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Of Godzilla and . . . God Print E-mail
By Tom Nash   
Saturday, 24 May 2014

When several of my male EWTN colleagues and I decided to watch Godzilla together during its opening week, I thought of how a common affection for the legendary dinosaur during our respective boyhoods had brought us together, even though we had all grown up in various places across America. Such is the power of culture. Much more profound, I also thought, is our shared Catholic culture, our unity in Jesus Christ and his Church, which preceded our cinematic outing and which drew us all to serve the Lord together in Irondale, Alabama, at EWTN.

And then we watched the movie (warning: spoiler alert), and my reflections continued, rather unexpectedly, on Godzilla and God. Some might argue that the name “Godzilla” is itself an irreverent use of God’s name. However, if we consider the theme of the original 1954 Japanese classic, the monster’s name arguably emerges as exemplifying the perversion of God’s created order and not a blasphemous moniker.

“Gojira” is the movie’s original Japanese title and has no divine underpinnings, but it became “Godzilla” when it debuted in America. Director Honda Ishuro observed the horror of the atom bombs dropped on civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S. Army (see  Gaudium et Spes, no. 80, for the Church’s condemnation of such).

And so Ishuro depicted the monster as the result – the revenge even – of related detonation tests, as man’s attempt to harness nature. Consequently, in light of Ishuro’s vision and its Americanized title, one might argue that man’s attempt “to be God” resulted in the perversion and backlash of God’s natural order (Gen. 3:1-7; Rom 1:22), and thus the creation of the monstrous “Godzilla.”

In Gareth Edwards’ latest remake, Godzilla has a “conversion,” going from man’s vengeful adversary to his restorative counterpart and “savior.”  Giant insect-like monsters called MUTOs – Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms – are not the product of man’s misuse of nature in this presentation.

Rather, having burrowed deep toward the earth’s core to get adequate radiation (their life source) to survive (when it became atmospherically deficient at the end of the Mosozoic age) the MUTOs are now drawn back to the surface to feast on man’s use of nuclear technology. (Granted, the legitimate use of nuclear power is morally different from the misuse of the atomic bomb.)

But . . . Godzilla also emerges from the earth to restore the natural order, to save man from his excesses and defeat the dreaded MUTOs, who would otherwise most likely multiply and eventually exterminate mankind.

Sound God-like?  Well, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa, played by Ken Watanabe, refers to the monster as “god” in the film, but he means the term as a force of nature and not the author of the created order, and yet acting in conformity with that order, all things considered. (I make that disclaimer because, while Godzilla is on mankind’s side, there’s always collateral damage when the big fella fights his monstrous adversaries in densely populated urban areas. That’s just gonna happen.)

And there’s more. A nuclear warhead is intended by the U.S. military to be the demise of the MUTOs and, reluctantly, Godzilla – this baby’s gonna make the atomic bomb “look like a firecracker,” we’re told. But Momma MUTO intercepts the missile by derailing a train carrying it, and then she places the missile in her newly created nest in San Francisco, ready to nourish her soon-to-be-born multitudinous offspring.

A team of American soldiers flies in to retrieve the bomb, which is on a timer, so that they can disarm it or transport it out to sea before it blows up. And before they all parachute from their plane, they clearly pray a Christian prayer together, asking God’s blessing on their efforts. And as they descend to the earth as, one writer put it, “the haunting buzz of Györgi Ligeti’s ‘Requiem’” serves as a backdrop.

So man and Godzilla both oppose the MUTOs, Godzilla is clearly subordinate to the one, true God, and yet the monster is also arguably a type of Christ, as odd as that might sound. When Godzilla defeats the MUTOs in grand fashion, he falls to the earth, overcome by his mission to “save the world.”  And then, though seemingly dead, Godzilla surprisingly “rises” to life anew, bathed appropriately in a “garment” of white residue accumulated from his battles.

Finally, Godzilla lumbers back to the sea a victor, with local San Franciscans cheering him on as a TV-newscast headline proclaims him as the “King of the Monsters and Savior of Our City” (emphasis added). At the very least, the director appears to use imagery and themes with which a wider Christian audience can identify and appreciate.

Others are noting the “God-related” themes of Godzilla, even if some are opting for a more clearly established ecological analysis.

In any event, this is a movie that families can view with their children around ages 10 and up, with some relatively minor language issues, and have good discussions about its positive messages: that authentic marriages and families are good and should be sustained; that heroic sacrifices should be made for one’s loved ones, community and nation; and that, yes, God does exist and should be sought in times of trial.

No doubt these are, collectively, significant reasons – along with smashing special effects – why this movie is doing very well at the box office, whatever its flaws, and why it comes as a welcome alternative to the all-too-frequent, less edifying fare that is marketed in theaters in America and around the world.

 
Tom Nash is a theology advisor for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). He appears periodically as a panelist on “EWTN Theology Roundtable," and is also a co-host of the EWTN series “The Biblical Story of the Mass.” Tom is the author of Worthy is the Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass and a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass.

 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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Comments (16)Add Comment
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written by Sue, May 24, 2014
"... the monster is also arguably a type of Christ, as odd as that might sound."

But is it possible the monster is a *counterfeit* of Christ? The prototypical figure for Satan is the dragon...are we being encouraged to embrace "the beast" will be my question when I watch it.
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written by Elizabeth Sheehy, May 24, 2014
@ Sue:
Having grown up watching the original Gojira series, I would say the "monster" is more akin to Aslan from C S Lewis's Narnia books than to a dragon. He's absolutely a hero by the second film.
Whar we get out of pop culture depends on what we bring to it. What we bring to it, and share with others, can influence their view, for good or ill. I prefer to try to influence folks toward my Jesus, and if Gojira can help, I'll use him.
Looking forward to seeing this version of the story!
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written by Tom Nash, May 24, 2014
Thank you for commenting, Sue.

You said, "But is it possible the monster is a *counterfeit* of Christ? The prototypical figure for Satan is the dragon...are we being encouraged to embrace "the beast" will be my question when I watch it."

I don't think so, because Godzilla heads back to the oceans and the depths of the earth. He doesn't stick around to rule the world and demand obedience or even worship, in contrast to the devil/dragon, and those who do his bidding, e.g., the beasts in the Book of Revelation.

Rather, as a force of nature, Godzilla's purpose is to restore the natural created order and thereby ultimately point toward God, the founder of that order.

Tom
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written by Myshkin, May 24, 2014
Oh boy, another tired attempt to make the detritus of contemporary pop culture into "lessons for all Christians, everywhere!"

It's not that. It's just some rubbish hawked to gullible rubes so that the movie industry can make a fat living. Take off your TV-industry shades (they're the ones behind your eyes), and think!
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written by Tom Nash, May 24, 2014
Dear Myshkin,

If you'd like to get more specific instead of summarily dismissing the movie and my column, I'd be happy to attempt to respond. I think even Dostoyevsky would give me that courtesy. :)

Tom
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written by ZZMike, May 24, 2014
As you mentioned Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and "Gaudium et Spes", I think it's reasonable to add a little.

It takes two to make peace, but only one to make war. Many men are fallible, and many fall into the error of imposing their will on others. Unfortunately, too many of those last also fall into positions of power. We need only to look at North Korea - in contemporary times - for a glaring example of this.

The whole of Section I is worth reading.But we all know that war is singularly unpleasant, and an attempt to make it less so skips the point of trying to make war unacceptable altogether. Given 10,000 years of recorded human history, that is simply not possible.

Section 83 expands on this.

But I need to point our that the "excessive economic inequalities and from putting off the steps needed to remedy them" comes not from natural (i.e., inevitable) causes, but from governments (by which I mean, the people in power), by subjugating their people, by not letting them develop their own resources, and by ruling them with an iron fist. Again, North Korea stands out - but is not alone.

The atomic bombing of Japan in 1945 was necessary. The Japanese people - devoted to the Emperor as an almost divine figure - were determined to fight to the last man, woman, and child. We found evidence for this after the surrender; other evidence appeared in the form of the kamikazi ("divine wind") suicide pilots.

We were ready to launch a land invasion of Japan, on a much larger scale than D-Day in Europe. Casualties on both sides were conservatively estimated to be in the millions, both military and civilian. The bombs brought about the Japanese surrender.

I suggest that our treatment of our defeated enemy was starkly different than would have been their treatment of us.

As for the movie, we will see it this weekend. My only worry is that it's going to turn out to be just another "Man is so awful, creating global warming and all" propaganda piece. The interview with the director suggests that that's a main topic.
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written by Seanachie, May 24, 2014
ZZ Mike, above, has it right. Perhaps Director Honda Ishuro had the genocidal horror of the Rape of Nanking, the attack on Pearl Harbor, or, the Bataan Death March in mind when he crafted his monsters.
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written by Schm0e, May 24, 2014
OMGodzilla, is this a stretch.

Did you notice that "civilian collateral damage" is "just gonna happen" when it supports your thesis, but when it doesn't, well, you'd better refer to the Pope's condemnation of it.

Is this "hate Ametica" week at TCT? There's apparently an "axis of traitorousness" that runs through the unexamined modern Catholic mind which culminates (if it has yet culminated) in things like a very communist leaning president with a cabinet full of reprobate Catholics. Would that the Pope would write an encyclical on *that*.
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written by Carlos Caso-Rosendi, May 24, 2014
In Holy Tradition and in the Holy Bible the bottom of the sea is the place where the enemies of God reside.

Just a reminder.
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written by Myshkin, May 24, 2014
Well, I know you have an M.A.s In Theology and Journalism, so it's understandable you approach things this way. So many contemporary efforts in these areas have been made to marry Western pop culture to Christianity. A whole school of Christian Film Criticism has crept over most of both Catholic and Protestant journalistic sources since the 90s. Whether it started with Robert Johnson at Fuller Theological Seminary, or if he was just the focal point for its spread, I'm not sure. But his influence has been enormous among both Catholic and Protestant film journalists. His books, "Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue" (2000), "Finding God in the Movies" (2004), and "Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline" (2007), have been theological best-sellers, popular among both Protestant and Catholic intelligentsia.

Johnson's basic approach was to avoid the notion of moral or doctrinal theology when considering a film, and instead focus on its "themes": did it have a "redemption" theme?, a "God" theme?, a "it's nice to be nice/compassion" theme?, a "self-sacrifice" theme, etc. Doesn't sound too bad, does it? But a basic consequence of this chasing after "themes" in a film makes it possible to give a thumbs-up to just about any film, as long as you can find a "theme" or two that can in some way be praised. Morals and doctrine are simply subordinately folded into the quest for "themes" in a film, if they're included at all. Moreover, basic questions like "does the film show characters obeying the Ten Commandments" are not even considered, as long as the critic perceives some "significant Christian themes"

This approach to film criticism is wrong-headed for Roman Catholics. If a film depicts immorality without insisting on the Roman Catholic Church's position on that immoral circumstance, then that film should not be praised, but condemned. If a film calls into question, slanders or detracts from Roman Catholic doctrine, then that film should not be praised, but condemned.

But, you may say, that wouldn't leave many of today's commercial cinema viable to praise by Roman Catholic film critics. To which I would reply, precisely.

Alas, I, a mere combox scrivener, have no influence over the Tom Nashes or Robert Johnsons of this world. So I expect to see this "themes" approach continue ad infinitum. Because of Johnson's approach, by which he can find something to like about every Hollywood flick, he gets invited to a lot of Hollywood events. Nice work if you can get it, huh?
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written by Myshkin, May 24, 2014
Oh, and BTW, Lygeti was an atheist.
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written by Graham, May 25, 2014
In one of her letters to "A" (Louise Abbot I believe) Flannery O'Connor discusses the Catholic writer and his/her natural subject matter and audience in the Protestant South. She writes that "the Catholic Church is not a culture." Those of us who were born and at least spent some time in the South and were, as I was, surrounded by displaced Southerners here in the often cold and uncomprehending (and now no longer Catholic) north understand her emphasis on a sense of place as something deeper than "culture." An emotional attachment to place and history and stories, especially those of the Bible. A society in which a once archetypal mother would read the King James Bible literally on her knees has scriptural Christianity in its bones. I've come to be distrustful of any talk of "Catholic culture." Perhaps that is unfair -- my experience as a practicing Catholic is only five years old (as of this past Easter). But it is now obvious that culture is a poor and unreliable custodian, teacher, and practitioner of Catholicism. American Catholicism has irrefutably failed to do so as it accommodated The Culture at large. A culture puddle deep and continously awash in tedious novelty. Meanwhile an episcopal caucus within the Bishop's Conference has spent considerable time and resources on banning nuclear weapons and nuclear power. This is no place to debate the "context" within which American and British forces ended the brutal and lethal and depraved war in the Pacific. Gen. Curtis Lemay who orchestrated both the European and Japanese Home Islands bombing campaigns responded to criticism with "War is immoral." Trumping both Lee and Sherman on the subject. But as the recently deceased former Secretary of State James Schlesinger once responded, "We use nuclear weapons every day." They certainly kept the Soviets and Communist mainland China in check. Catholics should be very careful, indeed always wary, in straining for some Catholic significance in popular culture. Miss O'Connor was onto something: the Catholic Church is not a culture.
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written by Howard, May 27, 2014
I haven't seen the newest movie, but Godzilla, Mothra, Gamara, etc. only make sense when viewed as kami -- gods, albeit minor gods, of Shinto. Animist gods are sometimes destructive, sometimes helpful because nature is sometimes destructive and sometimes helpful. Mothra, of course, was shown being explicitly worshiped.
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written by Tom Nash, May 27, 2014
I hear you on your concerns, Myshkin, as I'm not the biggest consumer of modern-day films. And I like how this movie holds together morally in other ways, which is why I noted that it collectively distinguishes itself from the all-too-frequent less-edifying cinematic fare of today. God bless you.
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written by Robert Hill (San Leandro), May 27, 2014
This movie brought back fun memories, but I find most movies of this kind to be largely negative exercises, distracting our kids (and adults) from their duty to use their time wisely.

Strategic bombing and MAD are unequivocally immoral. I cannot fry your innocent child in order to save myself! (I owe my existence, as do most of us, to Hiroshima (and every other strand of His story); nevertheless, it was/is wrong to intentionally kill civilians. Sin is usually a kind of wicked shortcut. And America was too lazy to do its duty once we felt comfortable, abandoning Eastern Europe to misery. We were anxious to get back to our worship of Hedon.
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written by Nick, May 31, 2014
As someone who has actually seen the movie, let me say first that it's great! Once it makes it to TV, I hope they stop playing that abomination that came out in the 90's. Anyway, there's no environmental/global-warming theme in this movie at all; it's purely a good sci-fi flick that executes the original movies in the best modern way possible. I think finding a deeper 'Christian' theme to movies like this just fine, and in this day and age, very much needed in some cases when many films celebrate the opposite. But in doing so, it's also important to not appreciate a movie or dismiss it if it's themes or plot are not explicitly 'Christian' at first or second glance. I just saw Godzilla a few days ago and I didn't pick up on any of these 'Christian' themes, but I CAN appreciate those themes in retrospect as a faithful Catholic who does appreciate a deeper sense of the spiritual. On the flip side to this; I went in to seeing 'Frozen' for the first time after being bombarded with blog posts warning everyone about how brainwashing pro-gay it was; culminating with the main track 'Let it Go'. After seeing it for myself finally I realized that I would never read reviews like that again.

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