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Thoughts on Godzilla and Myopia

(Spoiler alert for Godzilla 2014)

First, I want to say that I probably would have enjoyed this movie more if my well-intentioned friends hadn’t told me that it wasn’t that bad. I have high expectations for monster movies and wasn’t planning on seeing Godzilla, but when I heard from reliable sources that it was worth seeing I should have tried to pretend I knew nothing. For the same reason, I loathed The Usual Suspects the first time I saw it because someone told me it was a comedy.

So, giant monster films. It’s pretty obvious and heavy handed that this, and so many others of Godzilla’s kin, are about our insignificance and squish-ability before the awesome forces of nature and stuff. They’re all essentially about human arrogance getting the smack down from Big Bad that could easily be replaced by a natural disaster like a tsunami, earthquake, or hurricane. This, Godzilla did very well.

Unlike the 1998 take on the King of Monsters in America, this one went old school with multiple monsters and Godzilla being the accidental anti-hero, eventually saving San Francisco from the Other Terrible Behemoths. What’s more fun is that the not-terribly-cliche obligatory Obsessed Scientist explains that this epic battle in fact has nothing to do with humanity. Godzilla wasn’t there to destroy or save us. And the two MUTO were just out to eat uranium and get laid. That leaves everyone else (us) just as an inconvenience, a really unlucky bystander. We are beneath them – completely unworthy of their attention as they have it out in the middle of San Francisco.

That much is common in the Giant Monster genre. What Godzilla did that was interesting is that the myopia works both ways. Throughout the whole movie the characters are always oblivious to Godzilla and the MUTOs until it’s too late. You’d think that watching a creature the size of a skyscraper sneak up on people would be amusing, but it’s deeply unsettling. Characters are constantly turning around to realize that the ridge behind them is actually a MUTO or that island out there is actually Godzilla. Even the military can’t keep track of them with all their sophisticated equipment and methods.

In many ways, this inability to detect something so ridiculously humongous just reinforces the monsters’ power over us. But it also says something dark about us: that we aren’t just impotent against the dangerous forces around us — we’re lucky if we notice them at all before they kill us.

It’s a pretty good metaphor for climate change. In the past few months, the White House, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and independent researches reported dire and immediate consequences of climate change across the globe. After the winter we just had, it seems incredible. But that’s what this is: a barely perceptible and unfolding catastrophe.

I didn’t really want on a political note, but that tends to happen when your job is to talk about this all day.


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