Words by Alisha Rao
As an avid lover of mythologies spanning across religions and various parts of the world, I have a great capacity of wonder and interest in the media that try to depict anything reminiscent of such stories, including those involving larger-than-life animals. Lifeforms aside from humans have and can represent so many different things, and what they mean to us is another piece in this great puzzle we call life.
One consistent motif I have always been fascinated by is the relationship between humankind and creature, especially in various mythologies. In Greek mythology, one of the most infamous stories told through epic is The Odyssey, a story that found its place in modern entertainment (see 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Super Mario Odyssey, The Heroes of Olympus). The idiom ‘between a rock and a hard place’ cultivated its roots in Scylla and Charybdis, two monsters the titular hero Odysseus’ faces through his journey home; one a multi-headed creature, the other a raging whirlpool. In Hindu mythology, a famous epic known as the Ramayana details the journey of a prince, Rama, aiming to reclaim his rightful throne, layered with intricate problems in his family, the political climate at home in Ayodhya, and the existence of an evil threatening his reclamation of kingship. Demons such as the ten-headed Ravana appear to halt the narrative, but through anthropomorphic gods like Hanuman, a simian-looking devotee and destroyer of evil, the animals/creatures, demigods, and humans have a symbiotic relationship. The Chinese legend known as Legend of the White Snake from the Ming Dynasty tells an interesting story describing the actions of Bai Suzhen, a snake spirit appearing as a woman who goes to great lengths to save her husband Xu Xian, who died after developments leading to him being poisoned and learning her identity. All these stories share a common motif of animals or beings of grand proportions possessing immense power and importance in the lives of humans, all manifesting from coexistence we have with nature and animals.
These selected examples do no justice to the multitudes of mythologies and stories that exist in ancient texts and histories. Certain stories are told, others are not, but the concept of mythology is integral to any story appearing as a movie, television show, and so forth when forces beyond human control exist, yet are forces that are part of a natural order.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a movie that encompasses these aspects in a way that pleasantly surprised me. Godzilla, a reptilian giant, started off as an allegory for the atomic bombings in Japan, and is thus closely tied to political and social commentary. Once the monsters increased and Godzilla remained ever-present in the established genre of kaiju eiga (‘monster movies’; subclass genre in Japanese cinema), the commentary continued to broaden and shift, and most of the famous monsters appear in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. At one point, fear of the nuclear resonated in Godzilla’s creation, but now has been reinvented in the sci-fi adventure movies of the 2010’s. This next installment sees Godzilla once again sparking ambiguous stances among the humans, only with a greater threat at hand; the tumultuous emergence of King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon known to be Godzilla’s arch enemy throughout the Godzilla canon. Ghidorah challenges the natural order on a grander scale, and human existence is in jeopardy to a degree greater than the 2014 predecessor.
The characters aren’t the most memorable, nor are they the ones you root for. However, the commentary that exists as a result of having Godzilla pitted against Ghidorah becomes the primary takeaway of the film. It may be highfalutin to say the natural order needs to be restored with chaotic monster battles, but this idea is so present in the film, it may as well be the slogan for the fictional organization Monarch.
Parading Godzilla as ‘the king’, indicates the planet’s need for a natural phenomenon that help to combat the growing problem of climate change and the endangerment of animals. The Jurassic Park franchise is another series of films predicated on this idea, along with standalone shark films like The Meg. Science has come a long way, and while the new Jurassic Park movies shifted to the problem being the scientific advancements leading to gene splicing, the message remained the same: humans had no idea that what they were messing with was going to become something beyond their control. In all these movies, a greater, ancient life force has come back in some way to restore ‘balance’, but also at the cost of human action interfering with their innate behaviours.
It is important to mention mythology because it is closely tied to the way these kinds of movies craft their stories, something I thought Godzilla: King of the Monsters actually handled quite well. This detail is the multiplicity of animalistic imagery through religions and stories, as well as the varying purposes the depicted creatures serve. Godzilla is, whether you have seen the recent installments or not, the undeniable hero of the story. And in that sense, the animal is the hero, and not the human.
Human follies are consistent in the Godzilla canon, as it is in mythologies like The Odyssey; Odysseus’ most infamous showcase of cunning and cleverness comes about by him blinding a ruthless cyclops creature named Polyphemus; by successfully blinding the beast, him and his crew successfully escape the cyclops’ island. However, Polyphemus, a son of Poseidon, tells his godly father of Odysseus’ crime. When Odysseus continued to sail home, Poseidon blew a terrible storm his way, continuing to prolong the journey home. If Odysseus refrained from being boastful and deciding to reveal his name to Polyphemus, he could have reached home faster. Similarly, the early stages of another Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, begin with the royal family almost entirely halting the narrative on account of human error. When Pandu, King of Hastinapur, kills a stag during a hunt, it leads to him being cursed to never have children naturally. His first wife, Kunti, was taught a powerful mantra or spell when she was younger, one that would allow her to call upon any god to bring her a son. She uses this spell in these fateful twist of events to indirectly preserve Pandu’s bloodline. It is clear the narrative made it so Pandu brought upon his own curse, but it is important to note that he is cursed on account of a stag and doe.
Noticing and looking into the relationship between man and creature in myths can help to broaden your perception on movies like Godzilla. Animals or creatures have always had prominent imagery across religions and history, in way that we just don’t see today. I don’t enjoy movies like Godzilla for it’s story or the people we see in it, but more for the animal in question, the fictional lore, why it is so popular, and what history can tell us about its existence. Sometimes, interesting fictional creations like Godzilla have a place in history, and I think that’s pretty cool.