Saved by something greater
I have a confession: I am a fan of disaster movies. I totally get why folks tend to dismiss the genre, but Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is a good example of why I don’t. It contains many elements that attract me to disaster films but also puts on a grand scale one of my favorite themes in the genre: We are creatures in need of saving.
Film scholars point out many disaster movies are metaphors for cultural anxieties: political angst (Cold War era Red Dawn and post-9/11 War of the Worlds), biological threats (Outbreak, World War Z), natural disasters (Twister, Armageddon) and new dangers like climate change (The Day After Tomorrow).
But hope is also a major thread in many of these films. Film scholar Stephen Keane points out that disaster movies typically end with of images of rescue, redemption and reconstruction. This operates on a grand scale in 2012, of which Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman reflects that all that destruction serves to “clear the world . . . of the mess it’s become. So that it can become something better.”
Disaster films also explore humanity’s redeeming qualities. Often, disparate groups of people unite, easing divisions. Producer Alby James notes some characters are almost messianic, sacrificing themselves so others can survive. The best of these films, says James, “remind us of the meaning of life, the people we care most about.”
Many of these elements resonate in Scripture. If we pay attention, disaster films give us a chance to think about biblical truth from a new perspective.
In Godzilla, concerns about powerful technology and our effect on the Earth take form in gigantic ancient parasitic creatures reawakened by humanity’s use of nuclear power. These malevolent Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects feed on the radiation created by humans to grow and reproduce, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. Humanity doesn’t stand a chance against them — until Godzilla, their natural predator, rises from the ocean.
Godzilla and the MUTOs are godlike in power and size, exposing human hubris. As one character puts it, “The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around.” We too easily fall prey to the illusion that, with all our advancements, we have tamed nature and mastered our planet. Godzilla, like other disaster films, reminds us we are not in control.
Unequivocally, this film displays a humanity that needs saving by something greater than itself. There is nothing anyone can do to save themselves or those they love from certain destruction. Military power is useless; some efforts actually edge humanity closer to destruction.
Images and themes of rescue and redemption are displayed on a grand — even divine — scale in this film. Godzilla is called “a god” at one point and declared humanity’s “savior” at another. Godzilla is bent on bringing balance back to a nature human action has unbalanced, even if it costs him his life. I agree with Christianity Today’s Timothy Wainwright, who calls Godzilla the “weirdest Christ figure” he’s seen, but director Edwards somehow makes it work.
That doesn’t make Godzilla a profound film. But I resonate with the way it explores and works out our place in the world in its own style. And I appreciate the grand scale in which it displays that we are creatures in need of saving by something greater than ourselves.
Carmen Andres lives in Alexandria, Va.
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