The Metaphor Behind “Godzilla,” And How It Will Change Your Life


Spoiler alert! This article contains detailed storyline spoilers about the 2014 remake of Godzilla.

Godzilla’s in your head. He lives and he’s a monster that’s so much more powerful than anything you can imagine. Some of you might recognize it. Some of you might not. But he’s in there and it’s as scary as all hell.

In Godzilla (2014) we learn that Godzilla is what’s left of an ancient primordial species – the apex predator of the earliest dinosaurs. Back then, the earth was much more radioactive and its species lived off this radioactivity, consuming it in its natural, mineral form. As the planet aged and got less radioactive, these animals mainly died out and ate each other. Godzilla (and a couple of others) survived by going dormant deep near the core of the planet where it could absorb the radioactivity produced nearer the core of the planet, via (I assume) something like osmosis.

The development of nuclear bombs on surface of the planet reawakened Godzilla in the 1940s/50s. The US and Japanese governments then tried to keep this a secret and kill it with those very same bombs, not knowing it fed off the radiation. With the bombs no longer attracting it, Godzilla returned to the depths of the ocean to its more reliable food source.

Turns out people have discovered an egg giving off the same readings as Godzilla. Instead of killing it, we study it for 50 odd years. It then wakes up, which triggers Godzilla waking up again and they all go on destructive rampage looking for more radiation and trying to kill each other.

There’s more to this story, but the point isn’t to give a blow-by-blow synopsis, it’s to make you realize that this story is an analogy for our minds. 

So back to the Godzilla in our heads. This monster is given different names in different schools of psychology – our “primary wound” or “major complex” or “shadow” are most apt. This refers to a trauma experienced in childhood (anywhere from birth to your teens) that runs so deep, it becomes as much a part of us as anything else.

It’s the thing we’re absolutely terrified of, deep, deep, deep down inside us. So deep, we don’t really have a good picture of it. Most people don’t even know it’s there. After three years of therapy, I’ve found out a little bit about my Godzilla, about enough to give it a name. Its name is ‘the fear that everything about me is a lie and that I’ll never matter.’ But like in the Godzilla story, make no mistake, it’s real and there are psychological structures in place designed to keep it a secret from us.

Once you have enough evidence to know this thing exists, you can respond to it. But knowing what it is doesn’t mean very much when you’re confronted by its massive power. And what I’m talking about psychologically is the power it has to direct the way we think and the things we choose. It is a force that we as tiny individuals can do nothing to directly resist.

Central here is how we conceptualize this monster. And the Godzilla story helps show us how to do that. It is a natural part of our world. It was there before came into consciousness, when our minds were just a primordial mix of emotions and sensations. To try and eradicate it with even the strongest conscious weapons (cf. nukes) would only encourage it to come to the surface more. It would be like trying to fight a feeling of emptiness by trying to make more money. But the more money you get and surround yourself with trinkets, the more obvious it is you’re empty and you become even more vulnerable to feeling.

And so we can conceive of our monster not only as a natural part of us that shouldn’t be resisted, but also as a monster that has no malicious intent. Godzilla doesn’t want to destroy cities and lay us to waste, that’s just what happens as a consequence of it being alive. And as a consequence of either not knowing it exists, or, willing ourselves to forget it exists. This is the parallel of humans growing and developing exponentially; trying to harness an ancient power (nuclear energy) to serve our own superficial needs.

Psychologically, this is the same as our ever-expanding egos. We think we’re smarter, better, more advanced – that we can control the planet. We put our faith in science and technology and when we feel like something’s lacking or something from the deep challenges us, we double-down on our egotistical supports (we need to be smarter, more logical, more advanced – build bigger nukes).

This lesson is seen in the movie through a couple of mechanisms. If, for instance, the existence of Godzilla had been made public, would the world have decided to develop more nuclear power? If the scientists had just tried to study and understand the Godzilla-like egg (instead of assume it could be controlled/destroyed if needed), then hundreds of lives would have been saved.

But it’s the ending of the movie that made me really think about what it means to truly acknowledge Godzilla lives. At one point, it’s believed that Godzilla’s dead (he falls and appears dead for days). And people mourn his loss because in a way he saved a city from a greater threat (you’ll need to have seen it to understand what I mean). But like a phoenix, he rises again. And again, people become rightly horrified at his potential for destruction. But Godzilla is not malicious. He rises, walks back the way he came and into the ocean again. The final scene is him disappearing into calm waters, as if he was never there.

The question that lingers is whether, given that he’s no longer in people’s faces, we they willingly forget he exists? Will they forget that that their strength couldn’t defeat him, that our most powerful designs to kill him, fed him? The parallel psychological questions can be asked of ourselves…

Can we accept that our wounds exist? That we can’t fight them with logic or our egos? Will we let ourselves fall into a false sense of security if, for years, we don’t see evidence it exists? We will teach our children it exists and that they might discover new “eggs” (different types of wounds)? Would we even recognize them as psychological wounds unless we’re primed to believe they exist? Will we continue to believe this wound is malicious and needs to be killed?

Lastly, will we realize that works of fiction like this movie are the very real remnants of humanity’s memory that there are psychological wounds of immense power in all of us, or, will we continue to push this truth into the realm of fiction/cinema and ignore its urgent message?  

image – Godzilla