Man vs God Incarnate: An Analysis of Shin Gojira

Written by Alexander Greco

May 17, 2020

“Shin Gojira” is one of the most terrifying movies I have watched in the last few years, and is easily the best Godzilla movie made so far—yes, still better than anything Hollywood has produced. Written and directed by Hideaki Anno—creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion—Shin Gojira is a retelling of the classic Godzilla story, but it is also a contemporary remastering of the story. Rather than producing the over-the-top monster-mash America is intent on making, Hideaki kept the movie simple, honing in on all the minute details that brought out the horror of Godzilla, as well as crafting a compelling, meaningful and an archetypically mythological narrative relevant to modern society.

The horror of Shin Gojira came from several things.

First of all, the cinematography was spectacular. Every shot of Godzilla makes you feel small, vulnerable, weak and hopeless. The first full shots of Godzilla show Godzilla in the semi-distant background with a large number of humans in the foreground. Despite Godzilla’s distance and the people’s nearness, Godzilla’s size visually dominates the shot. Then, in later shots, we either see Godzilla towering in the far-distance, appearing surreally large in the distant background as people seem insect-like in the foreground, or we see Godzilla from nearer shots, where a small portion of Godzilla’s body fills the screen. This doesn’t even touch on elements such as the sound or lighting, musical score and the pacing of the scenes, which all were masterfully accomplished.

Godzilla’s design was easily the most innovative iteration yet, though far from the most “pleasing” design. What made this version of Godzilla horrific was the realism of it and the blind violence of Godzilla’s behavior. The CGI did have it’s moments of “cut-the-shit”, it wasn’t perfect, but Hideaki Anno seemed to be asking with this movie, “What would it actually be like if Godzilla attacked Tokyo?” The Godzilla that answered Hideaki’s call achieved a shocking verisimilitude. Godzilla evolves through three forms. The first is an amphibious, fish-like juvenile form, where Godzilla walks hunched over, almost flat to the ground. It has wide-open, vacant eyes, like a shark or barracuda, a relaxed, slack jaw, revealing dozens of ragged teeth, and it stomps around awkwardly, almost like a monstrous child.

Godzilla here looks natural, like a monster that might actually crawl out of the primeval depths of the Pacific. Godzilla then evolves into a more dinosaur-like form, though it still appears as a sort of horrific, half-developed proto-monster. Godzilla’s second form looks almost like a grotesque, half-formed embryo, still growing to maturity. And yet, despite this embryonic appearance, Godzilla is still far larger and more powerful than any other organism on the planet. Godzilla is already a super-organism, and it’s not even fully developed.

And then, there is the tall, obsidian tower that emerges from the Pacific—the final form of Godzilla—and the terror of this Godzilla’s form is the sheer hopelessness of trying to confront such an impossibly large creature. Godzilla here is a tower of half-hardened, half-molten flesh—it barely resembles a natural organism—instead resembling some abomination of biology—yet the same verisimilitude is maintained. The movie doesn’t feel like a giant monster movie. It feels like a film depicting the actual outcomes of a super-organism walking into a major city.

You watch a realistic, god-like monster walk through buildings, topple apartments with families still inside, crash through crowded cityscapes and fill the streets of Tokyo with fire.

Possibly what is most disturbing is that Godzilla behaved without thought, without remorse, without any real awareness. Godzilla never behaved like an antagonist. There was never any malice or intentional aggression in Godzilla’s behavior, except when it was defending itself against the Japanese military in the latter half of the movie. Godzilla acts almost blindly, as if it is has no awareness to the destruction and mass death all around it. Godzilla’s only motive is survival: seeking sustenance, exploratory behavior, reacting to negative stimuli.

Godzilla’s first form flops around awkwardly. Its eyes bulge manically. It haphazardly bores a line through the city by toppling every building it passes. It has no clear motivation, no specific goal, no real awareness—not even much of an awareness of itself—except survival. All Godzilla actually does for the first half of the movie is walk through the city. That’s all.

All of this culminates in a supreme sense of uselessness. What do you do? How do you react? Is there any way of regaining control of the crumbling situation?

By the mid-point of the movie, it feels like there’s nowhere you can actually run or hide from Godzilla. Where can you go that won’t be destroyed? How far could you run before Godzilla catches up to you? What could you do to stop Godzilla? There’s nowhere you can go, no speed you could run, and nothing you can do. At no point do you feel safe. At no point do you feel secure. At no point do you feel calm. There is only a frantic fear, and a crushing hopelessness.

And yet, by the end of this story, we witness heroism in the face of this absurd horror that harkens back to ancient mythology.

At the heart of this movie are three major conflicts. Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, and Man vs. God; in other words: the protective/oppressive collective of Society, the negative aspect of nature—cancerous, violent, perfectly amoral and indifferent—and “God” being the enveloping/isolating reality of the universe we live in. These conflicts translate into three major themes of the movie:

  • Man’s eternal struggle for survival
  • Man’s eternal struggle against the conformity of culture
  • Man’s existential struggle with reality, the cosmos, and their relationship to the infinite

Literally explained, the primary conflicts of the movie are:

  • The physical survival of Tokyo and the citizens of Tokyo
  • The conflicts between politicians, scientists, journalists, the military and everyday people, and the relationships between different countries (Tokyo/Japan, and America, China, Russia, France, etc.)
  • The individual faced with the insignificance of their existence and the futility of their efforts

I will explain all three of these conflicts in the remainder of this article.

First, before I start digging at the deeper ethos of the story, we should come to an understanding of the mythological and archetypal symbols prevalent in Shin Gojira.

Shin Gojira, at the core of its narrative-structure, is an archetypal Hero Myth. More specifically, it is an archetypal Dragon-Slayer myth. A Dragon-Slayer myth can be explained as follows:

There is a “Kingdom” or a “Society” which is under attack from some external threat.

This external threat is always an archetypal “Monster”, some horrible and powerful creature, which often cannot be defeated by mundane ways.

A Hero must go out to defeat the Monster that is terrorizing their community.

The Hero confronts and slays the Monster, which typically results in marriage, wealth and social promotion.

These myths are prevalent throughout cultures across history, even back to the Epic of Gilgamesh, and they portray a universal struggle of humanity: confronting the horrors of reality.

Often, the Monster of the Dragon-Slayer myth is in some way connected to an archetypally feminine force, such as a Goddess of Fertility, Creation, or Nature. Nature is typically represented as feminine, and throughout many ancient myths, the “Monsters” are children or descendants of a creator/mother-goddess (Tiamat, Gaia, Izanami, and so forth).

This is the archetype of the Great Mother, both a nurturing giver of life and a devouring destroyer of life. Another way of thinking of the Great Mother is as the mythological representation of Nature. The Great Mother is the beauty and the creation of Nature, and the Great Mother is the horror and the destruction of Nature.

Opposite Nature or the Great Mother is Society or God the Father.

In many Hero Myths, including Dragon-Slayer myths, there is a “King” figure. The King and the Kingdom are the forces that protect individuals within society, but are also the forces that oppress individuals in society. Archetypically—that is, as a narrative symbol—the King and the Kingdom are essentially the same thing. The King is the representative­, the figurehead and the grand decision-maker of the Kingdom, and so the King and Kingdom are one (this is almost literally true in Totalitarian states such as Soviet Russia, North Korea and Nazi Germany). In this sense, the King is symbolic of Society.

Oftentimes the problem presented by Nature—the Monster or Dragon—accounts for only half of the problem that is facing a society. One half is the Monster itself. The other half is the failure of the Society—the failure of the King—to overcome the problems they are facing. This is why many kings in a Dragon-Slayer myth are often old, debilitated, dying, or in some other way incapable of confronting the horror on their doorstep.

To take this up to the same level of abstraction as the Great Mother, the archetypical masculine divine entity would be God the Father. As the Great Mother is representative of Nature, so God the Father is representative of Society. As the Great Mother has both negative and positive aspects, so does God the Father as tyranny and protection.

The third piece of the puzzle is the Hero. The Hero is that which confronts Nature in order to save Society. This process involves overcoming the horrors of Nature and revitalizing a broken and decaying Society.

This mythological narrative can be elaborated from our simple Dragon-Slayer myth as follows:

Nature poses threats to Society.

That Society is aging, corrupt or incompetent, and so the threat posed by Nature becomes a Monster—a threat so bad that it terrorizes the people of a Society.

The Hero must come not only to confront the problem posed by Nature, but re-order or revitalize the failing society. This necessarily means the Hero must grow in a variety of ways and collect resources to defeat the Monster. These resources can be:

  • Special Knowledge
  • Weapons
  • Magical Abilities
  • Allies
  • Personal Development/Growth

The Hero is typically rewarded for their efforts and their sacrifices, which usually entails monetary, social and sexual rewards.

To sum this up:

It is the task of the Hero to return Order and Health to Society by becoming more powerful than the failing King, and defending Society from a Monster by incorporating the knowledge and resources of Nature and Chaos. In other words, it is the task of a Hero to save a Kingdom by usurping a King, and use acquired powers, weapons and knowledge (often attained from delving into the “Land of Chaos”, the “Underworld”, or into the “Unknown”) to defeat the Monster or Dragon. This typically results in the Hero attaining nobility or godhood, marrying a princess or virgin, and/or living the peaceful, simple life they wanted all along.

Shin Gojira begins with an anomalous event—a rupture or small earthquake in the ocean just outside the city—which the political leaders think is a perfectly natural event, and give little heed to it. Godzilla then emerges from the ocean, and the government and emergency response teams are ill-equipped to deal with Godzilla. Godzilla easily tears through Tokyo, and the immense amount of red-tape and legal regulations keep the government from effectively responding to Godzilla (even though it is well within their ability to do so at this stage of the movie).

Godzilla evolves into a much larger form, then returns to the ocean. When Godzilla returns from the ocean once more, Godzilla is far larger than before, and is nearly impervious to most small-scale weaponry, even artillery rounds. US bombers fly over Tokyo and begin dropping large bombs on Godzilla, which has some effect on the Monster, but then Godzilla destroys the bombers and wreaks havoc on the city before going to sleep in the middle of Tokyo.

From the very beginning of the movie, Rando Yaguchi—the protagonist—has been in conflict with the other politicians. He believed Godzilla was a creature and not a natural event far before anyone else did. He attempted to prepare for the potential oncoming catastrophe of Godzilla far before anyone else did. He also had a much clearer idea of how to respond to the threat of Godzilla than anyone else did. Yaguchi was ready to confront Godzilla and had the right mindset for confronting Godzilla, but his attempts at doing so were thwarted by the majority of fellow politicians.

However, Yaguchi is then given charge of task force designed to respond to the threat of Godzilla. Yaguchi is essentially in charge of dealing with the threat of Godzilla (though this authority is relatively surface-level until the end of the movie). After dealing with the catastrophic defeat at the midpoint of the movie, then dealing with several major stumbling blocks leading up to the climax (such as the threat of nuclear missiles from the US), Yaguchi rallies his task force together and defeats Godzilla. They do this by studying Godzilla until they understand Godzilla’s mysterious biology and find a chemical compound they can administer to Godzilla to incapacitate the Monster.

In the end, Yaguchi is hailed as the savior of Tokyo, he develops a potential romantic with an American politician, and it is implied that Yaguchi has a high chance of becoming the next Prime Minister of Japan.

I will simplify this and reconnect it to the archetypal Dragon-Slayer narrative.

Shin Gojira is about Godzilla attacking Tokyo. Godzilla is a reptilian Monster (Dragon) capable of evolving to adapt to threats (evolution, the province of Mother Nature). Godzilla emerges from the ocean (the lair of Leviathans and the territory of the Great Mother, as I’ll soon discuss).

Tokyo is the Kingdom or the Society that is being attacked by Godzilla, though you could say that Japan in general is under attack. The ultimate responsibility for confronting Godzilla falls onto the shoulders of the Prime Minister (the “King” of Japan), but the Prime Minister and his cabinet of politicians are broadly incompetent and their ability to confront Godzilla is hindered by bureaucracy.

Yaguchi, the Hero of Japan, confronts and defeats Godzilla by uniting the disparate forces of Science, Technology, the Military and the Government. They create a chemical compound (magic power or magic potion), and weaponize this chemical (the long, extended arms of cranes used to administer the chemical paralleling the phallic swords of knights) in order to defeat Godzilla.

For his troubles, Yaguchi is commended as a national Hero, given political favor, and gets to flirt with the American Princess, Kayoco Anne Patterson.

As an interesting side-note, Yaguchi’s plan to poison Godzilla is called the “Yashiori Strategy”, which is an allusion to the Japanese Yamatano Orochi legend. In the legend, an eight-headed dragon-like monster named Yamatano Orochi is terrorizing a countryside. The Hero, Susanoo, defeats the eight-headed dragon-creature by poisoning it with Yashiori no Sake, a legendary sake that incapacitates the Monster.

Yaguchi returns Order to Society by becoming more powerful than the failing King, and Defends Society from a Monster by incorporating the knowledge and resources of Science (magic), Outsider Intellectuals (allies and wise wizards) and Impromptu Methods of defeating Godzilla (magical weapons).

While this covers the surface-level narrative-structure of Godzilla, the symbolism and narrative structure of Godzilla can be delved into even deeper, especially when compared to other mythological narratives. This will deepen the meaningfulness of the first conflict, Man vs. Nature.

The name “Godzilla” or “Gojira” was originally a mix of the Japanese words for “gorilla” and “whale”. The name was intended to illustrate Godzilla’s violent, primal nature, its vast size and power, and evokes parallels both the Behemoth (land monster) and the Leviathan (sea monster) of the Hebrew myths. In a sense, this is saying that Godzilla is a hyper-monster, a super-monster. However, in Shin Gojira, the name Gojira is translated as “God Incarnate”. This means that “Gojira” is a double entendre meaning both “gorilla and whale” and “God Incarnate”.

The title “Shin Gojira” is often translated into “Godzilla Resurgence”, however, the literal translation of “Shin Gojira” is “New Godzilla”, and the alternate translations are “True Godzilla” and “God Godzilla”.

Godzilla has been referred to throughout the movie franchise as the King of the Monsters, and here, with these name and title translations, this motif has been revitalized in Shin Gojira.

“Shin Gojira” ends of being an octuple entendre, a combination of New, True and God, and Gorilla + Whale and God Incarnate. These meanings can be simplified if one wishes to into “The New True God of Monsters made Incarnate”.

This name is significant, because it hearkens back to not just the archetypal or symbolic Monster or Dragon, but to the ultimate Monster, the ultimate Dragon, or the Divine Incarnation of Monsters itself: the God of Monsters.

Analytically, a God is not necessarily a literal being, but the ultimate archetype of a concept. Thor, God of Thunder, (a warrior archetype) embodies the violent, wild, powerful, and fleeting fury of a thunderstorm. Dionysus, the God of Wine and Revelry, (an archetype of psychological states) embodies the spectrums of biological influence and intoxication—from manic ecstasy, to violent insanity. Isis, Goddess of Motherhood, Nature and Magic, (an archetype of a queen) embodies love and love’s ability to overcome death or destruction, as well as the esoteric knowledge, such as Science.

Godzilla, God of Monsters, is a draconic archetype who embodies the indifferent cruelty of nature, evolution, survival, and primal instinct. Godzilla symbolizes the “Red Queen”, the concept that nature is forever one-upping itself through evolution. Godzilla embodies the ferocious necessity of animals to survive a cruel world by becoming crueler than its environment. Godzilla also embodies the instinctual thread that runs through each and every human psyche—the motivation to survive reality.

There are many mythological stories that encapsulate this archetypal motif—Thor and Jormungandr, Zeus and Typhon, Krishna and Kaliya, and Ra and Apep—but I think the best comparison can be made with one of the oldest—if not the oldest—Dragon-Slayer myths that we know of:

The story of Marduk and Tiamat.

In Sumerian myth, the God Marduk becomes the King of Gods by defeating Tiamat. Tiamat is a Sumerian Sea Serpent Goddess, and a Goddess of Nature and Creation. Tiamat is a dragon-like monster which emerged from the sea or ocean (the Ocean being symbolic of chaos, nature and the potential of life), and Tiamat is a monster that spawns other monsters. Tiamat is also the ruler of the Sumerian Gods, and is essentially oppressing the mortals of the world during this myth (Nature oppressing Man).

Marduk is the son of Enki, another God of Creation and Water, as well as a God of Intelligence, Crafts, Magic and Mischief. Marduk is gifted with many eyes, which allow him to see all around him, and possesses several boons or powers, as well as various instruments and weapons. None of the other Sumerian Gods are able to defeat Tiamat, though they try, so Marduk uses his powers, weapons and his many eyes to defeat Tiamat, and then become the King of Gods.

Godzilla emerges from the Ocean and wreaks havoc on Tokyo. The current government is incapable of defeating Godzilla. The protagonist, Yaguchi, rises to the occasion, and uses science, technology and the military (secret knowledge, magical tools and powerful weapons) to defeat the Monster.

However, Godzilla has another layer. In the story, Godzilla is created, in part, because of mankind’s arrogance. This additional layer comprises the conflict of Man vs. Society.

In previous Godzilla stories, Godzilla is created from atomic missiles, which symbolized the vast destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, in Shin Gojira, Godzilla is created from nuclear waste left in the Pacific by Americans (fuckin’ Americans, man, always dickin’ around with existential threats to humanity).

Hideaki Anno has also mentioned in interviews that Godzilla is meant partially to represent the Fukushima incident. The Fukushima incident was caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. When the earthquake was picked up by sensors at the plant, the active reactors shut down. The electrical supply to the reactors at the plant failed, but emergency generators were used to help supply coolant to the reactors. However, as the plant was flooded by the tsunami, these generators failed as well. This led to three nuclear meltdowns, three hydrogen explosions and radioactive contamination from various reactor units. Much of this was paralleled in the destruction in Shin Gojira.

In this way, Godzilla is not only symbolic of the direct destruction by nuclear technology, but the destruction caused by the misuse of modern technology–and, you could say, the destruction caused by human arrogance. Humanity believes it to be in control of its environment–in control of the natural world–but that appearance of control vanishes rapidly in the face of most natural disasters.

Godzilla is a creation of nature, a beast of survival and evolution, but it is created only because of the arrogance of man. This is where the narrative of Shin Gojira becomes not only a conflict of Man vs. Nature, but a conflict of Man vs. Society.

Here, I can tie Godzilla to another famous myth:

The story of Perseus and the Cetus (bastardized into the Norse “Kraken” in Clash of the Titans).

In Greek myth, Perseus defends the city of Ætheopia from the sea monster, Cetus, which was sent to attack Ætheopia by Poseidon, God of the Sea.

Interestingly, Cetus is the etymological root of Cetacean, which is the classification of whale species—which is one half of the name Gojira.

However, the Cetus wasn’t sent arbitrarily. The Cetus was sent to Ætheopia by the gods as a punishment for the mortals’ arrogance (the queen of Ætheopia wouldn’t stop flexing). Perseus is the son of Zeus, King of the Greek Gods, who uses Pegasus as a steed, and Medusa’s head as a weapon, which turns the Cetus into stone. Perseus then returns to the now-saved society to marry Andromeda.

In Shin Gojira, Godzilla is created when a surviving prehistoric animal comes into contact with nuclear waste, and mutates into a giant monster. So, Godzilla is simultaneously a spawn of nature (literally a monster that was born and developed in the ocean), and a consequence of man’s arrogance (man’s immature use of nuclear technology).

Yaguchi is the protégé of a successful politician, who defeats Godzilla using a mix of military equipment (drones, bombs, and so forth), and his “Yashiori” poison to turn Godzilla to stone. After this, Yaguchi becomes a potential candidate for the future Prime Minister of Japan.

Godzilla is the vengeance of Nature—Nature revolting at the hubris of Man and Society. Yaguchi is the Hero who must overcome both Nature and Society to save his Kingdom. While Godzilla is seen as the primary threat, the incompetence, arrogance and decay of Society may actually be the larger threat posed to humanity.

Beyond this, Godzilla not only represents the havoc that can be unleashed by Nature onto Man, but Godzilla also represents the havoc humans can unleash on each other by the improper use of Nature. When Godzilla cannot be defeated by normal human weaponry, America threatens to nuke Tokyo. Really, it’s difficult to say which is worse: Godzilla continuing its assault on the city, or America unleashing an atomic inferno on the city. In some sense, you could almost see the two as being one in the same. Godzilla is the threat of Nature biting back at humanity because of Man’s arrogance, and Godzilla is also the threat of Man turning on Man and unleashing the horrors of Nature on each other.

Shin Gojira is almost a perfect reflection of several mythological tropes. However, these mythological tropes are actually a reflection of reality, and Shin Gojira acts as an intermediary between mythology and reality. In other words, Shin Gojira uses the structure and symbolism of mythological narratives to communicate concerns about the reality of humanity.

Humanity is comprised of fragile beings, faced with the near-insurmountable task of surviving in this universe. We make this already insurmountable task even more difficult by allowing human hubris, vice and ignorance to further disrupt our lives. We live in constant peril, despite the façade of modern security and decadence, and quite possibly worsen this peril with modern security and decadence.

We push the boundaries of science, technology, and society at our own risk. Though we are surrounded on all sides by natural disasters, predatory beasts, starvation, disease, and harsh environments, we only serve to compound these great horrors by introducing war, pollutants, and dangerous technologies (such as nuclear technology) to Earth’s environment.

Reality doesn’t care about your feelings. Reality doesn’t care about your suffering. Reality doesn’t care if our follies are only accidents and misunderstandings.

Reality—Nature—simply happens, with or without your approval.

Godzilla is the perfect Scientific/Materialist symbol for Nature. Godzilla is indifferent to the suffering of humans.

Godzilla might have an IQ of approximately 12, yet it is still higher up the food chain than humans.

It has no real form of emotion (other than, possibly, pain, aggression, and curiosity), no form of empathy, communication or rationality (other than reptilian survival), and has no sense of morality.

Godzilla doesn’t eat, doesn’t dream, and doesn’t have sex—instead, Godzilla evolves/mutates itself spontaneously, or reproduces asexually (as we see at the end of Shin Gojira).

Godzilla is the ultimate organism.

It is a self-contained nuclear reactor, which can evolve as needed in order to survive. It can unleash a storm of annihilation, and it can weather the bombardment of Man’s weapons. Godzilla, just like Nature, cares little for Man, and can only just barely be survived by Man. Not only this, Godzilla at its fiercest might be just as terrifying as Mankind at its fiercest. The horrors unleased by Godzilla—razing the city with its atomic breath—pale in comparison to what Man can do when unleashing their arsenal of atomic weapons.

And yet, beneath the horrors of Nature and the tyranny of Society, there is the deepest conflict of Shin Gojira:

Man vs. God

What would you do if you met a god?

What would a god even be like?

If we take the Judeo-Christian explanation of God:

God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. God is everything that existed, exists or will exist, everything that can occur in existence, and the knowledge of all that has been, all that is, all that will be and all that hasn’t, isn’t, and won’t. God is everything that can be imagined, perceived and understood, and all that cannot be imagined, perceived and understood.

What would that be like?

What would it be like to confront all that is reality?

What would you do?

In HP Lovecraft, one of the ultimate “evils” of the universe is an entity named Azathoth, which is also described as the “Blind Idiot God”. Yet, despite this name, Azathoth is considered to be omnipotent. Similarly, Godzilla appears to be both unthinking and unfeeling (though there are trace amounts of primal rationality), and at the same time, Godzilla is nearly omnipotent, like a God.

Godzilla is a symbol of the blind force of nature, which overwhelms humanity. Godzilla is the indifferent violence of the universe (manifest in hurricanes, volcanoes, and supernovas). Godzilla is the pinnacle of nature (the ultimate predator, the ultimate survivor, the ultimate organism). And Godzilla is the folly of Man’s hubris.

The horror of Godzilla is the horror of reality; the horror of the natural universe we must survive.

Godzilla is the manifestation—the incarnation—of all the problems that beset us on a daily basis, and all the potential problems we could face in our lives, ranging from the insignificant (a minor natural disaster) to the wholly catastrophic (the nuclear eradication of an entire city). And yet, even the most catastrophic events we imagine are still insignificant in the grand scheme of the Cosmos.

Shin Gojira is a story about a single terrible event that happened on one small island, in the vast ocean of a small, blue rock. Shin Gojira is about a single, small God walking into the midst of a single, huge City. Shin Gojira is about how insignificant a single person is when confronted with one, small God of Nature, Vengeance and Annihilation.

It took a team of dozens, hundreds of political officials, thousands of civil servants, and several thousands of soldiers to finally subdue Godzilla after a couple weeks or so. Godzilla led a one-man siege on Tokyo. Even Yaguchi says that Godzilla is a far superior species to humans, and Kayoco says, “Gojira, truly a God Incarnate.”

Godzilla is not dead. America has not left the planet to reside somewhere else. Tokyo is in irradiated ruins. The Japanese government has been disemboweled. Thousands are now dead. The battle is not over, it’s never been over, and it will never end.

And yet, Shin Gojira is, in the final analysis, a story about humanity ultimately triumphing over this absurd, terrible, maddening force that looms over us at all times.

Shin Gojira is a story about how humanity refuses to be defeated by even the most terrible threats that face us, and how the collective efforts of unique, empowered individuals can overcome the tragedies of reality.

In the end, this is an existential story of humankind standing in the presence of a God, the realization of the insignificance of our small, petty lives, and the realization of our potential to rise to greater heights and overcome the terrors that befall us.

Godzilla is the asteroid heading toward our planet. Godzilla is the nuclear reactor that goes into meltdown. Godzilla is the pollution of our oceans. Godzilla is our ignorance of the world we live in. Godzilla is the indifference of the Cosmos.

And we are the small species that dare disturb that Cosmos.

Taking Hold of the Flame: An Analyisis of “The Lighthouse”

Written by Alexander Greco

May 11, 2019

Williem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in director Robert Eggers THE LIGHTHOUSE. Credit : A24 Pictures

Max and Robert Egger’s 2019 “The Lighthouse” is a surreal dark comedy horror film, reminiscent of “Eraserhead”, “Dead Man” and “The Wickerman”. Set in the late 1800’s on a small, isolated island, “The Lighthouse” portrays the slow descent into madness of Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) with a subtle, well-balanced mix of gritty realism and dream-like paranoia. The film is both disturbing and fascinating, bewildering audiences and critics with its near-schizophrenic plot, bizarre and bipolar dialogues and the stark, dream-like imagery presented in Ephraim’s growing insanity. However, despite the tangled web of absurdity, ambiguous symbolism and distorted reality, the film is highly intentional in its events and imagery, and “The Lighthouse” yields great depths of meaning once the layers of its web have been dissected.

The first problem with understanding this movie is the immense intentionality in every shot. Many scenes in “The Lighthouse” might take an hour or more to decompose, especially in relationship or in context to every other scene in the film. Despite this, I will try to summarize the movie as briefly as I can without losing important cohesiveness. The second problem is this problem of density and complexity. There’s honestly too much in this movie to discuss without writing at least another 2-3 analyses of the same length as this one. However, I intend to only follow one thread of analysis here (a long and at times winding thread, but one thread nonetheless).

“The Lighthouse” begins with the arrival of Ephraim and Tom to the mid-ocean lighthouse they will be manning for the next four weeks, the two of them entirely isolated from society for a month. Tom, the senior lighthouse-keeper, makes it clear to Ephraim, the new junior, that the duty of maintaining the actual lighthouse will solely be Tom’s responsibility, and the manual labor (shoveling coal for the foghorn, cleaning and maintaining the house, purifying the cistern and so forth) will be left entirely to Ephraim. Tom wavers between being intensely critical of Ephraim and tyrannically domineering; and being warm, friendly and jovial with Ephraim, usually during their dinner.

Shortly into the film, we witness the beginning of both characters’ insanity. Tom stands in front of the Lighthouse at night and removes all of his clothes, speaking to the lighthouse lamp affectionately. Then, Ephraim goes out to the ocean shore and sees wooden logs floating in the water, before seeing a dead body in the water. Ephraim walks into the water until he is fully submerged, then sees a mermaid or siren swimming in the water, screeching at him.

Over dinner, Tom tells Ephraim about his time as a ship captain and how he solved a mutiny by giving his sailors liquor until they made it to land. After telling Ephraim how his former junior-keeper went mad and died, Tom tells Ephraim he shouldn’t kill seagulls because its bad luck, and Tom later explains seabirds are the souls of dead sailors. In the next scene, Ephraim masturbates in the supply shed to a small, ivory trinket shaped like a mermaid he found in the beginning of the film.

Leading up to the midpoint of the film, we begin to see the intensification of a master-slave relationship between Tom and Ephraim, with Tom repeatedly calling Ephraim a dog and treating him as subhuman, juxtaposed with a much friendlier relationship between the two.

Ephraim goes to the top of the lighthouse one night, where he hears Tom muttering to himself. White slime drips from the metal grate above Ephraim, where Tom is standing, and Ephraim then sees a tentacle slithering across the metal-grate above. Ephraim eventually kills a seagull, which has been continually harassing him, and this action causes the wind to change direction. A storm rolls in just before the two are to be relieved of their duties at the end of their four-week stay. They find themselves marooned on the island, and either Tom’s or Ephraim’s sense of time begins to slip.

At the midpoint, Tom gives one of the greatest monologues in cinema-history as he curses Ephraim in the name of Neptune for a whole two minutes (as a side note, Willem Dafoe won at least 8 awards for his performance in this film, and was nominated for at least 17 others). As the two keepers remain stranded on the island, they steadily drink more and more alcohol, Ephraim continues furiously masturbating in his spare time and reality slips into a strange back-and-forth state of hallucination, paranoia and glimpses of sanity. Ephraim reveals that his name is actually Thomas Howard and that he let his former foreman, Ephraim Winslow, drown to death before taking his foreman’s name (you will probably forget this detail, but, nonetheless, try to remember it for the very end). Ephraim (or Tommy) tries to leave the island, but Tom chases him down with an axe and destroys the island’s only lifeboat. After calming down, Tom tells Ephraim that they’ve run out of alcohol, so the two begin drinking lamp oil (likely to be kerosene).

The storm, which has been raging for weeks, days or months now, finally ends after flooding the island and the lighthouse, all but ruining the home they’ve been staying in. Ephraim wakes up and finds Tom’s logbook and finds that Tom has been writing highly critical notes about Ephraim, even going so far as to say Ephraim should be fired from the job without being paid. Ephraim attacks Tom, and the two begin grappling, punching and strangling each other. After a hallucinatory moment where Ephraim sees Tom as his former foreman, the siren he’s been fantasizing about and masturbating to and as the sea-god Neptune himself, Ephraim nearly beats Tom to death.

Stopping himself before killing Tom, Ephraim stands over Tom and begins commanding Tom to bark like a dog. Ephraim then leads Tom out of the building on a leash to a hole they previously dug in front of the Lighthouse. Ephraim begins burying Tom, while Tom gives another masterful dialogue about “Protean forms”, “Promethean plunder”, “divine graces” and “the fiddler’s green”. Once Tom is presumably dead, Ephraim steals the key to the lighthouse, but, once inside the building, Tom returns with an axe and strikes Ephraim with it. Ephraim takes the axe, kills Tom and proceeds to the top of the lighthouse.

Ephraim reaches into the lighthouse lamp, presumably reaching into the lamp-flame, and begins laughing and screaming as the light engulfs him, then falls down the stairs to the bottom of the lighthouse. The movie ends with Ephraim laying naked across a rock formation alongside the ocean. Seagulls have shit on his body, and they are now devouring the innards of a still-living Ephraim. And that’s the movie.

There are a few other notable details to mention here. There is a foghorn on the island, which can be heard in the background throughout the movie, as well as a ticking clock which is likewise heard throughout the movie. There are a number of Christian and Greco-Roman allusions throughout the movie, as well as allusions to maritime folklore. In addition, there are quite a few phallic symbols throughout the movie, as well as a large (like, dinner-platter-sized) mermaid vagina. However, I probably won’t be able to get into all the various symbols and their potential meanings.

To begin understanding the movie’s deeper meanings, we need to understand the relationship between Ephraim and Tom, Ephraim and the mermaid, the lighthouse itself and Ephraim’s character. What we find here are the psychoanalytic dynamics of the Ego (Ephraim), the Super-Ego (Tom), the Id and the Anima (the mermaid/siren), and the Self or the Godhead (the lighthouse). Ephraim is the individual struggling against the forces of the Super-Ego/Authority/Society and the Id/Sexuality/Material-Satiation in order to find freedom and independence, as well as to reunite with the Self or the Godhead, symbolic of the power and freedom of true individuality.
How do we pull such a lofty meaning from such a bizarre movie?

At its core, “The Lighthouse” is a mythological psychodrama. The movie is about an individual struggling with God the Father and the Sirens of instinct and sexuality. It is about an individual struggling with the oppressive demands and absurd behaviors of society, as well as struggling with one’s own nature—an individual struggling against these forces in order to maintain their individuality.

Ephraim is the Everyman, a term describing an ordinary, non-spectacular character whom the audience can sympathize with because of their mundanity. Ephraim, despite moments of fluctuating insanity, is mostly level-headed throughout the movie, and most of his actions or reactions seem sane compared to Tom’s. Ephraim is relatable—he’s the average person working a shitty job with an overbearing boss—and he reflects many of the ideas and hopes that most people share. Not only does Ephraim share these hopes with the audience, but Tom frequently reminds Ephraim of the mundanity of these hopes.

Ephraim remains pretty quiet throughout the first act of the movie, to which Tom tells him he’s not special in that regard. At one point, Ephraim tells Tom about his plans to build a house somewhere, so he can be free of others’ demands. Tom replies to this with, “Same old boring story, eh?” Midway through the third act, Ephraim begins telling Tom of his troubled past, and Tom tells him, “Yer guilty conscience is ever as tiresome-boring as any guilty conscience.” Then, near the end of the film, Tom begins telling Ephraim how unspectacular he is, saying things like:

“Come to this rock playin’ the tough. Ye make me laugh with yer false grum.”

“Ye pretended to mystery with yer false quietudes, but there ain’t no mystery.”

“Ye’re an open book. A picture, says I.”

“And by God and by Golly, you’ll do it smilin’, lad, ’cause you’ll like it. You’ll like ’cause I says you will!”

Not only is Ephraim subjected to inglorious manual labor by Tom throughout the movie; not only is Ephraim constantly criticized throughout the movie, culminating in Tom’s logbook full of Ephraim’s many supposed infractions; and not only is Ephraim led to disaster by many of Tom’s actions (such as the insistence on constantly getting drunk (which Ephraim is later blamed for)), but Ephraim is then told he isn’t even special in any way, and his existence as an individual is denigrated to a final extreme

Tom calls Ephraim, “A painted actress, screaming in the footlights, a bitch what wants to be coveted for nothin’ but the silver spoon what should have been yours.” Ephraim begins crying here, for which Tom mocks him. As this scene escalates, Tom begins calling Ephraim a dog over and over again.

“Thomas [Ephraim], ye’re a dog! A filthy dog! A dog!”

All Ephraim wants is a life free of servitude and domination. He tells Tom at one point, “I ain’t never intended to be no housewife or slave.” And yet, despite his dreams of freedom, he seeks that freedom through servitude, by taking a job to save up money. Anyone and everyone can sympathize with the desire to be free, the necessity of working for this freedom and the eventual boot on our necks that weighs heavier and heavier with each passing day. Perhaps there is nothing special with Ephraim, as he is just like everyone else, but it’s that normalcy that makes him such an empathetic individual, and why his role as the Everyman plays such an integral role in the meaning of this story.

Connecting this back to the Ego, all of us, in our immediate, conscious sense of reality, are confronted on the psychic level by the injunctions of the Super-Ego (society, law and order, Tom, God the Father) and the needs of the Id (survival, sexuality, the Siren, Mother Nature). Among the injunctions of the Ego, however, is that we accomplish this in a manner that will maintain our dignity and ensure our freedom and independence. Survival, security and self-dignity are three of the deepest desires of every human, and they all stack like weights on the shoulders of the Ego: that which consciously perceives and consciously decides.

There is a Camusian element of absurdity in this movie. Ephraim took the job as lighthouse keeper out of sheer arbitrariness. It paid well, that was it. Tom treats Ephraim like dogshit for no real reason, other than the fact he has the authority to, and then randomly starts treating him warmly at various moments.

At the end of the film, Ephraim is judged by Tom both verbally and in his logbook, and that judgement is almost entirely arbitrary. Some of the things Ephraim did were reprehensible. Some of the things Ephraim did weren’t. Some of the things Ephraim is judged for have no evidence to back them. Some of the things Ephraim were judged for were influenced by Tom himself. And that’s fucking life.

These events have parallels to one of the greatest works of absurdist art, Albert Camus’ novel, “The Stranger”, in which the protagonist’s mother dies one day, and he feels indifferent about this (death just happens, and why should we act one way or another about it). The protagonist’s neighbor is a volatile human, who careens between abuse and friendliness. A woman randomly begins having sex with the protagonist, then wants to know if he’ll marry her. He tells her it wouldn’t make any difference to him, and later tells her that marriage wasn’t special and he would have married any woman. In a half-awake daze, the protagonist is walking on the beach and runs into a man he knows nothing about, except that he has a feud with the protagonist’s friend, and so the protagonist kills this man for no real reason.

In the end, the protagonist is brought to court for killing this man and is found guilty essentially because he doesn’t feel one way or another about things. The primary evidence used against him is the fact he felt indifferent about his mother’s death. Things simply are the way they are, and the protagonist simply acts the way he acts out of his own detached volition. Because the protagonist does not wish to play the same games as everyone, carry the same sense of morality and imbue things with the same emotional weight as everyone else, he is sentenced to death, he is hated and he is, essentially, declared evil. The protagonist finally accepts his fate and accepts the absurdity of life.

“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”

I would argue that meaningfulness—true meaningfulness—can be found in life, but there is indeed an enormous degree of arbitrariness to reality. We’re just born one day, in a certain period of history, which has its own set of rules and customs we’re told to abide by. We’re told to be a certain person, to act a certain way and to feel certain emotions for given events, and we’re told not to question any of it. We’re called a villain for questioning or going against the status quo. We’re judged for things that are out of our control, or that have no real impact on life. There are seemingly arbitrary standards and traditions by which we’re judged, and then there’s entirely novel arbitrariness by which we’re judged (things that aren’t even a part of broadly accepted standards), and then there’s false or fabricated claims about us by which we’re judged.

This is the weight foisted upon Ephraim, the weight of arbitrary judgement, and this is the weight foisted upon the Everyman, the proxy of the collective individual or collective Ego. This is the weight carried by everyone living within a society. This is the guilt and condemnation which degrades: the arbitrary tyranny: the absurd, laughable, comically bizarre oppression of culture. And yet, that’s just life. Camus’ protagonist in “The Stranger” becomes what Camus called an Absurd Hero. The Absurd Hero is the individual who does not shy away from or seek to destroy the absurd reality around them, but rather accepts the empty arbitrariness of life and continues to live their life as an individual: continues to affirm life as being good and worthy, without the dishonesty of dogma, ideology or personal delusion. Shy of eradicating life, or at least eradicating your own life, one must learn to live heroically amidst absurdity, to remain free, individualized and dignified amidst our bizarre world because there is no escape from the necessary evil that is society, which is the Super-Ego, which is Tom.

“What?”

Tom is the nagging, oppressive and at times nonsensical voice of the Super-Ego within Ephraim’s mind. Tom is the smiling, friendly face of society, which barks commands at us, and condemns our actions with spite and fury. Tom is society keeping Ephraim from achieving individuality by flooding his life with menial tasks, deprecating the value of the individual and forbidding Ephraim from witnessing the divine, and Tom is the same society which asks Ephraim to be as a friend: to love Tom, to forgive and overlook Tom’s flaws (of which, as we see at the end of the movie, Tom seems completely blind to).

Tom is what pushes Ephraim to insanity, and then denounces Ephraim as a madman. And yet, Tom is also what guides and protects Ephraim. There is an ambiguity in the nature of Tom and Ephraim’s relationship, just as there is an ambiguity in the nature of the Ego and Super-Ego’s relationship. The Super-Ego is typically represented in mythology as God the Father, or as some other variant of the masculine-authority archetype, which is simultaneously protective and wise, and oppressive and tyrannical.
It is culture and society which protect us from the ravages of nature, and it is culture and society which tyrannize us with unyielding dictates. It is culture and society which rewards us meaningful work, and it is culture and society which enslave us with meaningless tasks. It is culture and society which gives us the wisdom of tradition, and it is culture and society which fascistically conforms individuals with this tradition.

In “The Lighthouse”, we quite clearly witness this paradoxical relationship between Ephraim and Tom, the Son and the Father, the Individual and the Society, the Ego and the Super-Ego. Tom teaches and guides Ephraim. He tells Ephraim when he’s doing something wrong or foolish. We see this in the concrete form when Ephraim carries the drum of oil up the lighthouse stairs rather than fill the small pail with oil, and we see this in the absurd form when Tom superstitiously warns Ephraim of the dangers of killing seabirds, which he later explains are the souls of dead sailors. There’s an ambiguity even in this superstitious tradition, since Ephraim’s act of killing the seagull that’s been harassing him is implicated as the cause of the storm which maroons them on the island.

Tom is also a part of what protects Ephraim from the terrors of nature. Tom cooks food to feed Ephraim, keeping him from starving; Tom gives orders to Ephraim to maintain the house they live in, thus protecting them from the cold and the rain; and Tom gives Ephraim advice that helps him stay alive and healthy. The island is a lone territory of protection from the chaos of the ocean (the suffocating depths, the dehydrating waters, the monsters of the sea), and the lighthouse itself is a mechanism of security: a light in the dark which keeps sailors from crashing their ships in the night.

Yet, Tom is also the highly critical or judgmental aspect of society and the oppressive or tyrannical aspect of society. Tom is constantly criticizing Ephraim, telling him how poorly he’s performing his tasks, even at one point asking Ephraim if he’s a “dullard”. Tom not only criticizes Ephraim’s work, but also criticizes Ephraim as a person, essentially calling him boringly normal and morally reprehensible throughout the film.

Beyond just the criticism, Tom is constantly giving Ephraim orders and loading him up with manual labor, while Tom’s sole responsibility (beyond making sure Ephraim is performing his tasks) is to man the lighthouse lamp, which is the most glorious and honorable of tasks. Tom gives Ephraim all the shit jobs, while Tom gets to perform the single easiest and most respectable job. Even then, Tom does his one job poorly and strangely. While manning the lighthouse lamp at night, Tom drinks and, presumably, masturbates (though we’re not shown Defoe’s jerk sessions as explicitly as we’re shown Pattinson’s). Tom orders Ephraim around and judges him for all his faults, while declaring himself to be the unfaultable and supreme authority of the island.

And, just to hammer it home, that’s life.

You can’t live with society, and you can’t live without it.

So where does Ephraim’s heroism come in this story? It comes in his insanity, as it does with every individual striving for freedom within society.

It comes, initially, from his repeated visions of the mermaid and her siren’s call. I’ve come to believe the mermaid is symbolic of three things.

The mermaid is Ephraim’s Id, represented as his sexual desires (the siren’s call). The mermaid is Ephraim’s Anima, which, in Jungian psychology, is the feminine, psychic force in men, which guides the Ego into the depths of the psyche. The mermaid is also Ephraim’s Shadow, or at least that which guides Ephraim to his Shadow. In Jungian terminology, the Shadow is the repressed part of the psyche, oftentimes synonymous with the Id, though not necessarily. The Shadow is the parts of our personality that we bury or repress, such as sexuality, aggression and even self-importance or self-love. Though the Shadow contains many negative aspects of our personality, those aspects of our personality might be what save us from the problems of our lives. Holding back the contents of the Shadow holds back the individual’s potential for actualization, or from becoming the free, independent, dignified individual we all hope we can become.

The mermaid in Ephraim’s hallucinations is repeatedly coupled with the image of Ephraim’s previous foreman, whom Ephraim effectively murdered by letting him drown. Throughout the movie, Ephraim is repressing three things: his sexuality, through nearly constant masturbation, his aggression, the same aggression that let Ephraim dispassionately watch his foreman die, and his desire to see the lighthouse lamp. The ultimate repression is the latter, repressing the desire to climb to the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is a phallic symbol of divine power, which is roughly parallel to Ephraim’s inner divine power, which is roughly akin to the Libido. The lighthouse can also be seen as a symbol of social power, as in the social hierarchies of society, or as moral authority, the light being the highest moral good.

Though I argue the lighthouse to be a symbol of psychological hierarchy, I would also argue the lighthouse is symbolic of all three of these at once, and that these representations may in fact be synonymous with each other at a certain level of analysis.

Ephraim represses this divine power, the psychic energy of the Libido, through masturbation, and, by repressing his aggression, represses his ability to overthrow Tom, the Super-Ego, which is also denying him his divine power. Throughout the movie, Ephraim masturbates to a small, ivory trinket carved in the shape of a mermaid. He’s not actually having sex, he’s not actually incorporating the repressed portions of his psyche; he’s fantasizing about the act and arbitrarily giving himself pleasure and release from the repressed Libido. He’s worshipping a false idol, he’s worshipping a fetish, and he’s silencing the siren’s call by sexual release, rather than actually uniting himself with those repressed forces (the divine or psychic marriage).

Ephraim is keeping himself from attaining his desires by shutting down and repressing those desires with short-term gratification. Ephraim wants to be a free human being, that is his ultimate desire. He wants to have power—not power over others, but power over himself: not the power of authority, but the power of individuality. However, rather than fulfilling that desire, Ephraim spends most of the movie bending to the will of Tom, the Super-Ego, or, in other words, bending to the will of society. At the end of the movie, Ephraim fulfills this desire by first destroying the mermaid trinket, the object of false sexual desire, and then by killing Tom, the judgmental and tyrannical force of society. It’s at this point that Ephraim finally ascends to the top of the lighthouse and finally witnesses the glory of the fire within the lighthouse lamp.

What is the lighthouse, and what is this divine power within its lamp? The lighthouse symbolizes a number of things. It is that which protects sailors from death as they sail through the horrors of the night. It is that which is most high upon Ephraim and Tom’s little rock, as well as that which shines most brightly. It is the most valued and coveted thing upon the island, and it is the most important thing on the island (it’s literally the only reason they’re there). The lighthouse is also a phallic symbol (among many), as previously mentioned, and an analog in some ways to Ephraim’s sexual frustrations. He is denied actual sexual release, and he is denied access to the top of the lighthouse.

I mentioned earlier that the lighthouse is the Self or the Godhead, which it is, to a certain degree. It is the source of divine power within ourselves. It is the axis mundi, source of all life-renewing energy: the world navel.
As Joseph Campbell explains in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”:

“The torrent pours forth from an invisible source, the point of entry being the center of the symbolic circle of the universe, the Immovable Spot of the Buddha legend, around which the world may be said to revolve… The tree of life, i.e., the universe itself, grows from this point. It is rooted in the supporting darkness; the golden sun bird birches on its peak…Or the figure may be that of a cosmic mountain, with the city of gods, like a lotus of light, upon its summit…”

The lighthouse is the axis mundi, with the bright, burning spirit or entity of light at its top (sunbird/phoenix, city of gods, lotus of light, etc.), and it is from the lighthouse that Ephraim discovers reinvigorating, life-giving energies.

However, there is more to the lighthouse than simply this. What is interesting about this Axis Mundi or Godhead (this source of divine energy and the divine “Self”), is that it is manmade. The center of Ephraim and Tom’s universe is a manmade construction, and it is designed to keep sailors safe amidst the ocean’s turmoils. In some sense, this is showing that the new source of rebirth comes from the humanity’s creations, or their ability to create, alter the world around us and constantly innovate.

The new source of divine energy comes not from our ability to confront the natural world and its horrors, or from society and its oppression, but from our ability to create, a traditionally divine ability in itself, and through our creations, alter nature and alter society. Originally, creation was seen as the province gods, and then, in the West, the cosmos was seen as crafted by Jehovah or Yahweh, the Judeo-Christian God. Now, the divine power of creation is a human power.

Now, there’s another piece here, you may have already noticed it, and this is the Greek story of the Titan, Prometheus. There are many details and variations to the myth, but the central story is that Prometheus stole fire from the Greek gods and gave it to humans. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to rocks, and everyday his liver was eaten by an eagle. This almost directly parallels the ending of “The Lighthouse”, in which Ephraim “steals the fire” from the lighthouse lamp and is then seen lying naked across oceanside rocks, his insides being eaten by seagulls.

To add to this, one of the details of the broader Prometheus myth is that Prometheus is seen as a hero in a Greek Deluge or Flood myth. The son of Prometheus, Deucalion, builds a boat with the help of his Titan father, and Deucalion and his wife survive a massive flood brought on by the wrath of Zeus. Just before the climax of the story, there is a similar flood in “The Lighthouse”. During their night of drinking lamp oil/kerosene, the unending storm that has been assaulting Tom and Ephraim floods the lighthouse and ruins the interior.

There are two things to parse apart here: Prometheus and the Deluge, or the Flood.

Beginning with the Deluge, because it occurs first in “The Lighthouse”, the Great Flood represents the Flood of Chaos. In mythology, from Greek mythology to Judeo-Christian myth, the Flood is typically a punishment on humanity because of their hubris or their sins. Why is a society of sinners punished with a flood? Because they were too arrogant to prevent or prepare for a flood. The floodwaters represent the accumulation of Chaos, disorder or poor behavior, accumulating over time until the water level, or the Chaos level, is too high to stop.

If a society, a group of people or even a single individual do not take the time to deal with all the small annoyances of their lives, or all the small problems they know they should fix (internally or externally), those problems begin to accumulate until your life is flooded with them. Maybe there’s a leak in your roof, and you do nothing about it. Maybe there’s some damage to the electrical circuits in your house, and you put off having it repaired. Maybe you feel like you should buy home insurance, and you never do.

Maybe that leaky roof keeps getting worse: the wood rots and more water gets into your house every day. Maybe the state of the wiring in your home continues to deteriorate, and maybe it does so without your knowledge because you don’t think it will ever be a problem. Maybe one day, a huge storm rolls over the city you live in, and your roof does nothing to keep your house dry. The water comes into the attic, maybe it drenches your floors, maybe it interferes with the damaged electrical circuits, and maybe the day after the storm, you’re left with a water-damaged house, ruined furniture and no electricity, and there’s nothing you can do about it because you don’t have home insurance. That’s the Deluge.

It doesn’t have to actually involve water, it might involve parking tickets, or it might involve bill collectors, or it might involve that skin rash you’ve been hiding for three months, hoping it’ll magically go away, or it might involve the steady and growing supply of alcohol you’ve been consuming for ten years, or it might involve anything in your life that you know you should have fixed, prevented or prepared for, but didn’t.

In “The Lighthouse”, the Deluge begins with Ephraim killing the seagull, thus bringing on the near-unending storm as a result. Once Tom and Ephraim are thoroughly marooned on the island, they begin drinking copious amounts of alcohol, which results in them acting irrationally, damaging parts of the house and not performing their tasks as well as they should be. In the end, the storm floods the lighthouse and ruins the interior of the first floor, but the question here is:

Was it the storm’s fault? Or was it their fault?

The other part of this is the Promethean mytheme of stealing the fire.
If Prometheus stole the fire of the Olympic gods, and Ephraim’s tragic character arc is a parallel to Prometheus’s, then what fire does Ephraim steal?

Here, I come back to the Self and Ephraim’s desire to unify with his inner, “divine” Self.

Ephraim has two core desires within “The Lighthouse”. One is to become a free, independent individual, and the other is to gain access to the lighthouse lamp. The desire to become free and independent aligns with the Jungian notion of Individuation or Actualization, in which an individual unifies the disparate portions of their psyche or personality (their Ego, their Super-Ego and their Id, for simplicity), in order to become the greatest version of themselves: in order to become a complete, unified individual. Once they become this complete, unified version of themselves, they are capable of actualizing their fullest potential. They become a person who is fully equipped to seek out and satisfy their deepest desires.

Another description of the Jungian process of Individuation and Actualization is unifying oneself with the deeper Self, the True Self. There are the superficial, extrinsic and animalistic parts of one’s personality: the Persona—the mask we wear for society—the Ego, the Super-Ego and the Id. Then there is the deeper part of one’s personality: The Self. The Self is our true identity, the unified whole of our fragmented personality, where our most pressing desires and profound personal capabilities reside.

It is this Self, this deeper source of individuality and personal power, which Ephraim is seeking throughout the movie, both as his desire for freedom and his desire for the lighthouse lamp.

In this sense, the Self, the divine spark of the Godhead, is what Ephraim is stealing and giving to humanity. The cure for a sickly, stagnant or corrupt society—symbolized by Tom—does not come from a collective—the cure for society isn’t society. The cure for society is the individual capable and willing to transgress society. Ephraim’s theft of the divine flame—of the inner Self—is punished in the form of laying naked across rocks and being eaten alive by seagulls, which is a reflection of the actual punishment such an accomplishment might engender. Much of the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche centered around the notion of the Ubermensch or the Superman, a hypothetical individual Nietzsche posited as not only being able to overcome the horrors of nature and the shackles of society, but also capable of overcoming themselves and their own flaws—an individual capable of personal greatness. However, this Superman is an individual who is misunderstood by broader society, sometimes envied, oftentimes villainized, and, in many cases, abused by society.

Ephraim achieves Individuation and Actualization, then returns this divine spark of freedom and personal power to society—symbolized by him falling back down the lighthouse, or falling back to Earth—but then is punished for the very same act. Ephraim steals the fire of the lighthouse, returns to society, and then is consumed by the souls of dead sailors. Not only is he consumed by the souls of the dead sailors, but he was never saved by living sailors—no one came to rescue him from his isolated island.

In this sense, Ephraim becomes like the lighthouse. He becomes the beacon of light keeping sailors across life’s ocean from death. However, twisting the meaning of Ephraim’s punishment a bit, he, like the lighthouse, becomes a stationary object, neglected by the very people he has saved. Not only is he neglected, but he is also abused by those he couldn’t save—the sailors who weren’t saved by the lighthouse. This could be guilt, these could be parasites of society, or these birds could be metaphoric critics eating Ephraim alive.
The lighthouse is revered, and yet it is also an object used as a lifeless tool by the society that reveres it. Ephraim saves society, so to speak, by his actions, but then is left for dead and eaten alive by that society. No deed goes unpunished.

Now, despite the dissections of these symbols, the meaning of the story still hasn’t fully been articulated.

“The Lighthouse” is a movie about an individual attempting to maintain their individuality within the confines of the Id and the Super-Ego, but, moreover, attempting to transcend those confines in order to save that society. Ephraim and his story are offered up to us like a sacrificial lamb to feast upon. The lighthouse is a construction of individuals, and this construction is a gift to society, a gift which is both revered and abused. Similarly, we in our own lives can become individuated and actualized human beings, which in turn makes us beacons of light that save our society from death at sea. This in turn makes us something like sacrifices to the society we are trying to save.

Now, there’s an interesting dynamic to this all. The individual attempting to save society—the individual stealing the fire from the gods—must first transcend or overcome society in order to then save society. This exact structure can be found in the Christ myth.

Christ is born on Earth as a normal human. Christ led a revolutionary movement in his society, rebelling against the authorities of that society, as well as challenging the traditions and social norms of that society. Christ was then crucified for his rebellion and revolution. And yet, there is an even deeper sub-structure to this.

It is interesting to note that this film takes place in the late 1800’s, which was around the same time Nietzsche made his famous declaration, “God is Dead”.

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
In order for Ephraim to ascend the lighthouse and steal its fire, he first had to kill Tom.

As I mentioned before, the Super-Ego is often symbolized mythologically as God the Father, or as the Benevolent or Tyrannical King. Society, as well as the fatherly-authority god, are both derivatives of the Super-Ego—the standards, traditions and practices of society which both protect and oppress us. Ephraim killed Tom, the analogue of Society, the Super-Ego and God the Father. It was only through this act that Ephraim was able to attain wholeness and individuality, but this was not necessarily a happy act. Through killing Tom, through killing God, Ephraim’s world fell apart, and he was punished for it.

Christ, by challenging society, by challenging the Jewish high priests and by challenging the governors of the Roman Empire, was in fact challenging God himself.

To dig deeper into this, and to dig deeper into what the Death of Christ ultimately means, I’ll now come to the work of the contemporary Hegelian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. Nietzsche believed that Christianity, by holding Truth to be its highest virtue, was inevitably a self-extinguishing religion. It was Christianity’s insistence on Truth which led to the Age of Enlightenment, which led to Nietzsche’s claim that “God is dead”. In a similar vein, Slavoj Zizek has made claims that Christianity is in fact an atheistic religion.

In Slavoj’s words:

“I think that this [the story of Job] is maybe an incredible ethical revolution because this is already the first step out of this traditional pagan view where justice means you should be at your own place, do your particular duty, and so on and so on, you know, this withdrawal, which then I think culminates in the death of Christ.

“What dies on the cross? … As Hegel says, what dies on the cross is God of beyond himself. It’s precisely God as that transcendent power which somehow secretly pulls the strings. This is, I think, the secret of Christianity… This God abdicates. I think that something tremendous happens in Christianity because remember, after the death of Christ, we don’t get back to the father. What we get is Holy Spirit… So, for me, again, this is a tremendously important message of freedom.

“Again, as my beloved Chesterton said… in all other religions, you have atheists, people who don’t believe in God, but Chesterton‘s reading of those famous ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?’ (‘Father, why have you forsaken me?’) is that only in Christianity, and for him this is crucial, God himself becomes for a moment an atheist.”

To sum up what Slavoj is saying, though eroding much of the subtleties here, at Christ’s death, Christ looks up to the sky and asks, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Here, Christ, being a manifestation of God himself, is God realizing the truth of his own non-existence.

The revolution of Christ was not the continuation of a religion, but the annihilation of a religion, albeit a slow annihilation, and, to this day, not a complete annihilation (which might be evidence of the psychological vitality of the Christian myth). Christ: the Logos, the Word of God, the Truth made Flesh—Christ is what killed God.

The resurrection of Christ is not the resurrection of the flesh, but the resurrection of the spirit. Christ as spirit—Christ as the spirit of the Logos—paradoxically could only be kept alive by the Death of Christ as flesh, or by the Death of God by science and the Enlightenment. And now, this concept of the Spirit, decoupled from God as flesh and God as Divine Authority, lives on with us as the Logos, or rational thought and truthful speech.

Just as God died because of what Christianity valued most highly—the Logos, or the Truth—Tom, the analogue of God, died because of what he valued most highly, the lighthouse, or the Divine Self. It was Ephraim, the analogue of Christ, who killed Tom and sacrificed himself for the betterment of society. Just as Christ was the Logos, or Truth, made flesh, and it was Truth which murdered God; Ephraim was the Self, or Individuality, made flesh, and it was Individuality which murdered Society.

Just as Christ saved society and saved God by killing both society and God with Truth, Ephraim saves society and saves the fire of Individuality by killing Tom and both murdering and sacrificing himself to society with Individualism. In both stories, the murders are in fact suicides. God the Father, the manifestation of society and the Super-Ego, the manifestation of the crowds at Judaea, sends Christ as a sacrifice to die at the cross, and, in doing so, sends himself to die at the cross. Christ, the manifestation of the Logos, kills God, thus killing himself. Ephraim’s real name is Thomas. This means that Thomas killed Tom, and, in doing so, Tommy essentially sacrificed himself.

Just as Catholics consume the body and blood of Christ, an act of ingesting the divine Logos, the seagulls now consume the body and blood of Ephraim, an act of ingesting the divine Self. Christ will become resurrected as the Holy Spirit, the dove, and Ephraim will be resurrected as the soul of a dead sailor, a seagull.

Eat up, seabirds.