The greatest monsters aren’t bad, they’re just misunderstood. Just look at all the crap Godzilla got for wrecking a major Japanese city or two. Or King Kong for abducting a young woman. Even Frankenstein, for that matter. Alright, he killed a kid. Not a great thing. But it was an accident. A tragic, heartbreaking accident.
Part of the reason they are truly timeless characters is that they are complex. They have emotions that are both positive and negative. They do some things that are good. They do many things that are not. They are, in spite of their monstrous appearances, incredibly human.
Godzilla has stood the test of time for many reasons. One of the biggest, however, is that he is both good and bad, ally and enemy. Depending on the particular movie, Godzilla may be intent on destroying humans or called on to save them.
However, what’s remarkable is that even in his most sinister city-stomping form it is clear that he is not purely evil. He is usually just trying to survive. As importantly, remember where it all started.
Godzilla was just trying to sleep. He wasn’t bothering anyone. He wasn’t trying to kill anyone or destroy anything. He just wanted to be left alone to hibernate for a while. And then the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on him. You’d be a little pissed off when you woke up too.
King Kong. Alright, abducting women is not okay. Neither is rampaging through the streets and killing people willy-nilly. But King Kong can’t really take the full blame for it.
How many males have fallen for an attractive woman and done really silly things? A lot. A whole lot. I mean, just look at POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE or dozens of other great crime movies. It happens!
Just to be clear, I am not blaming Fay Wray for anything. For that matter, I am not excusing the big guy’s actions. But you’ve got to have a little sympathy for him falling so hard for a dame. You’ve got to understand, at least a little bit, why he does some of the things he does.
More importantly, remember this…Much like Godzilla, King Kong was just looking to hang out on his jungle island and be left alone. It was the evil, capitalistic humans who decided they could kidnap him and make a buck off him by dragging him back to New York. Alright, so there was the occasional human sacrifice made to him on the island but he never really asked for that, did he?
For all his angry slamming about in Manhattan, I really don’t think anyone fully blames King Kong for it. And they shouldn’t. King Kong would have been just fine on his jungle island if only the greedy humans hadn’t gotten involved.
Alright, so Frankenstein killed a kid. A really nice little girl at that. But he thought she’d float. The flower floated. The flower floated!
All he wanted was a friend. And then the whole thing got horribly messed up because of a misunderstanding regarding buoyancy.
All joking aside, that scene is a masterpiece. We feel for the small girl who drowned. Yet, we also feel for the creature that accidentally killed her. It’s tragedy in the classic sense. And it’s heartbreaking.
In fact, the entire story of Frankenstein is heartbreaking. Which is, of course, much of its point. The monster is as much victim as villain. So much so, that when the hateful man that created him is tossed to his death, there is sometimes a collective cheer from the audience.
There are many examples of sympathetic monsters in literature and film. Yet, GODZILLA, KING KONG and FRANKENSTEIN have stood the test of time as three of the best.
All three commit acts of horrendous violence and strike terror into those around them. They are feared but they are worthy of sympathy, maybe even pity. It is this dual nature of their characters which makes them so compelling and so timeless.
They are no more “pure evil” than most humans. They are just trying to get along in a world totally stacked against them and paying a horrible price for it. If that thought doesn’t make you feel a little bit of empathy or compassion, then you really are a monster.