What Godzilla Vs Kong can teach us about conflict resolution


At first glance, Godzilla vs Kong is a movie about a big lizard fighting a big monkey, but scratch beneath the surface and it soon becomes apparent that director Adam Wingard is telling a story that dwarfs even his titanic protagonists. While the scale could not be larger, at its heart the film is an intimate drama about the conflict which defines life as an American in the twenty-first century.

As the picture begins, we find Kong on Skull Island confined in a Truman Show-like existence, living in isolation, experiencing the world only through a prism of screens. “Could this be any more timely?” I remark to my son, Humphrey. In a surly manner befitting his namesake he looks up from one of the many devices which so captivate his generation in order to tell me to “STFU”, an expression which I , as a “boomer”, am neither familiar nor “ok” with.  Humphrey is “Team Godzilla”, while I am staunchly pro-Kong. He shows next to no interest as I recount Pauline Kael’s essay which contextualized the 1933 King Kong as an allegory for globalization, with the gigantic gorilla of course being cinema’s most famous immigrant. Here, whilst Kong remains on his indigenous Skull Island, the tendrils of empire have extended to him, breaking him out of sync with his idyllic, island home.

In marked contrast to Kong’s organic upbringing, Godzilla’s origins have always been tied to humanity’s progress, the lizard serving as a potent metaphor for the atomic bomb. Whilst Kong offers hope for how mankind can live in harmony with the natural world, Godzilla shows only how we can plunder the resources of the earth as we pollute and destroy it. From the very first instant, it is apparent that this film is gripped by the same dichotomy which has divided society since He Who Must Not Be Named robbed us of our first female President, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in 2016.

The two titular combatants could not be more different. Kong is a sociable creature, his entourage is predominantly female-indentifying and his closest companion is an indigenous deaf child. Godzilla by contrast, has no friends, he does not think to use his colossal size to uplift WOC or the disabled community and he is almost certainly an “incel”. Indeed the “toxic masculinity” with which Godzilla destroys a research facility is reminiscent of the ways in which other lone wolves destroy educational establishments. I am referring of course to school shooters, a reference which must have been front and centre of Adam Wingard’s mind. As a viewer, we are primed for a clash, both physical and ideological.

When the confrontation does arrive, it is indeed barbaric as one would expect for a movie with the word Vs featured so prominently in the title. However, what I was not prepared for was how much the creatures shared. By virtue of their size, they are closer to each other than they are any other being on earth, their lived experience unites them in a way which is inconceivable to any terrestrial mammal or reptile and of course, SPOILER ALERT, they share a common enemy in the form of Mecha-Godzilla. Watching Kong and Godzilla work together to defeat the ultimate manifestation of Godzilla’s destructive toxicity proved to be an eye-opening experience for me.

Looking at my life, I considered the people who I had shared my own epic clashes with. My next door neighbor, Julia Roberts, who listens to the TV too loudly; my son; the people who harass me for my “bad takes” online. Now rather than seeing them as enemies – gigantic lizards who sought to do me harm – I looked at them once more as potential allies in my fight against greater, shared foes: my upstairs neighbor, Owen Wilson, who has parties too late; my ex-wife; companies who provide me with bad customer service. Indeed, watching Godzilla and Kong pound Mecha-Godzilla into submission, Humphrey and I were united in our whoops and cheers in a way not seen since Mad Max: Fury Road (I called it a “tour de force, indebted to silent cinema and a cerebral rebuttal to the bigotry of the franchise’s former star”, Humphrey thought it was “really cool”). As the credits played and Humphrey withdrew to his room, I felt a newfound respect, rather than contempt in his silence. I even promised to buy him the drum kit his mother had been saving for Christmas.

It’s unclear what the future holds for the Monsterverse and whether Godzilla and Kong’s ad-hoc alliance can blossom into a working relationship or even perhaps a friendship. However as a nation of Kongs and Godzillas, the education in conflict resolution will endure long after its two hours has gone.

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