Monstrous Nature: Environment and Horror on the Big Screen

Monstrous Nature: Environment and Horror on the Big Screen

Monstrous Nature: Environment and Horror on the Big Screen

Monstrous Nature: Environment and Horror on the Big Screen

Synopsis

Godzilla, a traditional natural monster and representation of cinema's subgenre of natural attack, also provides a cautionary symbol of the dangerous consequences of mistreating the natural world--monstrous nature on the attack. Horror films such as Godzilla invite an exploration of the complexities of a monstrous nature that humanity both creates and embodies.

Robin L. Murray and Joseph K. Heumann demonstrate how the horror film and its offshoots can often be understood in relation to a monstrous nature that has evolved either deliberately or by accident and that generates fear in humanity as both character and audience. This connection between fear and the natural world opens up possibilities for ecocritical readings often missing from research on monstrous nature, the environment, and the horror film.

Organized in relation to four recurring environmental themes in films that construct nature as a monster--anthropomorphism, human ecology, evolution, and gendered landscapes--the authors apply ecocritical perspectives to reveal the multiple ways nature is constructed as monstrous or in which the natural world itself constructs monsters. This interdisciplinary approach to film studies fuses cultural, theological, and scientific critiques to explore when and why nature becomes monstrous.

Excerpt

Perhaps the most iconic movie monster from the 1950s forward is Godzilla, a giant reptile that stars in dozens of movies from Toho Studios in Japan. As a creature of its age, beginning with its 1954 debut, Godzilla springs to life from the radiation left by nuclear testing and functions as a condemnation of the U.S. atomic attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. As Kyohei Yamane-hakase (Takashi Shimura) warns in the original film, “if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.” As a monstrous result of humanity’s destruction of the environment, Godzilla serves as a mixture of Maurice Yacowar’s disaster categories, embodying a traditional natural monster but also illustrating Yacowar’s natural attack subgenre. Godzilla also presents a cautionary symbol of the dangerous consequences of mistreating the natural world—monstrous nature on the attack.

Gareth Edwards’s remake of Godzilla (2014) initially reinforces this view of nature run amok when Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche), the wife of scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), is killed by a Japanese nuclear reactor breach. As Brody exclaims, “You’re not fooling anybody when you say that what happened was a ‘natural disaster.’ You’re lying! It was not an earthquake; it wasn’t a typhoon! Because what’s really happening is that you’re hiding something out there! and it is going to send us back to the Stone Age! God help us all.” For Brody the disaster was caused by a monster, not a natural catastrophe.

But later the attacks become something more: natural monsters seeking survival for themselves and their offspring as “MUTOS,” Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms that thrive on radiation. Godzilla enters the narrative . . .

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