Commies And The Bomb: The Blob And Godzilla As Nuclear/Socialist Bogeymen Essay Example
In the wake of World War II, the world was beset with two new and significant threats – the threat of Communist Russia (in keeping with the start of the Cold War) and the newfound terror of nuclear power and the atomic bomb. Given the world-destroying power that the A-bomb visibly inflicted on the people of Japan in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the impending threat of socialism on the newly-minted capitalistic superpower of the United States, the early 1950s was a time of great tension and apocalyptic fervor for both West and East alike.
This cultural and historical tension is demonstrated through these culture’s art as well, particularly in film – both American and Japanese audiences used the medium to express their anxieties about these newfound and incredibly frightening forces that sought to wipe them out, and figure out how best to deal with them. Through an exploration of 1954’s Gojira (Godzilla) (directed by Ishiro Honda) and 1958’s The Blob (directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth), the monstrous personifies the latent and overt fears of its filmmakers and audience on the atomic bomb and the spread of Communism, respectively, even if contemporary audiences at the time did not quite respond to it in those ways.
Science fiction films thrive on allegory as a vehicle to discuss real sociopolitical issues; monster movies in particular allow filmmakers to take an abstract idea or conflict and turn it into a concrete physical object upon which our fears can be projected. One prominent example is 1958’s The Blob, a monster movie in which a red gelatin-like amoeba creature falls to Earth from space and starts devouring everything in sight. While on the surface, the Blob seems roughly analogous to that basic fear of the unknown, as well as the fear of not being safe against something that can crawl through the floor, an allegorical reading reveals the film to be expressing anxiety at the fear of Communism during the Cold War.
Following World War II, the next major conflict for the United States was the Cold War, in which Communist Russia and the United States entered an informal period of aggression. Of particular concern to many American leaders was the insidious invasion of Communism and socialism into American life, which had at that point developed into a prosperous, first-world, industrialized nation with an idyllic image of the ‘nuclear family’ (Sharlet, 2008).
During the Second Red Scare of the 1950s, however, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin began drumming up anti-Communist sentiment in a series of speeches he gave, warning the American public of the threat of Communists living and working on American soil. Among his scaremongering was his speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, in which he claimed:
"The State Department is infested with communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department." (McCarthy, 1950).
McCarthy’s words helped kick off a wave of anti-Communist witch hunts, in which America was informally instructed to look for Communists around every corner, lest they dilute and destroy the American way of life. This political climate was extremely tense and prevalent during the filming and release of The Blob.
Because of this very prevalent fear of Communism in American life, The Blob takes on these fears and anthropomorphizes them in the form of its titular creature. The Blob itself (which is ‘red’ in color) represents the all-encompassing, rapidly spreading philosophy of Communism, which people feared was gaining a foothold in American life. The creature launches into America from a far-off place, latches itself onto someone, and soon starts to grow, increasing in size and scope, absorbing everyone that stands in its way.
Because of its all-encompassing, flexible nature, the Blob is able to seep through doorways, vents, and even cracks in doors – personifying the fear that Communism could not be escaped, and could reach out to you at any time. One particular scene late in the film explicitly ties the Blob’s insidious reach to the movie-going audience of the time: the climax sees the Blob seep through the vents of a movie theater (itself playing a monster movie) and terrorize the helpless audience – a harsh, metatextual reminder that the threat of Communism can even reach the audience sitting in the theater watching The Blob.
This film was put out in the midst of the Red Scare, in which Communists were thought to lurk in everyday neighborhoods, and would soon take over the country if they were not stopped. The setting is an idyllic American town, full of earnest teenagers (played by Steven McQueen and Aneta Corsaut) who horse around and cause trouble in a pleasant, low-key way (their central crime is joyriding against their rambunctious friends). However, upon the Blob’s arrival, the teenagers become the protagonists, demonstrating their industriousness and worth as befitting strong, American members of the community. McQueen’s character, in particular, is shown to be a stand-up guy, helping out others and coming up with the solution to isolating and containing the monster.
The only way the town can defeat the monster in the end is by freezing it into immobility, giving a literal bend to the film’s Cold War subtext – the war is literally won with cold. The film’s final lines are very prescient, as someone expresses hope that the Blob will stay frozen at its new North Pole location, to which Steve replies: “Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold, huh?” This is followed by an ominous shot of the Blob, encased in a floating box on the Arctic Ocean, with “THE END - ?” superimposed over it. To that end, the film acts as a potent metaphor for the fear that small-town America would soon be consumed by an inescapable red force that would turn everything into one large, homogenous, formless mass devoid of individuality. Furthermore, the film promises the possibility of Communism’s return if the citizens of America do not stay vigilant.
Reviews of the film around the time it was released were fairly middling and mixed; despite its deeper subtext, The Blob was still considered a B-monster movie, which was often dismissed as ‘low art’ by critics and audiences (CITE). Howard Thompson of The New York Times gave the film a middling review, criticizing the film for its “phony” special effects and the equally poor dialogue – “Irving H. Millgate’s dialogue flattens as fast as the blob rounds” (Thompson, 1958). Still, the review praised the film for some of its more creative sequences and the cinematography (“the color is quite good”) (Thompson, 1958). The review of The Blob in Variety criticizes the acting and direction, which are said to not be “particularly creditable,” but praises the special effects and camerawork (Variety, 1957). By focusing merely on rote descriptions of the formal elements of the film itself, it is clear that the major film critics of the time were not entirely interested in delving into the subtextual nuances the film chooses to express about American life at the time.
Perhaps one of the most famous allegorical science fiction monsters is Godzilla, of the Ishiro Honda film of the same name from 1954, Gojira. A large lizard monster, Godzilla is resurrected by nuclear tests off the coast of Japan, where it then begins to attack innocent Japanese and tear up Tokyo. The presence of Godzilla, a city-destroying terror created by nuclear hubris, acts as an allegory to the destruction of Japanese cities by nuclear bombs in the latter stages of World War II.
Godzilla himself is both a portent of the same atomic devastation that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki happening again, and a stark reminder of the horrors that followed. Throughout the film, images of burned shadows on the walls of places attacked by Godzilla, as well as the masses of terrified Japanese, conjure up images of the post-bomb Hiroshima fallout, not to mention the numerous explicit mentions of Godzilla being brought to life by the nuclear bomb. In this way, Godzilla becomes not just a potent recreation of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan, but a mournful elegy for those left behind.
Long, lingering shots of Japanese victims holed up in trauma centers, huddled together and stuck to stretchers and cots, covered in radiation, echo similar images and footage taken during the end of the Second World War (US War Department, 1946). Just as after Hiroshima, Honda’s Tokyo quickly becomes a hollowed-out, bombed-in wasteland, with blown-out windows, empty buildings and smoking remains where houses (and families) had been. In this way, the monstrosity of atomic weaponry is personified in the relentless, uncontrollable Godzilla.
The problem of destroying Godzilla himself provides for yet more exploration of the issue of mankind’s experimentation with weapons of mass destruction; Dr. Serizawa, the conflicted young scientist who has created the experimental Oxygen Destroyer, spends much of the movie incredibly torn about whether or not his destructive weapon should be used to destroy the monster. In this way, his concerns echo those of the men who worked on the Manhattan Project, the group of scientists who developed the atomic bomb. Serizawa, in particular, finds close parallels in Robert Oppenheimer, one of the men who worked on the Manhattan Project who often expressed doubt and dismay at their creation of the nuclear bomb:
“If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of the nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people of this world must unite or they will perish” (Oppenheimer, 1945).
Serizawa experiences similar reservations about the use of his weapon in Godzilla, saying to his unrequited love, Daisuke: “Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles, and now a new superweapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist - no, as a human being - I can't allow that to happen!” In the end, Serizawa approves the use of the weapon, but volunteers to sacrifice himself to set off the bomb, thus ensuring that no one could recreate the Oxygen Destroyer again.
The doctor’s sacrifice in Godzilla helps the film to take a clear anti-nuclear stand, depicting the use of massively destructive weapons as a last resort, and experiencing great cost as a result. While the Godzilla creature is destroyed, Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) ends the film expressing the possibility of the creature appearing once more: “I can't believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it's possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.” Just as in The Blob, both films demonstrate a decidedly polemic stance on its pet issues, warning its audience of the possible reappearance of its monsters and their subsequent effects if mankind does not take care of itself and the planet.
In contemporary reviews of the film, responses were mixed to negative, many dismissing the film for being a cheap monster movie, or worse yet, decrying the film’s manipulative use of the Hiroshima bombings for monster-flick pathos (Shapiro 272). However, as with The Blob, the film has begun to receive more positive appraisals years after its release for carrying these potent atomic-bomb symbols and social commentary. Godzilla, in all of his destructive glory, represents the fear and terror that the Japanese population experienced in the wake of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, revisiting the way Japan was destroyed and its cities devastated through the use of this fantastical monster. Godzilla, in this respect, becomes an avatar for the unstoppable, uncontrollable destruction that comes at the hands of nuclear power, and warns its audiences to step down from its desire to play God.
In the 1950s, the world was still reeling from the effects of World War II, particularly the rise of Communism, the start of the Cold War, and anxieties about nuclear annihilation. Some of the most potent metaphors for these anxieties were found in The Blob, in which the monster represents the all-encompassing, stifling spread of Communism in America, and Godzilla, which featured a monster borne of nuclear testing, eerily reminding Japanese audiences of the horrors that had befallen them less than a decade prior. Both of these creatures do not speak for themselves, cause incredible destruction, and terrifies its characters in significantly different ways: the Blob swallows everyone whole and grows in size, sneaking into places rather than destroying them, while Godzilla wreaks havoc and mass destruction wherever his radioactive footsteps fall.
While reviewers of the time dismissed these films as cheap, tawdry monster pictures, it is only after recent consideration that these monsters have been rehabilitated for the harrowing warning signs they were meant to be. Hidden amongst cheap B-movies and creature features lies the clearest and most creative examples of the world’s need to deal with the tensions of a post-World War II world – whether it be an unstoppable blob of gelatin meant to absorb everyone into one horrifying creature, or a sympathetically disastrous product of man’s interference with nature in splitting the atom. In both films, the very real apocalyptic fears of two societies are made plain by personifying them in the mold of the monster.
US War Department. Army-Navy Screen Magazine Issue 74. 1946.
Honda, Ishiro (dir.). Godzilla (Toho, 1954). Film.
McCarthy, Joseph. “Speech in Wheeling, West Virginia on February 9, 1950.” In Griffith,
Robert (1970). The Politics of Fear: Joseph R. McCarthy and the Senate. University of Massachusetts Press. p. 49.
Oppenheimer, Robert. “Acceptance Speech, Army-Navy ‘Excellence’ Award.” November 16,
1945. In “The Oppenheimer Years,” Los Alamos Science, vol. 4, num. 7, Winter/Spring 1983. P. 25.
Thompson, Howard. “Movie Review – The Blob (1958).” The New York Times. November 7,
Variety Staff. “Review: ‘The Blob.’” Variety. December 31, 1957. Print.
Yeaworth, Irwin S. (dir.). The Blob. (Paramount Pictures, 1958). Film.
Picart, C., and J. Browning. Speaking of Monsters – a Teratological Anthology. Palgrave
Macmillan, 2012. Print.
Shapiro, Jerome F. Atomic Bomb Cinema: The Apocalyptic Imagination on Film. Routledge,
Sharlet, Jeff. The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. New
York: Harper, 2008. Print.
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