One image above all sticks in my mind from director Gareth Edwards’ 2014 entry into the Godzilla canon—that of actor Ken Watanabe standing mouth-agape before the magnitude of what he is witnessing. Watanabe plays a Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, a Japanese scientist who has spent his life investigating the mysterious appearance of a great beast in his homeland sixty years ago, the since named Godzilla. His scientific quest has led him to religious awe.
Godzilla, he believes, is not purely a menace or a threat. He is dangerous, sure, but he is also a protector living for an eternity on earth to maintain order and balance. Godzilla is, we are told, basically a god due our fear and reverence. When any other life-form threatens to destroy all others, Godzilla arrises to put them in their place. The first time Godzilla arose was in 1954, the film reports, shortly after humankind had deployed the first atomic bombs. Now, he has come again to deal with a new global threat.
As in other monster movies, there is a small family drama happening on the edges of the story too. The Brody family—their surname one of the film’s many homages to Spielberg’s films—are directly impacted by the events leading up to Godzilla’s return. However, as the plot marches forward, that drama is quietly crowded out by Godzilla. This family drama could have been better integrated into the overall plot of the film, but its being crowded out is entirely appropriate, as what measure is any mortal next to the grandeur of a god? The activity of the humans in the film mostly just makes things worse. As my friend Kurt said, feeding nukes to the nuke-eaters is the film’s version of adding fuel to the fire. Godzilla‘s refrain is that humanity ought to trust in God(zilla)’s providence, get out of the way, and let him fight the battle for us.
While the beginning of the movie is occasionally clunky and poorly paced, the final half of this film is as compelling as anything I hope to see at the cinema this year. Beginning with a HALO jump into the fray of Godzilla’s activity, a sequence scored perfectly by Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Requiem for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs and Orchestra” from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a piece of music that means “approaching the ineffable with tremulous awe,” and ending with the credits of the film, Godzilla is a near-wordless wonder of spectacle and sound. By the end, my mouth was as wide open as Watanabe’s, aghast at what I’d seen.
That’s the film’s purpose, I think. It wants to fill its audience with wonder. That’s why it contains so many references to Spielberg’s films, a filmography full of people staring mouth-agape in wonder. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Edwards said, “For all of time, man has always found that there’s something out there for us to worship and fear, and it’s gone away for a while, but in our film, it returns.” Godzilla is about marveling at a god once again.
Now, of course, I don’t believe Godzilla is god, and I don’t believe God ever went away, but I do agree with Edwards that for a while, pride in our own abilities to create and destroy life has drained the Western world of reverence for the divine. One way of understanding Edwards’ statement is not that God has gone away, but that our reverence of God has waned. As Godzilla stomps through San Francisco, humankind’s “worship and fear” of something beyond themselves returns.
It is right to feel safe in God’s care. It is right to rely upon God’s gentle presence. But God doesn’t have only one attribute, and our worship of God ought not be only in regard to God’s soft side. God is also magnificent. God is also great. God is also king over all proud beasts, including Godzilla. And while at times, we ought to approach God as baby chicks running to hide under their mother’s wings, we ought also to approach the Almighty with trembling and awe. Sometimes we need to heed the words of Moses to the Israelites as Pharaoh’s army was bearing down upon them and “be still” as the Lord fights for us. Sometimes we need to echo Job and simply say, “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
Next time you are hopelessly outmatched and think your only option is to “feed nukes to the nuke-eating monsters,” remember Godzilla. Remember that there is a God who is real and who will contend on your behalf. But also remember that even when the earthly gods, the Godzillas, stomp into town and the town crumbles to the earth, remember that our God is greater still. Remember what the Korahites sang in Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
a help always near in times of great trouble.
That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,
when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,
when the waters roar and rage,
when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.
There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,
the holiest dwelling of the Most High.
God is in that city. It will never crumble.
God will help it when morning dawns.
Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.
God utters his voice; the earth melts.
The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!
The God of Jacob is our place of safety!
Come, see the LORD’s deeds,
what devestation he has imposed on the earth—
bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,
breaking the bow and shattering the spear,
burning chariots with fire.
Now know that I am God!
I am exalted among all nations;
I am exalted throughout the world!”
The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!
The God of Jacob is our place of safety.