When you hear the name “Godzilla,” the last thing you expect is someone waxing philosophic about the enlightened principles of gender and race representation in cinema. However, some accuse Godzilla, the new 2014 blockbuster, of being a moral failure for failing to do exactly that.
I want to preface this by saying that I think that having a needlessly metaphysical discussion about Godzilla of all things, and whether or not it properly advances the cause of social justice, is ridiculous.
BUT, if we’re going to over-analyze the big lizard, we need to do it RIGHT.
I had been hoping to resurrect my blog with a more auspicious and locally focused topic, but after reading Gina Luttrell’s “11 Photos Show How ‘Godzilla’ Was a Major Failure, Despite Its Box Office Success,” that changed. I want to address what I saw as an incredibly poor assessment of a movie and, more importantly, a symptom of the “outrage porn” pandemic taking over the internet.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, do not continue reading EITHER article, as there are major spoilers ahead.
Left-‘libertarian’ writer Gina Luttrell, editor of the “Thoughts on Liberty” online magazine, and contributor to several other online magazines and news websites of varying readership, decided to produce a buzzfeed-style “list” article about the new Godzilla blockbuster. However, she still managed to pack just north of a thousand words beneath its click-bait headline.
It first came to my attention when it popped up on my Facebook newsfeed, where she accused the film of being “objectively terrible” and then again on Twitter where she billed her article as just a few of the “million reasons” that “Godzilla sucked.”
Her problem with Godzilla boils down to, not “a million reasons,” not even eleven reasons… but a single complaint:
According to Luttrell, white male characters are the only fully-realized agents of action in the entire film, while minorities are relegated to stereo-typed supporting roles.
The main characters in Godzilla are white men…
So therefore… Godzilla is a terrible film.
She has stated early and often that her main (and so far her ONLY announced) complaint is with poor characterization; stating that characterization is vital for a good movie, which it totally is.
If her complaint WAS just with characterization, she would be in good company. Nearly every major critic has said that the characters in Godzilla were under-developed, stunted, and trope-ish. However, the reality is that her beef with the big lizard is not really with characterization or character development, but with casting.
Luttrell is morally outraged that a mindless, glitzy, American adaptation of a kaiju-themed franchise, specifically marketed to young men, does not feature more women or people of color in primary roles of action.
And in a film where the characters themselves mean remarkable little and are all equally underdeveloped, this is ludicrous.
Entirely recast, the human subplot could even be about a transgender black woman trying to get back to her stay-at-home husband who spends his time taking care of his gay, paraplegic sibling…. And it would have literally no impact on the greater story whatsoever.
The characters, regardless of who they were, would all be railroaded towards the same conclusion anyway, carried along by the actions of the 300-foot monsters.
The only effect a change in casting could have would be to elicit satisfied noises and polite nods from the extremely social conscious sitting in the theater.
The point of a Godzilla film is, and always has been: When Godzilla comes to town, society doesn’t matter anymore… because it’s going to be stepped on. Equally.
Luttrell concludes by saying that “the message that Godzilla perpetuates is that when disaster strikes, white men, and only white men, can take action.”
If Luttrell honestly thought that the new Godzilla film was meant to be about white males taking action and saving the day… she apparently missed the entire point of the film, and if she truly believes that ANY of the human characters were legitimate agents of action, her grasp of film theory is remarkably poor.
Luttrell is a self-styled philosopher, not a film critic, and her article makes that readily apparent.
In cinema, a fully-realized “agent” is the one who moves the action and plot along; the character(s) that all of the other characters react to.
In Godzilla, none of the humans could be considered true agents of action; a title held firmly in place by Godzilla and the two “MUTO” creatures he battles. Literally every action, reaction, and scenario the humans find themselves in is precipitated and dictated by the behavior the primordial beasts. THEY are the agents of action, while the human characters amount to little more than glorified set pieces, doomed to be at the mercy of whatever decisions the big monsters make.
Godzilla actually does more to lampoon the stereo-typical American reaction of “taking control” and “saving the day” by emphasizing how ultimately useless and incredibly stupid their rapid response is, including but not limited to trying to NUKE three monsters who literally feed on radiation to survive. I’m glad Luttrell managed to grasp on how silly that idea was meant to seem… considering it was driven home with all the subtlety of a sledge-hammer.
Honestly, the only intelligent decisions and observations in the film are the ones made by non-white or non-male characters. (The solitary exception being when Ford Brody, the closest thing Godzilla has to a “hero,” decides to do something besides fall over and sets fire to the MUTO nest… only to fall over right afterwards.)
Serizawa has, as one review put it, a perpetual look of “holy s#!*” throughout the film. However, NOT because he’s meant to be a “mystic,” but because he’s one of two people that understands what’s REALLY going on, and without the luxury of ignorance that American military has, he’s in shock.
He just saw his worst nightmares come to life. Would YOU handle it better?
Neither the scientists or the Japanese protested American/NATO involvement because INVOLVING THE UNITED STATES MILITARY IS LITERALLY STEP TWO OF JAPAN’S OFFICIAL DEFENSIVE POLICY.
It doesn’t matter though, because, in the end, the human decisions mean remarkably little. Godzilla was never meant to be about the human characters “taking action” and saving the day. In this film, ALL the human characters, regardless of how well they fill their role, are “stand-ins [and] foils.” Godzilla was never even meant to about the human characters, period.
The new Godzilla was about showcasing the utter helplessness of man in the face of nature.
For the previous generation, Godzilla embodied the anxiety of nuclear disaster. For our generation, one free of looming nuclear threat, Godzilla embodies the anxiety of natural disaster, something that has seemed particularly severe over the past decade. Godzilla really drives this anxiety home, emphasizing the ultimate hubris of humankind, and how we’re STILL at the mercy of the elements, whether those elements are hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, or Godzilla; the primordial embodiment of all three.
Luttrell was quick to cry “Argumentum ad populum” when it was pointed out that she was literally the only person condemning Godzilla for a lack of enlightened thinking. She insists that, as film is an art form, she has every right to demand it be held to a high standard, regardless of the views of the general public.
The problem with her protests of ad populum, “appeal to the people,” is that films, especially Godzilla films, are low art; low art that is DEFINED AND DICTATED by its appeal to the masses.
For low art, its popular and critical reception is literally the benchmark of what defines it as terrible, and of the many possible complaints voiced about Godzilla, a lack of social correctness has not been a significant one.
Major online magazines Slate and Salon, which are usually socially correct to the point of extreme error, found nothing to condemn in their reviews, recognizing it as a well-directed monster-movie reboot that had some interesting overtones of an unleashed mother nature.
Even a critic on Luttrell’s OWN WEBSITE recognized that there is something much bigger going on in Godzilla that human representation. If Luttrell read the article, she apparently stopped half-way, because in the review, “Godzilla and the Insignificance of Man,” reviewer Rachel Burger acknowledges the issue of minority representation, but then goes on to recognize that something much bigger is on display; literally and figuratively.
“To these giants, humanity, as a whole, is irrelevant… A(t) the heart of this movie, all that really matters is the emotion of the helplessness of humanity. That’s what this movie is really about—regardless of if the protagonist was male, female, Asian, White, or even privileged. I really don’t think Godzilla or the MUTOs would care.”
Luttrell has repeatedly stated that “Shut up and enjoy the silly monster movie” is not a legitimate argument. I would counter by saying that Luttrell’s own “argument” is hardly any more legitimate; effectively summed up as “The minor elements and minutia of this movie did not properly cater to my very specific interests and ideal picture of society, therefore it is terrible.”
That’s not an argument. That’s an out-of-place, personal gripe from someone who is either actively seeking reasons to be offended, even in entirely unrelated areas, or from someone who is actively trying to stir up pointless controversy to boost readership. You don’t go to a chili cook-off to critique the spoons being used, and you don’t go to a Godzilla movie to critique the level of social and political correctness in the human interactions.
It’s a case of wrong place, wrong time, and wrong content, and Luttrell is trivializing the equal-representation movement by wasting time attacking imaginary boogeymen in films that are neither related nor relevant to social correctness.
If Luttrell TRULY believes that every film should represent the proper ideals of society, then I expect her to put her writing where her mouth is, and write a similarly scathing “review” for every other major release this year, both present and forthcoming.
Where is the “11 Problems with Captain America,” where a WASP hero is flanked by a dutifully loyal African-American side-kick and some feminine eye-candy? Where is the “11 photos that show Amazing Spider-Man 2 was Terrible” article, a film where the only major black character is portrayed as mentally-ill and dangerous, and is eventually killed by a “privileged” white male?
Coming at blockbusters with the kind of mentality that simply wants to be offended for the sake of being offended is not helpful for any discussion, and only ill-legitimizes the movement for social justice by making it look cartoonishly ridiculous and nitpicky.
Luttrell’s article is not based off of any actual argument but a personal complaint, and her complaint is based off of a flawed understanding of Godzilla and film theory.
In short, “the people in control – the plot drivers” are NOT white men, or any of the humans in general, period. The plot drivers are the massive creatures that wander around at will, dragging the human cast along behind them.
The 2014 blockbuster, Godzilla, showcases the fact that NOBODY is in control, especially the people who think they usually are, and it drives this point home with the heavy-tread of its titular character.
To claim otherwise is to ignore the entire film.
(Side-note: Don’t put “photos” in your title, unless they are actually going to mean something. If you’re going to entitle an article “11 Photos that Show How ‘Godzilla’ was a Major Failure,” you should probably try and find pictures that actually display your complaint, rather than just a non-descript screenshots of the various characters you’re griping about.)
Louis Petolicchio lives and writes in Central Pennsylvania.