Godzilla, the city-stomping radioactive super-massive lizard-dragon-dinosaur-monster, may be the most prolific social commentator in the history of the world. Godzilla has been providing commentary on a wide variety of sociopolitical and environmental issues for 65 years across 35 films. These range from the proliferation of nuclear weapons to the impacts of climate change, from war-mongering hyper-militarized fascism to peaceful coexistence.
The concept of using film to hold a mirror up for society is most pronounced in the horror genre, of which the monster movie, going back to King Kong, is a major subset. In this genera subset, Godzilla is the most titanic contributor. Using his massive feet this king of the monsters stomps through some of our most difficult questions so that we may better understand ourselves. Sometimes these observations are subtle and require some level of introspection to work out the meaning. Other times the meaning is as subtle as a blast of radioactive breath from an ancient kaiju.
What makes Godzilla the perfect vehicle for this introspection is the fact that he is as far from human as possible. He can, and often does, act as a representation for problems that seem too large to tackle. We few humans may not know how to handle the threat of a hostile military-industrial complex, but we know how to handle Godzilla. It is problem-solving through analogy and editorial through entertainment.
Just like not all social critique in film rises to profound levels, not all Godzilla’s are equally eloquent social commenters. For the purposes of this discussion, we can disregard whatever it was that the 1998 Roland Emmerich Godzilla film was attempting to say. Also, for the purpose of discussion, we will focus on the 2019’s Godzilla: King of The Monsters, and what writer and director Michael Dougherty was saying.
As a matter, of course, there may be minor spoilers for Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the following descriptions of a few of the social critiques found in the film.
In Godzilla: King of the Monsters the private cryptozoological research company Monarch has taken it upon themselves to track down and carefully monitor the hibernating Titans and keep the world safe. As governments demand answers and accountability in the face of the companies growing secrecy Monarch continuously pushes back against governmental interference. This setup is a clear commentary on the inability of a private company to act in the best interests of the public. One could also argue that there is a statement on the danger of capitalism when it comes to matters involving the health and safety of the public.
When environmental extremists capture the means to release all the sleeping titans in an ill-conceived plot to return the earth to its original state of biological balance, the film uses Godzilla to unleash its critique on extremism. That extremism, in the form of eco-terrorism, will always fail to achieve its ultimate goals regardless of how well intentioned those motivations may be.
Finally, in what may be the most profound statement, one that is a reoccurring theme in Godzilla films, as well as most monster movies. Humankind has and will always fail when attempting to assert dominion over the earth, the earth can and will fight back, and she will always win. Godzilla is the metaphorical stand-in for the earth, and earth will stomp man’s cities to the ground to combat a more destructive force.
The metaphor and analogy available on the canvas of a monster movie are effectively without limit. Making Godzilla, and by extension, all monster movies, the perfect vehicle for honest and poignant commentary of society, and they always will be.