Godzilla has been around popular culture for some 60 years. This is, apparently, an eternity to A.O. Scotts, who thinks it may be time to let him go. Scott’s review of Godzilla, while fanciful and fun, misses out on an important point of storytelling. Stories are here to be told and retold — over and over again.
There is a theory (one which I am very much inclined to believe) that there are only really six base stories. All other stories are more or less a take from one of these stories. Godzilla is, in essence, a take on the the story of man vs. nature (interpreted as man vs. giant monster). It is a setting that we have seen played on time and time again. Pacific Rim, Clover Field, Super 8 (oh, J.J., you monster loving fiend), all of these are examples of the man vs. nature archetype in monster form. That unknown beast — often created by or as a result of the hubris of man — that thrashes through cities and towns until we can find a way to destroy or contain it.
The story of Noah’s flood is probably one of the easiest man vs. Nature stories for many to recall. Replace the flood with a giant monster and you have the same basic premise.
Stories are copies of other, more ancient (or less ancient), stories at the very basic level. Even those that we see as innovative, such as Star Wars and The Matrix, are just a rehashing of the hero’s journey: the idea that we will wake up from our real world and be born into the world where we have something much larger and more important to undertake.
Monster movies, such as Godzilla, show our powerlessness against nature. Our ability to overcome those colossal situations which have been presented to us our ability to overcome nature our ability to overcome our own hubris.
All stories are archetypes, or so Jung would say. All stories are archetypes, a piece of our collective unconscious. You think that you have a new idea with a new character? You think that your new story will break all kinds of storytelling rules? Chances are you haven’t and it won’t.
That is what annoys me about a review like Scott’s. It is a review that states that a figure is getting tired out, a review stating that a figure from cinema has been around for too long. I think that there is much the same sentiment with rebooting movies or bringing back a figure like Jack Bauer. There is this idea that you need to be able to come up with new ideas for every book or show or movie that you produce.
The problem is that creating something new is impossible.
It is an idea that drives me crazy: that everything we make needs to be fresh, new, and inventive. What we make just can’t be. Sure, we can put inventive and interesting characters and plots and settings into our stories but our stories will all remain the same. They will all remain reused and recycled.
Disney reuses old characters from fairy and folktales. Marvel reuses gods from Nordic mythology. Harry Potter is just an allegory for the old-as-time savior story.
Godzilla is a much older story than A.O. Scott gives it credit for. It is older than the 60 years that it has been around. The great flood story is one of the oldest in humanity. Cave paintings show ancient man fighting prehistoric beasts. Our fight against nature is ingrained within us at a primordial level. And it is about much more than just a giant radioactive lizard that terrorizes Japan (and, on occasion, New York).
It is a story that has yet to grow old. It is a story that has been around for thousands of years, just like all the others.
Instead of fighting against the idea of reusing ideas, instead of trying to come up with the next new thing, we should be happy in the knowledge that we are working with ideas that humanity has used for thousands of years.
Our stories are as old as time, and they will continue on until time ends.