Colossal: Unchecked Damage and Unclaimed Baggage
Nacho Vigalondo has distinguished himself as a writer/director powerhouse, generating original content that always seems to supersede the rules of the chosen genre. Time Crimes is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful film that uses time-travel and sci-fi thriller tropes to communicate a heavily horror-esque thriller through a noir lens. Extraterrestrial was received to wide acclaim, a sci-fi comedy/romance so in line with the rules of those genres, it earned him the title of, “the Woody Allen of Sci-fi.” Vigalondo's latest work, Colossal, is no exception. A pseudo-romantic-comedy with Asian monster-movie influence, proving to be a heavy-handed metaphor-driven narrative; Colossal is, for lack of a better or more original term, an instant classic entered into all those genres.
The story follows Gloria, (Anne Hathaway), a drunk screw-up who has screwed up one screw too many. Her boyfriend Tim, (Dan Stevens), leaves her after a night of absent debauchery, packing her bags for her, and after a little belittling, sends her on her way. With no job, no money and no real friends, Gloria returns to her hometown and squats in her parents old empty house. Almost immediately, she bumps into Oscar, (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend who she hasn't seen since she escaped the confines of her small, Upstate New York town years ago. While Gloria faces her addiction, she begins to realize that her actions while drunk are manifesting into a giant monster on the other side of the world, laying waste to the buildings and citizens of Seoul, her every move and gesture mimicked with destructive consequences.
Colossal is saying a lot of things. Self-destruction is just that: we destroy ourselves through our misguided actions and inability (or reluctance) to accept the fact that we may be very fucked up. Our addictions are the manifestations of our problems; left unchecked, they will only lead to more problems for others and ourselves, regardless of whether we ever look down to see them. The entitlements we believe to be ours through our actions are often misplaced misdirection from our weak understanding of others and an inability to admit that we sometimes don't fully have it together. Toxic relationships can burrow into us, transforming our ideals and morals, until we become a monstrous interpretation of ourselves. Internet culture – and call-out culture, more specifically – is a rising, self-made divide between friends, family and society as a whole. Pabst Blue Ribbon is best enjoyed from a bottle, not a can.
With the obvious metaphor on the table, I'll say that Colossal does its job as a comedy/monster film quite well, at least for the first half of the film. The situations, however extraordinary, are believable, and the reactions from its characters, however self-serving, make sense in the grand scheme of what the film is trying to say. To speak more to that, I will unfortunately have to walk into Spoiler Valley. But if you are interested in seeing this flick and really getting your money’s worth, I recommend stopping here, checking it out, and coming back.
When Gloria enters Oscar's world, one of small town humbleness, loves lost and good friends to drink the night away with, we the audience learn and interpret information as she does. Oscar inherited his father's local bar and he seems content with his place in the world, even though he lacks the money or determination to finish refurnishing it. His friends, Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell), are chipper and charming. Oscar is happy Gloria is back in town and wants to help her, offering companionship, a TV, furniture and even a job at his bar to help her get by while she figures things out. When Oscar learns of Gloria's connection to the monster ransacking South Korea, he treats it with lightheartedness and a fun sensibility. It's only at the twist in the story that we start to see his true motivations and personality come through. Once Oscar realizes that he himself can also have an avatar in Seoul - when in a specific place at a specific time - he begins to show a more selfish side. This, of course, is layered within the realization that Gloria has chosen to have relations with his friend, Joel, instead of him. Her choice to seek comfort – in the midst of a self-imposed and long overdue sobriety – in the arms of someone he deems lesser-than, throws him into a breakdown; all of his kind and generous demeanor evaporates, revealing a self-hating, manipulative, vengeful dick. This revelation redefines his past actions, turning his kindness towards Gloria's situation into baiting and gaslighting, and his friendship with Garth and Joel into that of a delusion superior. He has surrounded himself with two people he can control and manipulate, be it with information for a sort of social blackmail or the belief of a senior-level of intellect.
Gloria accomplishes her goal of “fixing” herself just as Oscar’s situation grows more exciting. He has always felt small and secretly hated Gloria for escaping their town, jealous of her success. Oscar immediately begins using his newfound ability, not only to make himself feel better, but to bully Gloria into staying. And in her fragile, newly recovered state, her options seem very limited.
Reenter ex-boyfriend, Tim.
Tim's arrival strikes a major chord for Gloria. Now that she has accepted her wrongdoings and corrected her course, she realizes that Tim is nothing more than a self-obsessed weasel, wanting only to fix Gloria to make his life easier. Tim is caught in the battle of wits between Gloria and Oscar, and this situation delivers one of the best scenes of film: Oscar attempting to prove his male-superiority to Tim (and Gloria) by lighting a gigantic firework in the middle of his bar, all the while explaining the history of the firework and why it is so special; a mirror of his own delusion of self-respect. Oscar claims that even though he has done this, the most irrational thing one can do in the bar, Gloria still won't go with Tim. She'll stay right there and work at his bar. Of course, this pissing contest pushes Gloria over the edge, forcing her to see that this childhood friend of hers is indeed damaged far beyond the revelations of the past few days, and she takes action to bring an end to his self-imposed control over her.
But perhaps even more interesting than the character-driven metaphors at play throughout Colossal, are its subtle references to how we as a people consume news and information, and how we react. Wi-Fi and cell phones are consistently cited, by dialogue or within the scene, and within the trappings of every moment dealing with the horrible events occurring in Seoul, the screen is king, town crier and court jester. The “attacks” in Seoul are, of course, heavily publicized, and multi-media is used as a tool to inform both the audience and the characters of what is happening. This is an obvious way to go about such a task. But there are many quotes in the film that pay direct attention to how the masses are interpreting this information that lends to the idea that as a culture, we have become disconnected through our over-connectivity. And even further, we have a reference to a screen, used as a device to heighten the tension between our characters that states, “If you leave it like that, it will get warped.” Oscar's own inability to realize the consequences of his spontaneous actions are indicative of the trolling culture that has grabbed this nation's moral compass by the throat. We even have the pivotal turn of his character centered on his disdain for the reaction of a “meme-esque” video that belittles one of the monsters, therefore belittling him. Gloria states at one point that because the tragedy is befalling South Korea, soon people won't care. We hear cheers emanating not only from the live-feed on cell phones streaming the streets of Seoul, but from the apartments near the playground where our hero and villain manifest the actions of the monsters being broadcast worldwide, like some kind of over-dramatic wrestling match. There are implications of a certain divide between the understanding of the plight of foreign countries on the other side of the globe that a bunch of white Americans could care less about, let alone genuinely understand, but the point directs firmly back to the initial theme of the film: toxicity and its ability, by nature, to disrupt progress.
Colossal is just one more amazing film released this year dealing with the troubles of the individual and the repercussions they can have on the world at large when gone unchecked. From the weariness of trying to help in Logan, to the racial undertones that continue to permeate even our closest relations in Get Out, to the loud roaring return of hope and compassion in Wonder Woman, the film industry is producing stories that not only entertain, but seek to inspire and uplift audiences through characterization and cleverly mapped metaphors. Colossal is an excellent example of turning our call-out lens inward and fixing what we find.
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He lives in Beacon, NY with his cat who is named after Kevin Bacon's character from Friday the 13th.