It’s been said about Godzilla that it was Japan’s way of dealing with the B-29’s of the American Army Air Corp of WWII. A…monster…emerges from the ocean to the East, wreaking havoc and destruction on the cities and people of Japan. Nothing they could do seemed capable of stopping or even slowing the incredible assault. All was laid to waste before it. The movie was a means of dealing with the horrible memories of the bombings on another level, a symbolic level, easier to face that way. Dealing with it without dealing with it. A coping mechanism for the culture.
Cloverfield may be the American equivalent. An apocalyptic horror film, it incorporates themes from Godzilla, Alien and the 1953 version of War of the Worlds. It takes place in Manhattan and the movie begins in retrospect as video footage from a recovered camera, now in the archives of the DoD. The everyday friendships, lives and loves of a few young professionals unfolds into a nightmare of fear and panic as an enormous creature inflicts death and destruction on the city and everyone around them. Virtually the entire film is done in hand-held camera style as they sporadically document the chaos unfolding around them. It’s an incredibly effective technique and gives a feeling of reality to the film it otherwise wouldn’t have. There’s no doubt in my mind this is the filmmaker’s way of coping with 9/11.
Here’s the first clip in a series of nine you can watch at Movieclips. The friends have just left a going away party and evacuated to the roof after what felt like an earthquake and power outage.
District 9 is a more bizarre movie in some way, but also closer to a widely known human experience, dealing with the Unwanted Other. The premise is of an alien spaceship that becomes disabled over South Africa. When it is investigated, a sick and starving crew are found which are then relocated to an internment camp on the African plains and dubbed District 9. With humans and aliens barely able to tolerate each other, the District becomes a festering zone of mutual distrust, violence, black markets, hatred and mutual xenophobia. The District could be a stand-in for a number of cultural situations where people who’ve learned to hate each cannot escape from having to live near and deal with these unwanted others. The whole film feels weirdly real.
Of the two, I liked Cloverfield better. Much more exciting, genuinely scary in places, and because of the personal and even intimate nature of the film it was more interesting in many ways. District 9 ended up feeling like an opportunity lost. Despite the excellent premise, it devolved into a series of cliches: mean humans exploiting poor aliens, evil corporations doing dirty deeds, etc. There was a lot that could’ve been explored there but the filmmakers lacked both the intellectual depth and the courage to explore further. Pity that. The Hollywood elite loved it though, and it received four Academy Awards nominations, seven British Academy Film Awards nominations, five Broadcast Film Critics Association nominations, and one Golden Globe nomination.