Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla 2014: A Pro Top Predator Movie?

OK, OK spoiler alert. I don't want to give a full on review or even a plot summary of the new film. But I do want to talk about some of the thematic issues in the new Godzilla film so better stop reading if you want to be surprised when you see it.

Noticing that there was a lot of Internet chatter regarding this rebooted Godzilla and, personally, I felt that a little was being lost in the Godzilla mania.  The monumental size of the animal or the lack of a neck were petty asides and I felt compelled to shout from the top of my little mountain "Godzilla is a parable for the nuclear age" (If you are the type who does not want politics mixed up with monster films better to stop reading, and as I mentioned earlier, the precedent for this type of film goes back to the absolute beginning of the franchise- so hogwash if you think this is new).  The ideas, themes, and issues that made the original Japanese cut of Gojira in 1954 such a nuanced "monster" film are still alive and well in 2014. How would this new film approach them?

The films director Gareth Edwards spells it out in none too vague language: Man vs. Nature is the predominant theme of the film, and I always tried to go back to that imagery. At the beginning when they find the fossils, it was important to me that they didn’t just find them—it was caused by our abuse of the planet. We deserved it, in a way. So there’s this rainforest with a big scar in the landscape with this quarry, slave labor, and a Western company. You have to ask yourself, “What does Godzilla represent?” The thing we kept coming up with is that he’s a force of nature, and if nature had a mascot, it would be Godzilla. So what do the other creatures represent? They represent man’s abuse of nature, and the idea is that Godzilla is coming to restore balance to something mankind has disrupted.

OK so it appears that, at least from the director's intent, Godzilla represents more than just nuclear power- but an overwhelming force of nature that restores ecological balance to a disrupted world ecology. For me this is a much more potent ecological message- Godzilla is coming to clean up our mess.  For the director to take this stance- Godzilla does not specifically represent nuclear, or exploitation of resources, or global warming - but in fact represents an avenging power seeking to redress these grievances, really extends out the deep metaphor that Godzilla always had.

"The arrogance of man is thinking man is in control of nature and not the other way around."

During several scenes in the film the character Dr, Ichiro Serizawa Ken Watanabe makes some poignant remarks and even describes Godzilla as the "top predator" of its radioactive ecosystem. I want to riff on this idea of "Godzilla as top predator".  Specifically with regards to the thematic intent earlier as described by the director coupled with the current state of knowledge on top predators as ecological linchpins (insert discussion on trophic cascades, wolves return to Yellowstone etc etc). Is Godzilla 2014 a pro-top predator film? All the underpinnings for a system out of whack are present in the film- nuclear residue, environmental catastrophe, invasive and parasitic fauna that reproduce rapidly -and Godzilla is the putative hero (i.e. top predator) returning to a system that it has been missing in to restore equilibrium. I don't know if its the filmmakers intent but for me I can connect the dots.

That is my moralistic take on the film. Ridiculously, there is already a bit of blow back on the part of climate-change deniers and anti-environmentalists. What the film really needed was a group in the movie screaming "Godzilla is a conspiracy... Godzilla does not exist!" and then panning over to Godzilla's foot stomping on the denialists... Anyways the whole state of Idaho and the Koch brothers can petition the film all they want.

Two tid-bits to look out for. There is an homage to Mothra and Jurassic Park in the film. Gonna look for others next time I watch it.

My only negatives for the film were not enough Cranston, not enough graphic post-rampage scenes of devastation like in the original where the mere proximity of Godzilla gave people radiation sickness, and I could do with out the whole Abber-Crombie and Fitch couple (Crantson's grown son and his wife)- completely extraneous. Otherwise I liked it.

While on the subject of top carnivores I have heard about this book and will probably get it sooner or later.

"With characteristic insight and clarity, Cristina Eisenberg paints the large-carnivore story across a vast canvas. Few can boil down the essentials like Eisenberg in prose that both informs and inspires. She has come through again with an engaging read about iconic species that put to the test our willingness to coexist with other life forms." 

Douglas W. Smith, Senior Wildlife Biologist, Yellowstone National Park

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Anonymous said...

My grumble about Godzilla was that the dude wasn't a predator. I mean, at the end of the movie, he just goes back into the water.

WHAT HAPPENED TO EATING THE MUTOS? That would have been a far more satisfying ending. Godzilla caching the MUTO carcasses around Fisherman's wharf for future dining, then chowing down on their radioactive carcasses. While Godzilla's poop wouldn't have been radioactive (the monsters somehow "eat" radioactivity--I don't understand it either), the MUTO carcasses would be. I also doubt that Godzilla would let humans rebuild until he was done with his feast. Would the MUTO carcasses rot? Possibly not--it depends on how radioactive they are. Still, I don't think they'd smell too good.

While Godzilla was chowing down everyone in San Francisco would evacuate to San Jose or west Oakland (if not to Cleveland), and the Air Force probably would drop a daisy cutter on Godzilla just to try to get him to leave, which might piss him off a bit.

Anyway, I didn't see any predator action in the film. Fighting yes, but Godzilla was way too nice, considering that humans had tried to nuke him in the not too distant past. He should have at least gotten to, I don't know, eat a MUTO head or something before he left.

Duane Nash said...

I agree he should have chowed down on the MUTOs. That was a little dissatisfying... on the other hand maybe it was a male lion vs hyena or wolf vs coyote type of thing. Godzilla wants to to kill off the competition or eliminate a possible threat from parasitism?

Maybe future films will clean this up...

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