he again strikes with the speed and unpredictability of a natural disaster. Conventional military tactics have no effect on it and man-made structures are no match for its unspeakable destructive power.
Following the decimation of Tokyo, the Japanese military attempts to ward Godzilla off using a line of high voltage electrical towers, but Godzilla shrugs off the powerful jolt of electricity and proceeds unhindered. In much the same way that a hurricane or wildfire would simply pass by such an artificial barrier, Godzilla barely stops long enough to melt the wires strung between the towers with its atomic breath. In a way, this demonstration of tremendous strength and resilience shows that Godzilla cannot be stopped by either humans or natural forces like electricity.
Even Godzilla’s death at the end of the film suggests that it is very much like a force of nature. In order to finally end the monster’s rampage through Japan, a Japanese scientist reluctantly employs the product of his recent research: the oxygen destroyer. The oxygen destroyer works by breaking down oxygen atoms and asphyxiating and disintegrating any animals unfortunate to be caught in its path. It is only by using this incredibly unnatural device that the threat posed by Godzilla is finally ended. In order to kill the monster, mankind had to resort to once again acting against the fundamental forces that bind atoms together, giving a strange kind of symmetry to Godzilla’s reign of terror.
Much of Godzilla’s appeal as a monster in film comes from the all-encompassing and contradictory nature of his existence. It is both natural and unnatural, simultaneously a walking natural disaster that defies (almost) all of humanities attempts to restrain it and a temporally displaced invader unleashed upon the world by the breaking of that world’s most basic laws. Neither the artificial power of mankind nor the redirected power of nature can stop him, and the only thing that can possibly stop him is just as terrifying as the atrocity that freed him to run amok in the first place. All of this makes Godzilla a unique, compelling, and all-around intimidating creature in the world of science fiction, and likely one whose appeal will last for quite some time.
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