Friday, May 16, 2014

Why Godzilla Matters

"One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subjects, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan?" - Moby Dick, Herman Melville
"Give me a condor's quill!" Melville goes on to say. "Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand!" He exclaims. "Friends, hold my arms!" He pleads. "For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circles of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs."

In 1954, a Japanese icon was born. Brought about as a cautionary tale of humanity's use of nuclear weapons. For the last sixty years, Godzilla and other daikaiju (giant strange creature) of his ilk have come and gone, but the morbid fascination with these characters remain. The mass destruction that comes in the wake of these monsters is like nothing else we have ever witnessed outside of a Roland Emmerich film, but unlike the films of Emmerich (I do not include his version of Godzilla because the film itself was a travesty of immeasurable proportions) these kaiju are not there for the sake of destruction. At least, that's not how they are now.

Originally, Godzilla was Japan's nightmare personified by a man in a suit. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left a scar on Japan, one that became a metaphor as a giant monster who kills indiscriminately. One that had to be destroyed, and they did. But I don't think the filmmakers were prepared for what happened next. I don't think they were aware that by anthropomorphizing their monster, they were in fact creating a mirror. One that when humans stared at it, they saw a bit of themselves, and they were sca-roused (scare and aroused, my word I stole from Futurama).

Me Grimlock am a sentient robot who deserves better than this.
Now let's be honest, I'm just as much of a fan of Baysplosions (Michael Bay explosions, I'm sure I stole that one from Robot Chicken) as the next red-blooded American. From watching things go very fast and in a furious manner to watching someone completely misinterpret a Mayan prophecy; I love watching the spectacle of things that I would otherwise die if I came into contact with them. Godzilla stems from the same awe. But what makes him more than just a lean, mean, kinda green machine is his connection to nature. He comes out of the water, a creature brought about by the radiation of man, laying waste to the glory that we have built. There are times he protects us from the other monsters that seek to destroy us, and there are times we bear his full wrath. Regardless of the circumstance, no matter how well we weather the storm, at the end of the day, we're just along for the ride. Exactly how we're just along for the ride on this planet.

Godzilla is the cinematic version of Melville's white whale. Just as Ahab foolishly attempts to control nature, so to does man foolishly attempt to control Godzilla. And as much as the movies try to make Godzilla human friendly, he shines best when he is out of control and we have no idea if he will turn on us at any minute. This battle of man vs nature is an old one. One where man stubbornly tries to one-up nature at every turn. And for every milestone and wonder we think we achieve; a little shake, a little eruption, a little fire, and we are back to the stone age, if we're lucky.

So why does Godzilla matter? Why do we feel the need to tell a story of us getting figuratively spanked in our entertainment without the need for safe word? The answer is pretty simple. Cause we need to be reminded, constantly, that we are not better than anything else on this planet, we are all guests here to an uncontrollable host, a force of nature. And the moment we forget is usually the moment Godzilla will turn up.

I haven't seen the new Godzilla movie. I'm sure I will at some point in the near future. I miss seeing nature kick ass, even if it's ours.