Study Guide

Godzilla Man and the Natural World

Man and the Natural World

Sailors relax on the deck of a ship. The sea begins to glow beneath them, and the ship explodes in flames, killing everyone on board as it sinks into the ocean.

Well before the big baddie puts in an appearance, nature seems to turn against the sailors. The ocean has always been a place of mystery, outside the realm of humanity—we can't survive in it. Except for Tom Hanks at the end of Splash, but he's with a mermaid. Anyway, lots of mythological creatures have been imagined to exist in the ocean, and modern science is still finding larger-than-life animals in its depths.

OLD FISHERMAN: That's right. A giant, terrifying monster. Once it eats all the fish in the sea, it'll come ashore and eat people. In the old days, if the catch was poor for a long time, we'd sacrifice a young girl, send her drifting out into the middle of the ocean. This dance is all that's left of that exorcism ritual.

HAGIWARA: Godzilla, huh?

In order to make sense of a world that seemed large, mysterious, and dangerous to them, ancient peoples often connected natural phenomena to abstract concepts like gods or spirits. After all, if you lack a theory of planetary orbits, you still need an explanation for why the sun disappears every now and then. Why not assume the gods must be angry?

Godzilla receives its name from one such mythological creature (made up for the film, btw). The name's origin hints at the creature's mysterious nature, supernatural strength, and connection to the world beyond the human. 

Oh, and there's the whole "god" part of its name. That's also a pretty good clue.

INADA: Oh, I forgot about that. We lost twelve cows and 8 pigs.

SHINKICHI: It's the truth. It was hard to see in the dark, but it was definitely alive.

HAGIWARA: I know it defies common sense, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced this wasn't caused by a typhoon. The damage to the houses and helicopter suggests they were crushed from above.

Godzilla or very nasty weather? This time the creature's hidden by a typhoon, foreshadowing its destructive power by paralleling it with a devastating natural occurrence.

YAMANE: Approximately two million years ago, the brontosaurus and other dinosaurs were at their peak. Scientists call this the Jurassic period. It's believed that during the following geological period, the Cretaceous period, a rare intermediate organism was evolving from a marine reptile into a terrestrial animal. Following Odo Island tradition, I propose for the time being that we call this creature Godzilla.

We know, we know. Dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. Two million years ago, they weren't doing much of anything except hanging out in their rocky graves and waiting to be discovered. Come on, Yamane, that's a rookie mistake.

Nitpicking aside, the point of this scene is that Godzilla is also a prehistoric creature, a dinosaur from a time when the natural world was ruled by a creature other than Homo sapiens.

And has nature ever produced a creature more terrifying to the human mind than dinosaurs? They're basically real-life dragons that snacked on our ancestors.

EMIKO: Father. What's wrong?

YAMANE: All they can think about is killing Godzilla. Why don't they try to study its resistance to radiation? This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

OGATA: Professor, I disagree.

YAMANE: Ogata, I'm not saying this on some kind of whim. No scientist in the world has ever seen anything like Godzilla. It's a priceless specimen, found only in Japan.

OGATA: But Professor, that's no reason to let such a violent monster run loose. Godzilla is no different from the H-bomb still hanging over Japan's head.

Yamane may be on the wrong side of the dinosaur here, but he does bring up an excellent point. One of humanity's greatest assets is our ability to study and learn from nature. It's allowed us to develop all sorts of beneficial things, like antibiotics (well, beneficial for us, not the bacteria so much). What could we learn by studying Godzilla?

More to the point, is anyone else disappointed that the Yeti turned out to be just a bear http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/11/so-much-abominable-snowman-study-finds-yeti-dna-belongs-bears?

SERIZAWA: I'd intended to research oxygen thoroughly from every angle. In doing so, I discovered an unexpected form of energy. After my first experiment, I was filled with horror at the power I'd unleashed. I couldn't eat for days. [He picks up a bowl.] Just a small ball of this substance could turn all of Tokyo Bay into an aquatic graveyard.

Yep, Godzilla keeps bringing it back to nuclear weapons. Well, it's the Oxygen Destroyer in this case, but you take our point.

YAMANE: I can't believe that Godzilla was the last of its species. If nuclear testing continues, then someday, somewhere in the world, another Godzilla may appear.

Everyone lives happily ever after when Godzilla's destroyed, right? Not quite. This last quote signals a bit of a warning: keep kicking nature and nature will eventually kick back.

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