Colossal, an indie movie that is out on iTunes, must have been a hell of a movie to market. It’s billed as a dark comedy, but it’s mostly a drama, and it involves alcoholism, abuse, misogyny, and kaiju. It’s not a romance (IT’S SO NOT A ROMANCE!) but it may be of interest to some of our readers who like good acting and stories about prickly female characters who develop a sense of serious fucking agency. Also there are kaiju.
At the start of the film we meet Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway. Since losing her job she’s embraced alcoholism and her boyfriend, Tim, kicks her out of their apartment. For the record, in my opinion, having lived with and alcoholic, Tim is 100% correct in booting her out and he even thoughtfully packs up her stuff and says she can keep the luggage. Alas, we will hear more from Tim, who, like any codependent, is addicted to the very same drama that he hates just as Gloria is addicted to alcohol.
Gloria moves back to her hometown where her parents own a conveniently empty house. The house is not only empty of people but also of furniture and some of the funniest moments come from Gloria’s ongoing war with an evil air mattress. Gloria quickly meets a childhood friend, Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis. Oscar gives her a job at the bar he owns and every night after work Oscar, his two buddies, and Gloria drink all night. Gloria staggers home through the same park in the mornings, a point with become significant when a kaiju appears in Seoul. It always appears at the same time of day, but it doesn’t appear every day. It doesn’t stay long. Eventually, Gloria realizes that the kaiju does the same movements she does – it essentially IS her. This dramatically changes her own behavior and her relationships to the men in her life.
So let’s sum up – there are kaiju (no spoilers, but the plural is not a typo) but it’s not really a kaiju movie. The kaiju don’t get a lot of screentime and the explanation for their existence is pretty sketchy. It’s magical realism, not science fiction. There’s comedy (that air mattress is a gift that just keeps giving) but the movie isn’t a comedy. The longer the movie goes on, the more it become like a thriller. Oscar is a terrifically terrifying character, the “I’m such a nice guy” misogynist who gaslights and abuses Gloria at every turn until SPOILER she gains the upper hand in a way that seems totally obvious in retrospect but which I did not see coming at all.
One of the interesting things about this movie is that it doesn’t try to make Gloria “likeable.” She drinks to the point of blackouts regularly. She lies so often it’s alike a reflex – she lies even when she doesn’t have to lie. She’s manipulative. When Tim the Codependent describes her as “a mess” he’s not wrong. Meanwhile, Tim keeps putting her down in ways that have nothing to do with her drinking, her bar friends enable her, and Oscar wants to control her. Gloria is surrounded by douchebags but she still has to take responsibility for her own behavior.
Gloria has a lot of flaws but she does draw the line at killing hundreds of people by passing out on them, and her desire to keep Seoul safe forces her to take responsibility for her own life. She stops drinking, she figures out how to make amends to the people of Seoul, and then fucking Oscar has to fuck everything the fuck up and she has to figure out how to deal with his incredibly terrifying and debasing shit.
The end of the movie is ambiguous, but I interpret it is saying that some battles can be neatly wrapped up and others are going to be a life-long effort. Sure Gloria kicks patriarchy’s ass in the most amazing and satisfying way, but she’s still an alcoholic who has just begun the process of recovery.
I have not seen much online discussion about the fact that in this movie, Koreans are essentially props in Gloria’s story. I cannot emphasize enough that there is a long history of white media placing white people in the forefront of stories that involve people of color, and of using the people of color to further the character development of the white characters. For some examples of this pattern, check out TV tropes’ pages on “mighty whitey,” “magical negro,” and “white man’s burden.”
You’d think the Internet would be aflame with rage about using an entire Asian city to help a white woman fight patriarchy, but it’s been fairly quiet as far as I can tell. I think this is because the kaiju element works so well thematically in a variety of ways. Here’s why I think it works thematically, keeping in mind that my perspective is that of a white viewer:
- The general tone of the movie is one of magical realism, which suggests that we are not intended to view Koreans as props in the real world just as we are not supposed to worry about how the kaiju can exist.
- The sight of the kaiju and robot duking it out in Seoul sits perfectly with the tradition of kaiju films.
- The kaiju battles taking place far away reinforces Gloria’s sense of isolation.
- Alcoholics have a hard time accepting the ways that their drinking affects other people. A turning point for Gloria is the realization that her drinking is hurting others. The fact that Gloria can feel empathy and responsibility towards people she does not know is a crucial difference between her and Oscar, who embraces the idea of using the residents of Seoul as his toys and his hostages. Gloria is essentially refusing to participate in the concept of the disposable other. Although she desperately wants to save Seoul, her actions are less about being a white savior and more about confronting the consequences of her own behavior and fighting her own oppressor.
I also think it’s significant that Gloria’s first contact after the climactic battle is with a woman. It’s the first time that we see Gloria interact with a woman in a significant and empathetic way. I like to think that this is a sign that the sisterhood is powerful and that, as they say, “friendship is magic.”
This was a painful and anxiety-producing moment to watch. Strong trigger warnings for alcoholism, misogyny, emotional abuse and manipulation, and physical violence. There’s a moment when Oscar tries to bully Gloria into drinking a beer when I truly thought I might have to turn the movie off and walk away (I have baggage on this topic).
However, ultimately this movie was incredibly satisfying. I was so proud of Gloria for smashing the patriarchy and facing her own issues. I was delighted by her solution to the Oscar problem. I liked the loopy, weird way that the movie was constructed and I loved the acting. The horror around the ‘nice guy’ who is a misogynist predator was truly terrifying and Gloria’s victory was a true fist-pumping moment. Bitches who like genre-busting narratives with ‘unlikeable’ female heroines and “FEMINISM HELL YEA” messages will love this movie – just know that it’s neither a comedy nor a romance.