I went to the cinema for the first time since my daughter was born in 2009. I usually can’t justify it, not with writing deadlines and grading due and children to care for. But yesterday I was met with some writers block, and I chose to go see a film.
What intrigued me about Godzilla was essentially one scene in a 30 second trailer; it shows Godzilla screaming down into the camera while juxtaposed to Chinese lanterns. The scream and dark mise-en-scene really affecting my feelings, and I felt the film might actually be frightening. I think monster movies, while accessing our deepest fears, are usually really stupid, but I also think their stupidity is important. There’s only so much you can do with the plot of a monster movie. Then again, there’s only so much we can do with our monsters.
I did not expect a film full of candy for cinephiles. It includes off-hand references to Kurasawa and Kubrick (Gareth Edwards, the director, uses Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, one of my favorite compositions, in a masterful sequence depicting paratroopers jumping from a plane and falling through a gray and orange sky). It’s also full of delightfully ironic and blithe meta-film, screens depicting newscasts of monsters tearing up Vegas while clueless gamblers focus on slot machines. The film takes itself just seriously enough to offer important commentary on our human arrogance before nature and our belief that technology—specifically military technology—can solve all our problems. But it retains the whimsy necessary to make a monster movie. In the end, its entire premise—I won’t get into it, because it’s part of the delight, but the film deals with nuclear technology and uses the history of nuclear testing and atomic warfare as part of its plot—is absurd. To pretend it isn’t would be folly.
I also did not expect the film to present a Zen argument. This is still a Hollywood film, a remake of a Japanese monster movie. The Zen lesson amounts to pop-Zen, perhaps a good step above the kind available in Tron Legacy, but it’s still rooted in lessons that are sincere and wise. Essentially the lesson is that our self-inflation is the problem, larger than the monster we perceive, a creature that is actually benevolent. I felt the lesson provided a refreshing counterpoint to the usual themes of Biblical apocalypse and redemption at the heart of most monster or disaster narratives that come out of Hollywood. It was also fun to be part of a community for whom this film was clearly meant.
In short, I really recommend it. There’s a lot more to it than what monster movies usually bring, and it includes some really poetic cinematography.