Whether or not art should have a meaning outside of its style — an aim, to be exact, under a political or societal sense — has been a point of discussion among historians and critics since the early days of 19th century French slogan, “l’art pour l’art” and Friedrich Nietzsche’s counter argument to the said statement:
“…what does all art do? does it not praise? glorify? select? highlight? By doing all this it strengthens or weakens certain valuations….Art is the great stimulus to life: how could one understand it as purposeless, as aimless, as l’art pour l’art?”
To this day, there’s no easy answer or explanation to the subject. Though it is true that in the wake of twenty-first century, a more socially consciousness type of filmmaking has emerged both behind and in front of the cameras, especially on matters such as racial diversity and gender equality; a clear definition of art’s responsibility to the real world and its issues is still nearly impossible to make. As it stands a matter of subjective understanding of beauty for the most part, even what art stands for other than its own contained aesthetic nature is debatable. Should it comment on minority issues? Is it for a film to carry the weight of historical accuracy on its shoulders? Is it even logical to think that a simple existence of two hours or four hundred pages can represent a sociopolitical ideology or its assessment to its appreciators?
But then there comes a movie a like Colossal, which is Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo’s 2016 movie starring Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis and Dan Stevens in its primary roles, that merges its own look on art — and maybe, what art should stand for, with the necessary cultural examination so beautifully; you don’t even remember the question. Vigalondo, who is also the sole writer behind the project, does a magnificent job on hiding serious subjects such as addiction, physical and emotional violence and abusive relationships behind jokes but still not making them the butt of the said comedy. Moreso, he mixes two different genres together, and genres that one would never imagine that would go along so well: for the purpose of creating a visual story that is both grand in its scale but also intense in its feelings, and adventurous in its means to present them.
The film, depicted as a “science fiction black comedy”, starts and ends in Seoul, South Korea; but spends most of its time in the Middle American hometown of its protagonist. It has great acting (seriously, this movie made me like Anne Hathaway after all these years), a decent camera work, and a plot that has everything one needs to make a better-than-most humour with its not-so-subtle undertones of parodying Godzilla (that was also spotted by Godzilla copyrights holder Toho, who made a lawsuit about the problem — settled after six months under the terms that “Anne Hathaway-starring Colossal will not feature Godzilla or an obvious derivative of the giant lizard”, as said by Deadline), following as:
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) drinks too hard and parties too much. Her boyfriend has enough of it and throws her out. Gloria returns to her hometown, dreaming of making a new start, but instead revives her childhood friendship with Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who runs a bar. After drinking a night away with Oscar and his friends, he wakes up to discover a gigantic monster rampaging through Seoul and realizes that somehow the monster is connected to her.
The bits and pieces of a deeper, more subversive movie shows itself in moments of Gloria’s uneasiness at the sight of alcohol, or his childhood friend’s plaguesome comments on her problems that she gives several passes since they are “jokes”. It all comes to an ending of literal fireworks at last, of course, as Oscar shows his true colours hidden behind the perfectly played portrayal of a “good-guy”: he grows violent, makes snarky comments on other’s issues, even blackmails Gloria by saying that he’ll terrorize the innocent citizens of Seoul if she ever leaves the town with her ex-boyfriend.
Movie’s commitment to show the darkness of male possessiveness is both a daring, and needed plot twist. What would otherwise be a quite unnecessary film that would only be watched when there’s nothing else quickly becomes a striking account of misogyny and various forms it can take. Even before the big moment, the clues of what the story is really going to be are there: Tim lectures Gloria on how to be real adult in the most mansplain-y manner imaginable just before kicking her out of their flat without even giving her a chance to have a say on the subject and his later attempts at making things better again fail because he thinks so little of Gloria; Joel, who in the second section of the picture becomes the character’s minor love interest, takes Gloria’s flirty behavior as a “go” to his decision to kiss her unexpectedly. But the real breaking point comes once Gloria tries to get better, and in return Oscar, who clearly is not happy with this new normal, goes the exact opposite road: he sinks into the depths of alcoholism as she becomes more and more sober, unveiling the mask in front of his envious, hateful, malevolent self.
Audience later learns that Oscar was never happy that Gloria became the successful one between them, becoming a writer for an online magazine and living in big cities while he stayed back in their hometown, trying to make better of a shitty bar left to him by his father. The possibility of him being one of Gloria’s online harassers that cost her the job she had is also hinted, though never confirmed.
Both Hathaway and Sudeikis take every chance at depicting what a horrible, hurtful, dangerous relationship their characters have; and Vigalondo makes no attempt at putting even one little redeemable quality on Oscar. Even in one of his seemingly better scenes, where he tries to apologize to Gloria in the morning after drunkenly threatening her, the air is filled with uneasiness. Gloria accepts his apology, as many women in abusive relationships do; and Oscar continues to give into his controlling nature. One of the more disturbing moments of film depicts him trying to make her drink, another one follows him beating her when she tries to stop him from going to the playground that makes them both manifest their monsters. There are no chit chats or deliberations about the fact that he is abusive, which is a thing I find admirable.
A further example of their contrasting natures, and just how toxic Oscar is presented in their relation to the science-fiction side of the story and the way their reactions differ. When compared to Gloria, whose first thing to do after learning that there’s a kaiju that repeats her movements on the other side of the world is to write an apology, Oscar’s response to the subject is using the enormous power he holds over millions of people to torture a childhood obsession and keep someone who clearly doesn’t want to see him — ever — under his thumb. For the former, there’s nothing funny about drunken steps demolishing buildings; while the latter thinks that it’s all just a game, as long as he gets what he wants.
Their physical fights, and how Oscar starts to become more and more brutal; even beating her up in their final confrontation before the finale; works as a symbolism for their emotional connection, too, for that matter, as his “real face” becomes relentless and open once he understands the power he holds over her. From Oscar’s perspective, the game is simple: she cannot leave because there are people’s lives on the line and if she tries to leave, as we later learn, the damage done in return will be all her fault. Because he gave her a choice. It is because of all these reasons that the ending of Colossal is so important: a triumph moment for both the viewer and Gloria, as she chooses neither options — she is not going stay as a pet for Oscar to play with, but she is not going to run away or loose herself in alcohol, either. Not this time. So she hops on a plane, goes to Seoul, and stands against all the darkness Oscar has to offer, while her monster-self appears on the same playground that they once got struck by the lighting that caused all this, looking down at Oscar as the second layer of his identity is dropped and the only thing that is left for the audience to see is how small he really is. It is a cathartic scene, and a victorious instance as Gloria throws Oscar into the air to be never seen again, causing his manifestation of self to disappear.
For once, the aggrieved sense of male entitlement over female existence isn’t solved by a kiss or written off as a normal thing, or even a well-meaning guy not finding quite the right way to express his feelings: it is, in fact, a horror movie waiting to happen — one that must be put to an end as he screams “put me down, you fucking bitch!”.
In the end, although it is for sure not a perfect film or even a perfect idea, Colossal makes a definitive use of its arguments and uses the emotional essence of itself in a meaningful way; using an accidental monster to give its otherwise not that strong protagonist a fighting chance. With a reality that gives most women no possibility to get out of their abusive relationships and a society that nearly always sides with the nice guy with some forgivable anger issues to exist in, the 110 minutes running instant classic makes best of the both worlds: an indie drama that takes the high energy concepts of giant monsters and filling them up with real struggles.