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.
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.