Friday night I was able to see the new American kaiju film, Godzilla. It was a great film and I hope lots of people see it, otherwise there won’t be enough sequels. After the movie, I participated in a panel discussion with other scientists, comic experts, film critics, and Godzilla fans, in particular to talk about science, society, and film. The topic of the night was, in part, going to be about the sorts of monsters that science can and has produced. In particular, the foil would be the Frankenstein monster and the original monster. However, watching the film I realized that the proper hypotext for the scientific message behind the beast wasn’t that of Mary Shelly’s novel or the 1954 film where the monster is a product of atomic bomb testing. Rather, this is a creature more in common with Cthulhu.
Let me explain, but please note that there will be spoilers.
The first thing to note is that Godzilla is not created by anything artificial. In the original 1954 film, he was a dinosaur-like creature (though said to have lived 2 million years ago, oops), but because of hydrogen bomb testing in the Pacific it became the monster that ravished Tokyo. In this new film, Godzilla is an alpha-predator from many millions of years ago, one that survived on the levels of radiation that existed earlier in Earth’s history (though that won’t fit with what we know from geology and biology, but whatever). So this is an ancient being. Moreover, it was found resting at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and then disturbed by human activities, namely submarines.
That sounds a like more like Cthulhu, an ancient alien monster that came to Earth (along with the Old Ones) many millions of years ago, sleeps at the bottom of the ocean in the Pacific, and he rises and is known to humans when pesky sailors discover him in his risen city of R’lyeh.
Godzilla in this new movie is also considered a force of nature, neither good or evil (though he does save the day), and humans cannot do anything to stop him, even with atomic weapons. Cthulhu was also imagined by Lovecraft to be this amoral creature that does what it does as if it were a force of nature.
The discovery of the MUTOs are underground in the skeleton of some unknown beast, and that discovery strongly reminded me of At the Mountain of Madness. In that famous Lovecraft story, also part of the Cthulhu Mythos, a scientific expedition enters into a newly discovered cavern in the mountains of Antarctica and discover the remains of a lost, alien civilization and the creatures that were a part of it. Some of whom were still alive. Those still surviving creatures were the Shoggoth, and part of their description is that they were self-illuminating and had a lot of bulbous features, though otherwise formless. That seems to be in common with the MUTO cocoons that are discovered in the cavern.
Further connection can be seen with what happens to the character played by Bryan Cranston, Dr. Joe Brody. After one of the MUTOs secretly buries itself under a nuclear power plant in Japan and destroys it, Brody loses his wife underground there and otherwise becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened to the point that his son thinks him crazy. This sort of madness finds plenty of parallel in that Lovecraft had his characters’ mental health destroyed by curiosity or discovery.
But the key underlying feature is that Godzilla is not created, but discovered, similarly the MUTOs that do the most damage in the movie. Instead of Godzilla being a product of human creative and destructive powers, it is our curiosity that leads us to these monsters. In fact, if it was not for the searching activities of the MONARCH and its lead scientist, Ichiro Serizawa, the MUTOs would never have been discovered and then released on the world; Godzilla also would have just strolled around the Pacific and not bother anyone. It was human curiosity and discovery that caused the horrors to be unleashed. That is different than the creation of terrible weapons that brought about the monster in the original conception.
So, does this mean that the director and writers were influenced and alluded to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft? The director of the new film, Gareth Edwards, was the writer and director of Monsters (2010), which has a NASA deep-space probe fall to Earth and unleash an alien menace. Perhaps there is some Lovecraft horror influence along that way. This reviewer sees Lovecraftian influence in the aliens of that movie. So, not that absurd of a notion, I think. Of course there are major differences between Godzilla and Cthulhu. There is no feasting on souls, and in fact Godzilla seems to go out of his way to minimize the damage he does to humans and human artifacts. He’s almost a nice guy.
I doubt Godzilla will be replacing the mighty and terrible tentacled Old One. But both will represent the fear of the unknown and the undiscovered. And hopefully neither will see fit to have revenge.