Identifying Theme in Callaham's Godzilla (2014)
Or, How David Callaham Wants Us to Get Along and Stop Eating Each Other

Finding plot devices isn't that hard. Just look for elements that repeat themselves throughout the film. Callaham's Godzilla contains patterns from the very first scene, at Joe Brody's house, where his son, Ford, teams up with mom to put on a surprise birthday party for dad. The camera tracks the boy wearing a green t-shirt with a string of "Happy Birthday" letters trailing from behind, like a Godzilla tail. This shot is no mistake. It's Callahan's attempt to tell a story about how about every monster in the world - including humans - have families too. Godzilla, a tale of peace and mayhem in a battle filled with creatures looking for the same kind of love they got from the day they were born.

A Quick Synopsis of the Film

This new Godzilla installment features Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a plant scientist whose job gets complicated when a series of tremors destroys the nuclear power planet where his wife, Sandra, works. He and his boy are separated years later with the death of mom. Joe keeps looking for reasons why she died and Ford becomes a soldier. Their lives come together when Joe figures out that giant, winged creatures are hatching underground. A mother and father winged-creature, in fact, who want to help their hatchlings survive the human invasion. The human beings, us, in turn, feel the exact same way. In a strange twist of fate, we summon Godzilla to help us out.

When screenwriter David Callaham was offered to write Godzilla (2014), he was said to be thrilled by the opportunity to write a monster flick that spoke to contemporary issues. Godzilla got his start with radioactive waste, so perhaps this meant another film about nuclear proliferation. But not so. This installment of Godzilla had more to offer. Right from the beginning, we could see it had to do with family and everyone's desire to protect them from harm. Too bad, in our world, that meant killing each other in the process. The film offers no solution, just a lament for creatures that can't get along on planet Earth.

Identifying Godzilla's Theme

Identifying Godzilla's theme is pretty simple. Here's a short list of scenes that show a pattern that links human families with monster ones, as well as the shared desire to survive:

  • The opening scene starts with a family situation. We connect with them because it's the dad's birthday and so we get a sense of a shared humanity.
  • In the next sequence, the mother dies. We feel bad because of the earlier birthday sequence which showed how everyone loved each other.
  • Fast forward into the future, now the son has his own family and wife who loves him. Since he's a soldier, his wife misses him a lot. His son does too. Like the earlier scene, it is the father's birthday again.
  • His dad is looking for the reason why the mother died. He's motivated by family. Just like every creature in the film. Love and family.
  • The winged-creature is hatched and unbeknownst kills humans in the process. The humans get angry and want to kill it.
  • One creature has a pouch filled with eggs. The male creature tries to protect her. They even kiss affectionately during a quiet moment in the story.
  • A boy gets separated from his family at a train station. Ford helps him because it's all about family and protecting the younger members.
  • The monsters and humans fight each other because they want to save their families. It's all a misunderstanding, but what's one to do on planet Earth?

Suffice to say, that family is a recurring motif in Callaham's Godzilla. We want to kill them because the enemy - in this case, giant winged monsters - want to kill us. But they're doing it just for the same reason - to protect their families - we just don't know it. We won't be communicating any time soon either, since we're different species, so therein lies the tragedy of everyone on Planet Earth. We all care for each other and our families. Why are we killing each other? 

What Does That Do to the Geek Mind?

Callaham wanted to speak to contemporary issues and sure enough he did. Our world is in a chronic state of war. We all want to protect our families. The family theme shows up early in Godzilla and twice manifests as birthday parties too (the first with Joe Brody, then his son's Ford, later on). The creatures are a couple with a family too. But they want to kill us so it must mean we've got to kill them. As usual, we probably threatened their well-being by accident - a nuclear test, for example.

Identifying the theme is fun and interesting. It's a matter of looking for recurring story elements that coincide with the plot. What drives the characters? Joe Brody wanted to find out what killed his wife. Ford wants to protect his family. The winged-creatures want to protect their young. What gets in their way? What are the stakes? Look for the similarities and you'll find theme.


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