Shaken, Not Stirred at Cloverfield

The United States has a huge monster in its closet. Before you even see the beast, it tips over an oil tanker, creates a huge explosion, tears the head off of the Statue of Liberty, and maliciously throws the head into Midtown Manhattan. Hmm, oil, destruction, and liberty; a monster who sadistically destroys the symbol of a great American Dream: to own a building that reaches up to the heavens. Closer to God at the end times?

The movie Cloverfield is basically a tale of a heroic, or stupid, group of friends that jump into a fantasy land to rescue a woman in distress. That fantasy land includes a lot of walking, lights that are always miraculously on where ever they walk/run in Manhattan, and other athletic, death defying feats (with screaming and jokes thrown in).

But the monster rages on. The US Army is about to give up all of Manhattan. We know from the beginning of the film that the government survived, most likely after dropping a neutron bomb on the island to kill the beast in the closet. The camera was picked up in Central Park, and has lots of tasty footage of “Designate ‘Cloverfield'”. The DOD tells us not to duplicate the film.* The test pattern at the beginning caused a laugh when the audience thought that the file had hung up in the player. But the official US Government introduction meant that this wasn’t a video that the CIA wanted to destroy.

Back to the monster. Obvious homage is paid to the great Godzilla, dino-destoryer of Tokyo from Planet X. This zippered-suit icon represented a very obvious subconscious thought that hung over Japan at the time: whole cities can be destroyed and two already have in this generation. Other than great entertainment, Toho’s kaiju reminded us all what the costs of war and nuclear holocaust entailed.

So Cloverfield, the monster on another island, rings short of being a similar archetype. It sure does hate New York City and its citizens. It also hates the southern part of Manhattan, where Wall Street pulses, the World Trade Center memorializes, and the heart of capitalism still beats after those towers fell.

Back to our heroes. Watching them on their camera (long battery life, night vision option, able to withstand destructive blows: where do I buy one of those?) is like watching a nightmare on a roller coaster. Several times, I had to close my eyes to get away from the psychotic shaking and jolting of the “natural” camera movements. I felt nauseous throughout the whole film, but sometimes handled the motion to see amazing scenes of a battered city. Sure, the story is obvious; the feats are preposterous, and all the unknowns, except one, die.

But the two other characters, Cloverfield and Manhattan, duke it out in a fight that has a mysterious ending. Who wins? Why did Cloverfield show up? Why is Central Park now called “Site 447”? The Army had a sample of the thing, so what did they do with it? And, most importantly, what would an alien monster symbolize to the USA like Godzilla stood for Japan? What spectre overshadows the hole at Ground Zero? What large beast could possibly unleash holy destruction upon the ultimate city of capital and greed?

If Cloverfield stands for al qaeda, I think the great Godzilla still stands as the ultimate monster. This message falls far short from being a lesson to humanity. The New Yorker version just doesn’t work as the symbol of an ultimate world demon.

Throwing fast-balls into the Big Apple, Cloverfield slinks away into ultimate destruction in the end. And what do the innocent New Yorkers have to say when final doom comes? That they love each other after-all.

Pass the dimenhydrinate.

*The actual preview I went to started with an announcement from Paramount that security would monitor the theater with night-vision goggles. Thus, no one could duplicate the movie that the fake government text told not to duplicate, because we were being watched by said corporate entity with military issue technology.

Epilogue: Well, a simple bit of digging brought up some backstory via the movie’s viral marketing scheme. Adding more interest towards the background of the monster, the movie’s creators created a fake web site for Tagruato, a fictitious Japanese  corporation whose deep-sea drilling technology “position[s] itself to become a world leader in energy resources, medical research, advanced technology production, and consumable product.” They happen to have a drill site in the Atlantic opening in late 2007. And there’s an org that’s fighting their nasty corporate ways. T.I.D.O sees Tagruato as “Earth Blood vampires” who suck petroleum out of the planet for profit. Finally, Jamie decided to make videos (Password: jllovesth) for Teddy after he moved to Japan to work for T.I.D.O. He mails her a package with a sample of “evidence” and a tape message telling her that he’s been disappeared. She eats the evidence (he told her not to!) and gets a little psychotic.

Ah, wasting time to develop a metaphor. Bad oil drillers. Bad! Does oil greed get New York in the end?