With “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” now stomping across big screens everywhere, The Atlantic has stepped up with a fine cinematic history of the iconic kaiju that also includes a thoroughgoing look at the magnificent monster’s massive metaphorical muscle.
The essay makes a game attempt to reconcile the apparent contradiction of Godzilla’s role as a destroyer (one awakened by humanity’s intemperate use of atomic technology) and as a protector of our species, but doesn’t quite nail it:
His power was fearsome, and he couldn’t be controlled or negotiated with. Nevertheless, when a bigger threat to humanity’s survival emerged, Godzilla would rise as our champion. No matter how playful or haunting his movies have been over the decades, this duality—Godzilla as both a terrifying metaphor for mankind’s hubris and a protector capable of almost cosmic benevolence—has always been at the heart of the character.
Yet Godzilla, metaphorically, makes more sense not so much as an embodiment of hubris so much as a personification of Nature — a planetary-scale force that nurtures and destroys life in a manner that is almost completely beyond our control.
As our species begins to recognize the existential threat represented by human-caused climate change, the monster-as-metaphor is a useful tool for considering how our political and technological choices will placate or antagonize this wild beast we call home.