Godzilla: Taking Care of Climate Change 

Slight spoilers follow

The latest Godzilla is an engrossing blockbuster inundated with natural-disaster imagery. Causing these hurricane, tsunami and earthquake-like disasters are the grotesque, Godzilla-sized, praying mantis-like MUTOs (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms). The film revolves around Godzilla’s confrontation with the MUTOs and his (perhaps merely instinctual, perhaps purposeful) mission to destroy them and restore order to Earth.

Considering the natural disaster imagery that abounds and considering that the original Godzilla reflected Japan’s national angst over nuclear warfare (in the wake of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and Castle Bravo), I wonder if Godzilla has become an embodiment of its audience’s current preoccupations and fears—with the latest incarnation reflecting the devastation our nation has experienced following hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and every flood, earthquake, tornado and tsunami in between (at home and abroad).

This is an interesting premise that potentially serves an important purpose, offering we the audience catharsis as we cope with our collective anxiety.

Slightly more problematic is the film’s take on climate change as it relates to natural disaster. Whether or not director Gareth Edwards intended it, Godzilla suggests that people are powerless to do anything about climate change—exemplified by the army’s failure to take down the MUTOs and Godzilla or positively impact anything happening around them.

In some respects, the film even seems to alleviate us of our responsibility for climate change. The disasters occur as a result of the enormous MUTOs crashing their way around the world, and their subsequent battle with the equally enormous Godzilla. Of course, the implication is not that the disasters we have experienced and continue to experience are caused by larger-than-life monsters; but the MUTOs may symbolize that natural disasters are simply natural, inevitabilities caused by forces of nature beyond our control, and not by our own greenhouse gas emissions.

And while the MUTOs exist because of nuclear testing, I still can’t but help but feel like the blame for climate change is shifted away from humanity. That man had a hand in the MUTOs’ origin seems a footnote easily pushed aside. And even if you pay attention to the footnote, responsibility for the MUTOs (and climate change and natural disasters) falls not with humanity at large, but with the scientific community, perhaps the army and government as well. As these agencies facilitated the nuclear testing that created the MUTOs, they are solely responsible for the disasters that ensued. We the people have done nothing wrong, but are victims and casualties of the horrific actions of powers greater than us (whether those powers be nature itself, or governmental bodies).

Whether intentional or not, it’s troubling that the film alleviates us of our role in causing climate change. With Godzilla becoming the ultimate savior, the only one who could take down the MUTOs, stop the disasters, and restore order, we’re left with the message that we need do nothing and we can do nothing. No point in minimizing our carbon footprint. Instead, we must leave everything to some higher power.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the latest incarnation of Godzilla and its handling of climate change, check out the latest episode of the Vox44 podcast, in which I dissect the film with my friends Matthew Treon and Adrian Sobol.

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