Guerilla ontology on nuclear steroids: The realism of ‘Godzilla’

Godzilla

Charles Fort wrote, “I cannot say that truth is stranger than fiction, because I have never had acquaintance with either. . . . There is the hyphenated state of truth-fiction.”

Robert Anton Wilson wrote, “The main thing I learned in my experiments is that reality is always plural and mutable. . . . Alan Watts may have said it best of all: ‘The universe is a giant Rorschach ink-blot.'”

And then there’s this, which significantly departs from Fort’s and RAW’s basic point about what the latter called “guerilla ontology,” but which, I think, may overlap with it enough to induce a valuable state of philosophical schizophrenia:

In the post-war Cold-War era, Godzilla could be a symbol of the threat of nuclear holocaust, which was a constantly simmering terror, never quite on-hand but never far away. Now, Godzilla can represent the fear and disgust we feel with ourselves over the disintegration of the Earth — this sense that at any time, a super monster could rise up from inside our planet.

Among its blockbuster counterparts, Godzilla takes the wanton, almost fetishistic destruction of superhero movies — Zack Snyder’s last Superman, which ruined New York for no particular reason, resulting in a real-life equivalent of nearly 1.5 million casualties and $2 trillion in damage — and creates a real-life parallel. Director Gareth Edwards used the word “god” to refer to Godzilla — strangely enough, the name is just an Anglicization of “Gojira” — and it makes sense: Gods are only extensions of humanity, serving to help us understand the parts of the world that we cannot otherwise. Where our superheroes are normally meant as fables, pop lessons in anthropology and sociology, a creature like Godzilla allows us to confront how humans deal with the non-human. In the same way that David Cronenberg literally fused the human and the technological in his films during the ’80s and ’90s — an era when we were beginning to understand what it meant to become cyborgs — Godzilla splices the natural and the engineered in 2014, when we are beginning to understand that there’s no turning back from what we did to the Earth.

Beyond its content, though, Godzilla’s form also embodies the weird place that Hollywood is in. Godzilla isn’t a sequel, and it isn’t a remake, but it also isn’t an original idea, which, in this climate, is the kind of nine-digit production budget you can only muster if you’re Christopher Nolan or the Wachowskis, someone with previous commercial-blockbuster success. Instead, it’s an attempt to resurrect a great and fallen franchise, which makes it feel original.

MORE: ‘Godzilla’ Might Be This Year’s Most Realistic Movie

Image by BagoGames via Flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

 

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD and GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES.

Posted on May 20, 2014, in Arts & Entertainment, Society & Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. My god, this is just too depressing. Are we really pretending that there is any redeeming feature in whatever sequel/prequel/remake of a monster/superhero/supervillain crapfest Hollywood is gonna vomit up this year? This just doesn’t even feel like cinema anymore. If it has a budget of over 100M, it is something for teenagers that has already been seen a thousand times. The time when I could walk into a cinema and choose at random and see something like, I don’t know, the Usual Suspects, is receding from living memory. Sure this Godzilla is more ‘serious’ than the last one, same with the last Superman and the last Spiderman etc. The world went collectively gaga over Nolan’s Batman, as if it were the greatest cultural product of this generation. It’s a bloody movie about a giant lizard that cost more money than a small country’s budget. ‘Guerrilla Ontology’?? Jesus wept. Makes me want to have a drink and it’s only mid-morning.

    • Seán Harnett

      Normally I’d agree with you, xylokopos; most of the movies that roll off the Hollywood production line these days are beyond redemption. Jodorowsky (http://bit.ly/Si2pGM) calls them ‘industrial pictures’, and has it right when he compares them to cigarettes: one, on occasion, is fine, but taken regularly they are toxic.

      The new Godzilla is an exception, though. I have no idea how Gareth Edwards, the director, got it through the Hollywood meat-grinder. It’s a weird, but to my mind, wonderful mesh of 1950s creature feature and obtuse European art-house. Edwards subverts the form of the Hollywood blockbuster and uses it as a vehicle to explore the themes that interest him, which are what I suppose you could call the Religious or Monstrous Sublime, and our reaction, as humans, to it.

      Basically, Godzilla is a visual treatise on the philosophical concept of the sublime, using the tools of the cinema (light, sound, motion, scale) to address and interrogate the ideas of such thinkers as Edward Burke and Rudolf Otto – only instead of the sublime being figured as Burke’s awesome, destructive powers of nature, or Otto’s mysterium tremendum et fascinans, Edwards’ sublime comes in the form of gigantic prehistoric monsters. Who can shoot blue, electrical death rays.

      Now, okay, sure, I could be overthinking this, but please see the movie, and tell me what you see on the face of Ken Watanabe’s character in the very final shot of the film. I saw a look of religious awe.

      Which is something close to how I felt coming out of the cinema.

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