Intro by Brandon
Some movies are meant to be viewed literally; in fact, most movies are meant to be viewed literally. But Maria and I are former English majors, so we get a bit excited when we find one of those rare films that’s meant to be viewed symbolically. These pop up from time to time, like in 2017’s Mother!, 1967’s The Graduate, or even 1998’s The Big Lebowski, and we love digging into these films and figuring out what they mean.
Today’s film choice is the 2016 film Colossal by Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo, and it is definitely meant to be viewed symbolically. It’s one part dark comedy, one part redemption story, and one part giant monster movie, and it weaves all of these seemingly disparate pieces together to tell a story of addiction, abuse, and empowerment. If you haven’t seen it, don’t let all this talk of hidden symbols turn you off from the movie; it’s not that hard to parse and understand what the film is trying to say, and what’s really going on with these characters.
The plot of Colossal follows Gloria, an out-of-work party girl living with her boyfriend in New York City. The three words that best describe Gloria are total fucking disaster, as she struggles with her alcohol addiction and constantly fails to keep some semblance of normalcy in her life. When her frustrated boyfriend kicks her out of their apartment, she’s forced to move back to the small town where she grew up, where she reconnects with Oscar, a childhood friend who never escaped the confines of the small town he lives in. Oscar welcomes Gloria with open arms, but he quickly shows himself to have a control problem, which he soon turns to Gloria. As this is happening, a giant monster appears in South Korea, and Gloria realizes she may be connected to it.
This film has a lot to say about addiction and abuse, but also smaller things like growing up in a small town and the culture that excuses abusive and controlling behavior, and that gives Maria and me a lot to talk about in regards to mental health. Gloria is a rarity in film: a sympathetic character with an addiction. Oscar is also a pretty realistic portrait of an abuser. It’s rare to see both of these portrayed so accurately, and we talk about how closely these portrayals stuck to reality.
So kick back and get ready for us to talk about this monster of a movie in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health!
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
Phone: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
Fargo (1996) (JUST KIDDING)
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Overall Thoughts: Poor marketing left people unprepared for this story of addiction and abuse
B: Negative reviews because people thought this was going to be a romantic comedy; strong themes of women empowerment; director sued by the makes of Godzilla
M: First time seeing this
Like: The metaphors work
B: Metaphors galore (addiction, abuse, political); smart and funny
M: Metaphors, metaphors everything, not a drop to drink! Surprising movie; genre play; similar to Sorry to Bother You; fun
Dislike: Explanations weren’t needed
B: Explanations on why they were monsters not needed
M: Metaphor a little too obvious
Mental Health: A surprisingly insightful look at addiction and abuse
B: Portrays abuse
M: Portrays complications with addiction/mental health
B: We try to attribute meaning to the monsters in our lives—and this film comes out and says that the abusive people in our lives are the monsters—but sometimes there is no meaning and these monsters exist purely by accident. When we’re being destroyed by monsters, it can seem like the purpose of that monster is our destruction, but sometimes a monster is a monster for its own reasons.
B: Oscar uses his power as Gloria’s boss and orders her around. When there’s any scene where Gloria is given an even inkling of self worth, he starts bossing her around again to show her who’s boss. So he uses existing systems of power to demean Gloria.
B: Oscar seems very charming at first, and these things seem like a small deal until you start seeing how everything adds up. Abused people sometimes don’t realize they’re in abusive situations because their abusers are not monsters all of the time, where, if someone is abusive even a little, that’s something that needs to be dealt with and to not be tolerated.
M: One of the bigger metaphors for me was complications with addiction and how many things touch addiction, which also by extension you can say mental health and mental illness. Things aren’t just straightforward a lot of the time. It’s not just about getting off the drug, and a lot of that is thinking by people who are really healthy and they can’t relate.
M: In Colossal we see that addiction isn’t just about the drug or the item you are addicted to; instead all of these things can feed into it: your childhood, your relationships, whether those are romantic or friendships, your career…and all of these can help fuel the addiction, help the addiction, or conquer the addiction, and the way that these things intersect and interact with each other really complicates things.