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Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was praised for taking an art house approach to blockbuster fodder but did you miss the key clue to understanding the film?

Some of the biggest scheduling news of 2016 came from major studios doubling down on their investments in their iconic monster movie franchises, planning ambitious slates for over the next five years on some high-concept and big-budget films. Warner Brothers has committed themselves to a gargantuan project involving legendary B-movie heroes King Kong and Godzilla, all built off of the back of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film Godzilla. It may not have been to every fan’s liking but the film made enough of a profit, and wide enough approval, to greenlight projects stretching to 2020.

The most frequent complaints that you’ll hear about Edwards’ Godzilla will be about the big lizard himself. The primary criticism often being that, if we’re to view Godzilla as being either a protagonist or a force for good in the film, we’re never really shown a clear reason for him to be involved or connected to the plot. Also many were stumped by the film’s decision to show Godzilla being somehow spiritually connected to the film’s main protagonist, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s bomb-tec. This may, however, be due to Edwards burying the lede on Godzilla’s motivations in the film.

Ken Watanabe’s character, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, frequently refers to Godzilla as a force of nature. Needing no understanding or reasoning, operating beyond the laws of humans. But there are a lot of similarities between Edwards’ approach to Godzilla and the approach he used in his breakout monster film, aptly titled Monsters, in 2010. He’s clearly very big on naturalism and finding the beauty in animal instincts which are often portrayed as being immoral or base.

Monsters was a film ultimately about attraction and sex while Godzilla is a film ultimately about procreation and lineage. It is a film about protecting offspring and, most specifically, a film about the relationship between fathers and sons.

The film is full to bursting with imagery relating to this. The central relationship of the film is between Taylor-Johnson’s Ford Brody and Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody, a man haunted by his inability to fully protect his family from this unstoppable force which ends up taking his life too.

In his dying words to Ford, he implores him to protect his own son “no matter what.” Dr Serizawa carries with him a watch given to him by his father, stopped at the moment when the bomb hit Hiroshima, was his father’s proximity to the blast what caused his death too? On an airport train system a mother and father lose their son and Ford must look after him. At the police station Ford notices a father punishing his son, emphasizing the role reversal he feels with his own father. It’s clearly a recurring theme and it’s one which completely explains the connection Edwards makes between Ford and Godzilla.

At the beginning of the film Dr Serizawa and his right hand, Dr. Vivienne Graham (who refers to him as “sensei” in the film, a term which literally translates as “born before”), inspect the cave which had unleashed the MUTO, the film’s primary antagonist. Inside, with the MUTO spores, they find a colossal skeleton which Graham first believes could be Godzilla but Serizawa states that the fossil is too old. While it looks to be exactly like Godzilla it is from a time before him – and this is the key to understanding the entire film. Is this the remains of Godzilla’s father?

Godzilla is always consciously referred to as being male (and also asexual in franchise canon) as well as being the last of his kind. The MUTO spores are described as being parasitic, clearly implying that they are what killed the Godzilla-like creature in the cave. Serizawa posits that Godzilla is a force to restore natural order, or balance, but is he also, like Ford Brody, avenging the death of his father by killing the creature which killed them?

To avenge the death of one’s father is a historically classic staple of cultures with strict honour codes, particularly in Japan where it falls under the traditional practice referred to as katakiuchi. While it’s just one of many subtextual meanings in Godzilla (the use of nuclear energy and weaponry being another huge aspect of the film) it is one which explains the core motivation of Godzilla himself.

 

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Posted on Feb 11, 2017

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