ORIGINS OF GODZILLA, Part Five: Deus Ex Machina - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

ORIGINS OF GODZILLA, Part Five: Deus Ex Machina

Gordon Hopkins presses reset.
"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
From the Bhagavad Gita, quoted by Julius Robert Oppenheimer after his involvement in the Trinity nuclear test.

Okay, so I want to touch on something from the first Godzilla movie that, in my mind at least, doesn't get nearly enough attention in the countless essays and reviews and books and internet posts that have been written about Godzilla. At least, not in anything more than a cursory examination. I want to fix that.

So I want to talk about how the story ends. Obviously, that means this entire article is going to be one great big spoiler. If you haven't seen the first Godzilla movie yet, Japanese or American version, go right ahead and skip this one. Don't worry. You won't hurt my feelings.

The story of Godzilla is so ingrained into our collective conscientiousness that, not unlike Psycho or Star Wars or Soylent Green, most people can describe the basic plot even if they have never seen the actual film. A massive dinosaur, mutated by radiation from atomic bomb tests, rises from the depths and cuts a swath of destruction across Tokyo, stomping on everything in its path and burning the countryside to ash by spitting an atomic ray, like a nuclear flamethrower. This radioactive monster seems unkillable. Having survived an atomic blast, it's not too surprising it can't be stopped by guns, tanks, planes, missiles and pretty much anything the military can throw at it. Tokyo, perhaps the entire world, seems doomed.

Yet, if you ask someone who has never seen the original movie, or even someone who hasn't seen it for a long time, how is the monster was defeated, you will likely get a blank stare.
A subplot in the film is the mysterious scientific research being conducted by the dour, eye patch-wearing Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, played by the legendary Akihiko Hirata. Dr. Serizawa's research seems bonkers to me but he's too morose a character to really qualify as a “mad scientist.” The man is far too bleak for me to imagine him laughing maniacally while ranting, “They called me mad, but I'll show them all!”

See, Serizawa is working on something called the “Oxygen Destroyer.” The name is an excellent example of “truth in advertising.” It does exactly what it says. It disintegrates oxygen molecules. Since oxygen is an important part of the makeup of all things living, it is lethal. Heck, even Godzilla needs oxygen.

So it is rather convenient these two separate story lines, the attack of Godzilla and the Oxygen Destroyer, happen to be going on at the same time, since it seems the Oxygen Destroyer may be the only weapon that can destroy Godzilla.

Redundant spoiler alert: it is.

The Oxygen Destroyer is what is what is known in writing circles as a Deus Ex Machina. A Latin phrase loosely translated as “god from the machine,” a Deus Ex Machina describes an ancient plot device used in Greek and Roman theaters, not to mention monster movies. Wikipedia defines a Deus Ex Machina as, “a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence.”

If you want an example of a unsolvable problem, Godzilla is it.

The Deus Ex Machina is often dismissed by critics as lazy writing. It is one thing to create a thrilling scenario for a movie. It is quite another to figure a way out of it organically, without resorting to the cinematic equivalent of divine intervention.

However, Godzilla (the movie, I mean, not the monster) does something interesting with its Deus Ex Machina. It make the Deus Ex Machina the point (or at least a point) of the movie.

Despite Dr. Serizawa's invention possibly being the only hope of Tokyo, Japan and perhaps the entire world, it's inventor is adamantly opposed to using it. It is hard to argue with the good doctor's reasoning,
“Ogata, if the Oxygen Destroyer is used even once, politicians from around the world will see it. Of course, they'll want to use it as a weapon. Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles, and now a new superweapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist - no, as a human being - I can't allow that to happen!”
Let's face it. He wasn't wrong.

How many science fiction stories can you think of where a solution to the problem is discovered, yet the hero won't let it be used?

Two months before the start of World War II, President Roosevelt fast-tracked a program to develop an atomic bomb. Despite much opposition at the time, it was known the U.S. would probably end up embroiled in the war that already involved most of the rest of the world.

The quest for the bomb was, in a very real sense, a quest for a real-life Deus Ex Machina, a weapon so powerful it would end any conflict. The problem, of course, is that the U.S. wasn't the only country trying to, and ultimately successful at, creating the bomb. A Deus Ex Machina doesn't do you a lot of good if your enemy has one as well. Wars are not won by Deus Ex Machina.
While Godzilla was a parable about nuclear power and the destruction it had wrought on Japan, through Serizawa, the film also echoes what the United States went through over the decision to use the bomb. Perhaps not before the bomb was dropped, but certainly after, there has been endless debates and hand-wringing over that decision.

I don't want to get into a debate as to whether the U.S. was justified in dropping the bomb on Japan. That is not the point I am trying to make. I just think this is a surprisingly empathetic viewpoint from a country that was “the enemy” just a decade before.

Of course, movies are not real life and real life is not like the movies. Dr. Serizawa decided he must use the Oxygen Destroyer to save mankind. He also destroys all his notes about the creation of the Oxygen Destroyer so it can never be recreated, also to save mankind. Since the secret of the Oxygen Destroyer also exists in his brain, Serizawa decides to join his monstrous nemesis in bubbly, foaming death beneath the sea. To save mankind.

For those of you who have never seen the original Godzilla but decided to read this missive anyway, you are now probably saying to yourselves, “Hey, wait a minute! Godzilla died? I mean, really died? But then, where did all those sequels come from?”

That, my friend, is another story. And another and another and another...

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad