Every movie, TV show, or documentary is not just entertainment but has truth claims that shape the message and story of that medium. Re:View’s mission is reviewing movies with God in view. Echoing Paul’s charge that, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31), Re:View looks to see where God’s truth can inform stories and where His truth can be found in the narratives and themes of the movies we watch.
Godzilla (2014) – Directed by Gareth Edwards
There are many people, directors and fanboys alike, who would love to have Gareth Edwards’ life right now. After a successful directorial debut with the 2010 sci-fi/fantasy drama Monsters, which garnered tons of fans and the admiration of late, great movie critic Roger Ebert and others, Edwards’ landed the $160 million budget Godzilla reboot. Shortly before the resulting Godzilla movie landed in theaters in May 2014, Edwards was hired to direct one of the Star Wars standalone films that will be released between the new trilogy movies. Edwards’ must be somewhere muttering Han Solo’s famous line, “Sometimes, I amaze even myself.”
Tossing aside the amazing exploits of the past 4-ish years by Gareth Edwards, he did some serious work to make the new Godzilla movie a better version of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version of the movie. It has been well documented that previous incarnations or re-cuts of the Godzilla movies have not translated well from Japan to America. This movie definitely stressed a more rooted return to the 1954 classic that launched Godzilla into the pantheon of movie monsters. From naming one of the characters after the eye-patched Dr. Serizawa of the original film to the first part of the movie and a major plot device focusing on nuclear testing and nuclear power, Edwards’ Godzilla was not going to repeat the mistakes of the past with the “King of the Monsters”.
Although opinions vary on the new Godzilla movie, I join the chorus praising the movie for its overall success and introducing a better and truer Godzilla. My partiality on this may be a bit more of my own personal preference for how the film was directed and the influence some of my favorite directors had on the movie. For one, the name Ford Brody is a dead giveaway that Edwards’ was influenced by the great Stephen Spielberg. Edwards even directly stated the feel of what he was going for was to replicate the suspense of Spielberg’s JAWS. Throw in a sterling performance by Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston that came off with a bit of a Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones style intensity and you had a recipe for a Spielberg-ian feel to this movie.
Another small influence on the movie that I could definitely see was the influence of the late HR Giger and the Alien movies. Edwards also has said that he really wanted the darker, more suspenseful portions to mimic the more fearful moments of Alien. Towards the end of the movie when Brody and other soldiers are down on the ground level of San Francisco you can feel that tension and darkness through the thick clouds of wreckage. It’s slightly terrifying and definitely something you do not expect from a movie with a 350-foot monster.
In an ode to Giger and Spielberg’s JAWS, what Edwards accomplishes in Godzilla, and what was masterfully done in Monsters, is to play on the elements of suspense and fear surrounding the impending monster while also probing the deeper fears of our collective societal sub-conscience.
Edwards wanted to take the fear we associate with being shocked on-screen and take it into a deeper realm that the original 1954 Godzilla had done with Japanese fears of nuclear warfare. However, the threat of a nuclear disaster has not reared its head in the American public conscience since the Chernobyl disaster in the 1980’s. Edwards had to ask, “What did American and global audiences fear with similar intensity to nuclear fears that gave rise to the Cold War?” In Edwards’ own words:
“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.”
The nuclear power plant, the nuclear warheads, military prowess, giant skyscrapers, monorails, fighter planes, among many other things are props and motifs showcasing human and scientific mastery over nature and the elements. The opening scene of the jungle-scape of the Philippines being marred by a giant quarry is the opening salvo of the war between man and nature. Godzilla and the MUTOS rise out the depths in response to human abuses of nature and act as a counter-balance to what human progress has knocked out of balance.
In the opening sequence we see a JFK-like cut of old film reels and ancient artifacts showing historical depictions of sea serpents, dragons, and other symbolic and religious imagery of giant monsters. Edwards acknowledged, “[T]he idea is that for all of time man has always found that there’s something out there for us to worship or fear, and it’s gone away for a while but in our film it returns.” Nature can be fearful and unknown and as a people we have always been struck with the awe-inspiring wonder of what we see
The GOD in Godzilla is a testament to this wonder and fear we rightly have toward nature and the unknown. Throughout history we have tried to quantify this fear of nature and its unknowns through dragons, sea serpents, yetis, etc. Today’s modern version of these projected fears of the unknown and powerful are to make giant 350-foot monsters that rampage across our big screens and into our collective social and cultural consciousness.
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. Romans 1:19-20
It is no coincidence that Godzilla’s name starts with God. Edwards mirrors the Apostle Paul’s assertion that what we fear about nature is really a greater fear of the God who created all these things. We can perceive God in the giant mountains, the great depths of the seas, and the intensity and far off wonder of the sun. We see His eternal power and supernatural character and we rightly fear nature and perceive the divinity ruling over nature. This fear is captured brilliantly in Godzilla through the camera perspectives that avoid the typical movie-like panoramas or frames of the monsters and it focuses on human and ground-level perspectives of the monsters that give the movie this awe-inducing and massive-scale.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10
All of these elements witness to the rightful fear we have over nature and the great majesty and power behind all of it. The epic King of the Monsters points us to the even more epic King of Kings who created all things and whose majesty and power are behind every created thing. In a time where we believe nature is at our mercy due to scientific knowledge and vast human progress, Godzilla points us to the eternal truth of our finitude and counters our supposed mastery of the natural elements with every squished building and MUTO digested nuclear missile.
“For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.” Psalm 103:14-16
Our great and powerful creator, the God of the universe, knows that we are mere dust. Every city destroying moment of Godzilla reflects the plain truths of man’s grass-like nature. Like David Strathairn’s character, Admiral Stenz, we try to suppress the truth like the people Paul refers to in Romans one. However, we cannot hide the 350-foot monster in the room. The fall in the garden of Adam and Eve has led to the ills described by Edwards in Godzilla; man’s abuse of nature, death, strife, nuclear war. It has also created a literal gulf between us and our creator and separated us from him. Our sinful repression of God’s truth bears the same fruit as trying to hide the rampaging of kaiju; it reaps death and destruction in our lives and in the world and reveals the wrath of God.
“But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.” Psalm 103:17-19
But God has not left us under His wrath, which is revealed against our unrighteous suppression of the truth, and has fully revealed his steadfast love in His son, Jesus Christ. Like the soldiers halo jumping into the hell-torn cityscape of San Francisco, the literal saviors from the monsters, we are safe from His destruction and wrath through the condescending into history of Jesus Christ, our savior from the monsters of sin, Satan, death, and hell.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” Romans 3:23-24
We no longer have to fear the destruction wrought by our sin and have been redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and given a new life to walk with him in faith. Godzilla is that reminder of the destruction sinful man has wrought and points to the God who has given us a savior in the perfect man, Jesus Christ.