I really love giant monster movies. I especially love the ones that are more than just giant monster movies. Yeah, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla features a giant radioactive dinosaur but that film also nails a commentary on post-war Japan and the horrors of nuclear war. Peter Jackson’s King Kong, while maintaining the original’s Beauty and the Beast storyline, also manages to deliver biting criticism on the idea of zoos.
Colossal is a film where Gloria (Anne Hathaway) discovers that she is directly controlling a giant monster on the other side of the globe. Yet for all the grandeur of that premise, it is much more a film about dealing with different types of abuse. Gloria is a mess, she drinks, she lies, she cannot maintain any kind of self-sustaining lifestyle. When her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) throws her out, Gloria returns home and must try to put her life back together. When she returns, she meets Oscar (Jason Sudeikis); a “nice guy” who is anything but.
The abusive relationship between Oscar and Gloria is the primary focus of the film. Oscar manipulates Gloria, setting himself up as her tether to sustainable living. He gives her a job, fills her house with furniture, spends free time with her. On the surface it does not sound bad, but Oscar uses all of this to control Gloria. When she attempts to do something (or someone) he doesn’t like, he gets angry and violent. In the case, the violence is not just against Gloria. Remember that giant monster thing? Yeah, turns out Oscar’s one too – only he has no compunctions against murdering people to keep Gloria in line.
Oscar is a piece of work to say the least and Colossal shines best when it is fully exploring the nature of his abuse. On this level, the movie is certainly a triumph. That said, when exploring Gloria – the movie ultimately falls flat on its giant face.
Gloria the Monster
Gloria is an abuser too. Her relationship with Tim is far from healthy. Since she cannot hold down a job, she is dependent on him. This in itself is not necessarily bad, but Gloria abuses this dependence. The beginning of the film makes it clear that she is not job hunting. Instead, she goes out drinking with friends all night – using either their money or Tim’s to sustain her alcoholism. Whenever confronted on this, she lies or gets angry at Tim for confronting her.
In addition to this, the film also shows us that Gloria is further abusing Tim by taking advantage of their apartment when he’s not home. Gloria’s plan in the beginning of the movie is to placate her boyfriend out of their apartment and invite her friends in so that they may resume drinking (likely Tim’s liquor). It only falls apart when Tim announces that he can no longer cope with her destructive lifestyle and wants her to move out.
This opening is fine. What happens next creates the problems. Gloria never repairs/admits her abusive role with Tim. Instead, she continues to shut him out throughout the film, choosing instead to reveal her monstrous secret to the people she spends all night drinking with (clearly the responsible ones). This is what helps cement Oscar’s hold over her in the first place.
Tim tries to contact Gloria and talk with her. He scolds, clearly still angry from their bad relationship. He does, however, have one crucial exchange of dialogue with Gloria when he apologizes for always lecturing her and genuinely seems to care about how she’s doing. This shows a painful truth of abuse: It ultimately turns both people ugly. Tim appears not to be the lecturer of choice but by habit – his role in Gloria’s pattern of self-destruction.
We’re never sure about Tim because the movie is not interested in fully exploring his relationship with Gloria. We do know that he cares about her – maintaining contact after she returns home. We do know that he comes for her at some point, worried about her developing home situation. We do know that he lectures her, but with seeming regret that their relationship is not different.
The biggest failing comes at the film’s climax, when Gloria flies to South Korea to follow through her plan to neutralize Oscar. She shuts Tim out again through all of this (Tim is expressing worry and concern, even attempting a confrontation against Oscar) but that’s not the problem. The problem is her final phone call. Here is the dialogue (I’m paraphrasing) :
Tim: “I’m worried about you. You owe me an explanation as to what’s going on.”
Gloria: “No I don’t, you threw me out. You said I was too ‘out of control’ – well now I’m more out of control than ever!” *click*
In this final exchange, Gloria resumes her form of abuse. There is no scene in the movie where she really admits and attempts to discuss her problem with Tim. In this last exchange, she abandons her responsibility and throws her problems on him. Worse, she implies that everything that happened to her at home is somehow Tim’s fault.
Gloria never hits Tim but it is clear that she is the source of emotional abuse in their relationship. She is the self-destructive one who cannot handle her emotions and thus decides they are not her responsibility. By not having Gloria ever acknowledge and confront her own history of self-destructive behavior, it completely ruins the redeeming/empowering arch that the film’s writers were attempting to communicate.
The failings of Colossal hit me as someone who was a victim of emotional abuse. They also irk the hell of me as a writer. Anne Hathaway does such a fantastic job of playing Gloria that I want to be rooting for her at the end. It also seems like writer and director Nacho Vigalondo wants her story to be empowering, a rise of an abuse victim against the abuser.
And it almost is! That’s the infuriating part. Gloria and Oscar are done so well but the failings of Gloria and Tim ruin it. This, as is, is not the story of a victim rising up but rather the tale of one abuser getting the best of another and then presumably continuing her abusive journey. Who’s the next Tim? Who knows but there is reason to think there will be another.
If you’re a writer and you want your protagonist to fix their flaw and be likable at the end, you have to make sure they earn it. Otherwise it feels like you’re forcing an unnatural ending that the story does not support.
Abuse is a complicated subject to tackle as a writer. Believe me, none of my numerous blog posts or short stories have done it justice. It is crucial to understand these basics: there are multiple types of abuse, men and women can be abusers, and abuse is a disease that infects everyone. If you’re not going to tackle all appropriately then be prepared for me to tear your work apart. We need a better dialogue on this serious issue, not half-baked ideas of female empowerment.
Colossal could have been an achievement. Instead, it is an entertaining giant monster movie wishes it was something bigger.