A refreshed view of the scientists in Godzilla

Last night I went to see the new Godzilla. As I had recently discussed the original Godzilla, I thought I'd discuss the new film as it also touches some on the presentation of the scientist. I do not intend to spoil the movie in this commentary but there may be some spoilers for those who have not seen it. I thought it was good though I agree with the friend I went to see it with (a professor of film history) that the new Godzilla has much less to say about the world than the original did.

One of the main characters of the film is a nuclear engineer played by Bryan Cranston. The character becomes obsessed at one point that the failure of the nuclear plant he was working at was not a natural disaster or an accident but something else entirely. His apartment it littered with newspaper clippings as well as charts and graphs of newly collected data that he is convinced represents an imminent second event. His son at one point picks up a book on echolocation that the father does not explain but states that it is important. The father is adament that something is happening that is being covered up but that he needs data from the first event to be sure.

This is an interesting representation in the film. We, the audience, know that this is a monster movie so we can assume that the father is right, that there is something being covered up. But, the character is acting a bit crazy and much like a raving conspiracy theorist. But, this conspiracy theorist is seeking out hard, reasonable evidence, which I thought was a surprising portrayal.

Later on, the son and father enter the ruins of the nuclear plant to retrieve the data he needs to prove his case. They are caught by the authorities and brought to the scientists in charge of the coverup because the father "said he used to work here". Bryan Cranston's character then states several times that there will be an EMP at some point which I don't recall there being any evidence for before. The movie's Dr. Serizawa begins to take everything Bryan Cranston says as gospel and seems to throw out his legitimate observations for the ravings of Bryan Cranston. Granted, the father turns out to be right though it is too late.

The new Dr. Serizawa, though matching the character of the original is much different in other ways. He is a solumn individual (played by Ken Watanabe) who has been following the prehistoric beasts of the film, particularly Godzilla, for many years. He ends up not affecting the action of the script much as his suggestions are dismissed by the military authorities in the film. His primary role seems to tell the viewer that Godzilla could be a good guy who will bring balance to the word. In the original, the Dr. Serizawa character had the key, the answer but thought it was too dangerous to use. In this version, Dr. Serizawa seems to helplessly look on as mistake after mistake is made.

There is another undercurrent of the film, nuclear power and weapons. In the first film, Godzilla is literally woken up by a nuclear weapons test. In this film, different monsters are awoken as there is more radioactivity in the environment. Dr. Serizawa points out that they could be made stronger by a nuclear weapons attack because they may consume the radioactivity becoming stronger, a concern the military dismisses. Dr. Serizawa almost seems to represent the lack of respect science is given in this situation which the military deems to be under its "sphere of influence" (a term used in the film). Granted, Dr. Serizawa isn't really much of a scientist.

Though I doubt this was the filmmaker's intention, an overwhelming feeling I have at the end of writing this post is that the world as represented by the filmmaker is one in which we (humans) are helpless to change our own fate. Though the characters effect the world, they do not save the world on their own. The only situation in which the characters save something, it is saving San Francisco from their own poor judgement.

Yesterday I was listening to an episode of "Pop Culture Happy Hour" on NPR where they also discussed Godzilla. They mentioned that one critic had called Godzilla "the first post human blockbuster." He said this partially because of the use of non-human characters to tell the story, the lack of empathy for the human carnage that unfolds, and the lack of significant difference to the outcomes for the majority of the human's actions. I think these concepts were also my initial takeaways from my analysis of the film. I just thought it was nice to find someone with a similar perspective :)