Godzilla and the Weight of Guilt


iSErSEp5iXkQA few nights ago our family went with another family to see the opening of Godzilla. Not only did it remind me of watching all the Godzilla movies on Saturday afternoons when I was growing up but I also found myself wanting to build a Lego city and then destroying it! I thought the movie was great not only in terms of scale and the tension that built through the movie, but also how it was a somewhat different take on the legendary Japanese monster.

I happened to read an interview in Rolling Stone online with the director, Gareth Edwards, who offered some insight on how he approached making the movie. He said,

“The best horror always begins with guilt, As cool as it is to see giant monsters smashing things, it’s always stronger if it feels like we sort of deserve it.”

I hadn’t really given much thought to the great horror movies beginning with guilt but it’s in quite a few that I can think of and it’s pervasive in Godzilla.

Guilt is that objective sense that I’ve done something wrong, I’ve violated a norm or my own conscience, or I’ve hurt somebody I love. Of course guilt can become neurotic where one feels like Ham in Toy Story and guilt gets connected to every little thing imaginable. But there is something visceral about guilt that seems to be universal. In a Godzilla sense then, I wonder if every one does feel that they deserve some sort of verdict of destruction

Franz Kafka (who wrote The Trial, a powerful book on this real, invisible sense of guilt), wrote in his diary,

“The problem that modern people have now is that we feel like a sinner though independent of guilt.”

Kafka is saying modern people have gotten rid of the idea of guilt yet for some reason they still feel like there’s something wrong with them. Because the modern person has rejected all objective truth and morals, there is no way for them to get to the objective “something” that’s wrong with them which they still sense. There’s no way for them to know…

The joke that often gets told is that all religions are the same: They all make you feel guilty, just with  different holidays. Actually, the gospel is exactly the opposite. The gospel assumes that guilt is already sensed as a present condition. There is a verdict that has been rendered and as Kafka pointed out, no matter how we try to spin or dismiss it, we sense it. The good news is that God’s solution to guilt is not to pile more guilt on but to actually deal with it at the source. You feel guilt because you are guilty, and there must be someone other than you who actually reverses the verdict that you sense has been cast over your life.

Horror movies, when done well are great reminders of the horror of the verdict. Edwards is correct when he says that intuit that we might actually deserve destruction. The gospel’s answer to this horror is what C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien might call the most plausible, persuasive true tale there is.

3 thoughts on “Godzilla and the Weight of Guilt

  1. Really enjoyed your post. Fascinating the idea that guilt is big in horror movies. It is something that people today want to deny which then makes it hard to resolve. This is a very helpful insight.

    • Dan

      “Weight” of guilt? So you’re telling me Godzilla’s too fat after all?

      But seriously–love this post. And Kafka was a genius.

      • jonnitta

        Nice! I knew your post would be spot on! I have read that the Japanese have observed how “overweight” Godzilla compared to the svelte 60’s version. I think they want to say this is an American Godzilla that is more interested in feasting at the buffet than on MUTOs.

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