The Conservative Fantasy of Godzilla (Analysis and Spoilers)

Some people have looked at the political message of Godzilla (2014) because of how surprising frequent it is, given it’s a giant monster movie. On the one hand there is the heavy handed anti-nuclear message: literally, giant monsters emerged because of nuclear submarines and the past 50 years of tests were secret attempts to pacify them. In fact, one of the complaints was that there was not enough Godzilla and too much story. But on the other is the hidden symbolic message that this supposedly progressive movie has.

To put it simply, the film argues that we’ve angered the gods. Humanity was doing fine until nuclear power came about which led to an “imbalance” by attracting giant monsters. As Ken Watanabe says explicitly:

“The error in man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around.”

Thus the solution is Godzilla, as the “Alpha Predator.” As Watanabe says, his role is to restore order and the only thing humans can do is to “let them fight.”

Human Responsibility for Our Actions

One of the great appeals for having a mythical “natural order” is that it alleviates human responsibility. It’s something that Eric Fromm pointed out in Escape From Freedom, if we are no longer the agents in control of events, then we are not responsible for them.

Surprisingly, even though Godzilla tried to make nuclear power look bad it ironically did the opposite. Instead of just having disasters and fallout because of horrific policies and technology, in the film’s universe they were defenses against giant monsters. That is, the injuries from nuclear power was out of self-defense, rather than a catastrophe in-itself (If the movie went one step further, it might have negated the 1954 original by arguing that the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were really just attempts to kill Godzilla.)

In a sense this is an easier story to take, instead of governments and corporations inflicting pain on their own people (as the US and USSR did in their nuclear tests), they can be rationalized as defensive measures, as almost all horrific crimes are.

Return To a “Natural” (Read: Overtly Patriarchal) Order  

Nuclear power is in many ways the perfect folly because it gets liberals on board with “restoring nature.” The problem is what kind “nature” is movie is implying. One is overt male hierarchy, as Wantabe illustrates there is a prophecy for the “Alpha” Predator to kill the other Muto monsters: a smaller male and larger (read: dominant) female.

If that symbolism wasn’t obvious enough image this: Godzilla is a giant MRA rampaging through San Fransisco while the male Mutto is a fedora-wearing Nice Guy and the female Muto is an All Powerful Feminist. This follows a slew of recent sci fi/action films of men “taking back” control from women like Doghouse (2009) or Wanted (2008).

This of course is usually a chauvinistic fantasy which in real life leads to things like the recent Santa Barbara shooting. The only science fiction film that accurately portrays men “taking back” control is Chronicle (2012) where the main character uses telekinesis to become an “Apex Predatory” (not unlike the Alpha Predator of Godzilla) and essentially became a murderer.

Restoration of Fatherhood

As Zizek pointed out, if there is one thing any conservative/patriarchal movie needs it’s a restoration of paternal authority. Godzilla doesn’t just have one father restoring himself in the eyes of his children but two. The first is Bryan Cranston, who through Malcom in the Middle to Breaking Bad, is sort of the epitome of fathers taking back respect. Anyways, he goes from conspiracy-theory cook to justified in proving that that were actually giant monsters! (and to insult to injury, he was the only decently acted character in the whole film). Next is Aaron Taylor-Johnson who is too aloof and removed from his kid. Ultimately, he helps save the city and is reunited with his family by the end.

Did I mention that in addition to two fathers reconciling that are three kids that end up getting fathered? In addition to Taylor-Johnson and his son, there’s also a separated kid in San Fransisco that Taylor-Johnson basically fathers on the side.

The Director Made A Film About Immigrant Space Aliens Destroying Society

But wait, maybe I’m looking too deeply into this. Well that would be the case if Gareth Edwards wasn’t so on the nose reactionary. In Monsters (2010) the whole premise is that space aliens crashland on the US-Mexico border (Get it? Space/Mexican Aliens!) and have “infected” and essentially destroyed the US (oh…).

It just goes to show how a progressive premise (nuclear power bad!) can be executed in such an absurdly reactionary way.

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The Irony of Lars von Trier: A feminist analysis of Nymphomaniac (2013)

After seeing the Lars von Trier’s controversial new film Nymphomaniac (2013)  (or really two films), I can say that it was generally watchable as a film (assuming someone doesn’t have an aversion to graphic content) but there was a tension between the  message of the film, which, in a poor film-making choice was told explicitly to the audience, and the actual content that was shown. Specifically, since the film dealt with women and sex, it is appropriate to use a feminist lens to analyze the film. 

As mentioned before, the film makes the strange choice to explain to the audience the point of every scene and the ostensibly pro-feminist message of the film. This is perhaps not without cause, von Trier has been accused of being a misogynist for the unfortunate outcomes of women in his films and making a film where a sex-addicted women falls on hard times would probably further that image. And while he is certainly no misogynist, it is hard to see this film as a feminist parable.

The film is takes place in the present where Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, is found lying in an alley and is given refuge by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) and the two recount her life’s story, going into flashbacks of her youth. After she finishes her story, Seligman concludes that her fall from grace was the result of European society’s double standard for women.

This is particularly odd given Joe’s character. First she is explicitly illiberal when it comes to race, democracy, and equality in general (although without a central core that can identify an ideology). For instance when she is in a sex-addicts self-help group, she gives a rousing speech about how she is better than all the other women there and that societal standards for egalitarianism are wrong. It is also odd given her backstory: throughout the film, Joe never explicitly faces structural barriers as a women (at one point she even gets a job despite having no experience) and any sanctions come from her loved ones. For instance, Joe leaves her child alone from 2 AM to 6 AM alone to go to BDSM building, which almost results in the child’s death. After she does it again, her husband and child leave her.

Thus despite the proclamations to the audience, the film is not seen as a struggle of women in a patriarchal society; instead we are shown a reactionary struggling in a liberal society. Given the politeness of strangers, Joe’s illiberal character and easy achievements, and the hatred of her by her loved ones, it is hard to see it in any other way. von Trier also has precedent for using reactionary themes in his films. In Manderlay (2005), von Trier presents a slave plantation that is trapped in time in the 1930s and, after being liberated by an idealistic mob heiress, falls apart because of the dependencies of the former slaves (apparently von Trier never heard about the slave uprisings and mass escapes in general).

One can of course, make the argument that perhaps the home-maker structure itself was oppressive, forcing her to neglect her child, but among all the proclamations of double standards, this one was never pointed out. Indeed, what’s hiding behind the graphic content in von Trier’s film, is an oddly reactionary story.