By Dushyant Shekhawat Jun. 01, 2019
Godzilla has always embodied humankind’s worst fears about the end of the world. This was true for the Japanese classic released in 1954, and it is just as true for its latest instalment, Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Godzilla is huge. That much is obvious, when talking about a 150-foot tall nuclear-powered lizard monster, but I don’t just mean huge in literal terms. He’s also huge in terms of the enormous shadow he casts across the pop-culture landscape. Consider this: Godzilla has been a global movie star longer than even Amitabh Bachchan or Robert De Niro. Such longevity must be considered as a testament to his long-lasting appeal. Over the course of his decades-spanning career, Godzilla has evolved with every iteration, but one thing has remained constant – Godzilla has always embodied humankind’s worst fears about the end of the world. This was true for the Japanese classic released in 1954, and it is just as true for this year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
In the latest film, a sequel to the 2014 Hollywood reboot of the franchise, monsters like Godzilla are awakening from hibernations that lasted for millennia, including King Ghidorah, a three-headed, lightning-spitting dragon so enormous that he makes Godzilla look like the smaller combatant whenever they square off. Unlike the other monsters, who embody a perfect balance in the natural order, Ghidorah is disruptive, reshaping the planet to better suit his needs with destructive storms and widespread carnage. It’s an arrogant besmirching of nature, but also one that echoes what humankind has done to the planet since the dawn of our civilisation.
Godzilla is the opposite of Ghidorah in every aspect. If Ghidorah represents a natural order thrown into chaos, Godzilla is a symbol of the planet and all life on it existing in harmony. Ecosystems that he passes through begin to flourish with new life, and the scars of human exploitation on the planet begin to fade. Every time these two behemoths come to battle, it is a fight between peaceful co-existence and the destruction of the planet to serve the needs of single creature.
Godzilla has been trying to make for decades has been that humanity doesn’t need monsters to destroy itself; we’re more than capable of doing that on our own.
The imbalance caused by humanity in the natural order might be the greatest threat facing life on Earth. Ghidorah is merely a stand-in for this threat in the film. Since the start of the new millennium, scientists at the Geological Society of London, Geological Society of America, and other organisations have been claiming that our planet has entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene, marked by human activity affecting massive geological changes, including climate change, the most-pressing of them all. In reality, it won’t be massive movie monsters that send tsunami waves crashing in to destroy our coastal cities, it will be melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Overpopulation, overexploitation of natural resources, and unchecked pollution is capable of choking the planet until human life on it becomes impossible. We could be among the last generations to have access to 24/7 water supply.
These are the fears that haunt our collective consciousness, and once again, they have found expression in a Godzilla film. In 1954, the seminal classic Godzilla introduced us to a titanic kaiju, stirred from slumber by nuclear explosions, rising from the deep to reduce Tokyo to rubble. The story showcased the spectre of nuclear annihilation to a world where that was a real possibility, thanks to the Cold War between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. In a Japan where the scars of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still only a few years old, Godzilla became a reminder of how nuclear power, if unchecked, could lead to our ultimate doom.
Over the years, the portrayal of Godzilla as a destructive force softened, and today he has come to represent something else entirely – harmony with nature. But King of the Monsters shares much in common with its predecessor from 65 years ago. The point Godzilla has been trying to make for decades has been that humanity doesn’t need monsters to destroy itself; we’re more than capable of doing that on our own.