Godzilla, part one

>> Friday, May 16, 2014

The Scatterkat and I joined friends for Godzilla last night.  
It was fun, we enjoyed ourselves, if you were on the fence you probably ought to go.  I haven't quite decided whether there's ever a point to doing reviews here, because a lot of the kinds of films I end up seeing are the kinds of movies my friends--and most of this blog's visitors are friends--have already come to a decision on.  I suspect.  If you're the sort of reader who is planning on seeing Godzilla, I doubt my bad review, if I gave one, would change your mind; conversely, if you have no intention of seeing Godzilla under any circumstances, I doubt my rave review, if I gave one, would change your mind.

And if you're on the fence, well--most likely, what's going to persuade you to see/not see Godzilla will be the weather and what else is playing.  It's raining, you're in the mood to see a Godzilla movie, hey, here ya go.

I suppose I've buried a hint about my feelings in the above paragraphs without really even meaning to: that I liked Godzilla but I can't say I loved it, that I enjoyed it, but I don't think it's going to supplant Gojira in my heart.  And this comment, I suppose, also discloses a bias: I like, but don't necessarily love, many of the later Godzilla movies, but I'm the killjoy purist who thinks there was one truly great Godzilla movie in 1954 and every thing else has been but a shadow.  I love kaiju fighting and I love cheesy movies and I'm even misanthropic enough at some wicked level to enjoy watching humans get what's coming to us (though I'm discovering, as I get older, I enjoy it less than I did when I was a teenager), but Gojira wasn't really any of those things even if it was the modern beginning of all of them (yes, I know King Kong came First Of All, and I love Kong, but modern monster movies are Godzilla's children, not Kong's).

Gojira is fundamentally different from all the movies that copied it, much as Jaws is fundamentally and essentially different from all the movies that came after.  It's easy to forget this.  Everyone who made a Scary Animal movie in the wake of Jaws (see what I did there?) thought that Jaws was a movie about a big shark, and you could get the same kind of effect if you struck out "shark" and replaced it with killer whale, or bear, or pig, or whatever; but Jaws is a movie about three guys bonding while on a quest to save a small town from a natural disaster it isn't equipped to handle, and oh yeah, there happens to be a big shark that's a part of that.  Gojira is a movie about the horrors of an indifferent universe in which God, if it exists, is a vicious and brutal bastard, and how personal integrity and honor are about the only things that matter in the face of a cosmos that is at best indifferent and at worst really out to fuck people up, and by the way there's a giant atomic-fire-breathing dinosaur that shows up and gives a face (and a voice!) to the incomprehensible and primal vast.  Everybody who saw Gojira's box office numbers, including Toho Co., Ltd., the studio that produced Gojira and its Japanese sequels, decided it was a movie about a dinosaur.  Which is great: I love dinosaurs.  But it also totally misses the point.

This leads me to a realization of something I didn't grok about myself and therefore didn't know I'd write, which makes me glad I'm doing this post after all: as much as I love kaiju and monsters and such, and therefore love so many of the inferior clones and sequels that followed Gojira, I don't think that's what I actually love about Gojira itself; I think, ultimately, I love Gojira for basically the same reason I love H.P. Lovecraft even though he was a horrible racist who wrote some fairly terrible short stories over the course of a fairly unsuccessful career.  Godzilla, in his initial appearance, isn't really Godzilla as he comes to be known in all the other movies he starred in: in Gojira, Godzilla is Cthulhu; he's an Elder Thing from a Strange Aeon who serves as a symbol or avatar for all we can't ever possibly understand even though it will eventually kill us, kill us as individuals and as a species.  Godzilla and Cthulhu are the reason bad things happen to good people, they're drought and famine and plague, they're nuclear war, they're a gamma ray burst from a distant supernova, they're an asteroid impact.  They're the fact that you and I will die someday, and so will everyone who loved us until everyone who had a reason to remember us is gone and we're just names on a stone marker or a line in the census, and even those things will be gone in time, and unless one of the ten million world religions that believes in an afterlife or some kind of reincarnation just happens against all the odds to be right about something for once, that will be It.

This sounds awful, and yet it's also inordinately optimistic.  If Godzilla--the original, very first appearance of Godzilla--and Cthulhu are the embodiment of the cessation of existence, the key thing there is embodiment.  You can run from Godzilla.  He might step on you anyway, he has big feet and a long stride, but you have better chances against him than you do old age.  Cthulhu lies sleeping in sunken R'lyeh, and if he doesn't get his act together while the stars are just so in the sky, you get another thousand year reprieve.  As bleak and pessimistic as the existentialist worldview appears on the surface, the truth is that it's the ultimate in optimism: if the universe has no meaning and is just going to roll over you sooner or later, you get to define it on your own terms and face it with your head held high.  You get to decide for yourself if you're going to let yourself get eaten or if you're going to go deep-sea diving with the Oxygen Destroyer tucked beneath your arm.  As symbols of indifferent destruction and the inevitability of death go, Godzilla and Cthulhu are things with faces, which means you can punch them, even if it's absolutely the last thing you'll do.

Fuck you, Godzilla.  Fuck you, Cthulhu.  Fuck you, death.

This is not where I thought I was going with this at all.


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