Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. I love all the infinite possibilities in the worlds brought to life by creative minds. I love the way I can so often find deep, human truths in a setting or circumstance completely unlike reality.
It’s like dreaming, in a way. People, events, and objects in your dream are often hilariously random, but somehow they create a feeling or an objective that is somehow important in your subconscious.
Well, if fantasy stories are dreams, then Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Open Windows, The ABCs of Death), is that dream I have where I’m driving really fast down a windy road, bordered by cliffs. At first, I feel like I’m having a great time - the car is awesome, there’s a view of the sea - until I approach the first bend. I try to slow down, but my brakes don’t work, and yet surprisingly, I still love the ride.
This sums up how I felt about Colossal. It was bizarre. It was totally unlike any other movie I’ve seen (I can’t even place it in a genre without adding a bunch of qualifiers), but it did something special.
Colossal is about an idle mid-thirties woman named Gloria (Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables, The Dark Knight Rises) who moves back to her small town home after her patronizing boyfriend kicks her out. Things go both very well and disastrously for her - very well in that she clicks with some old friends (notably Oscar played by Jason Sudeikis) and finally gets a job. And disastrously in that she finds out that somehow she’s inadvertently puppeting a real life Godzilla-style monster in Seoul.
You would expect a comedy, right? I definitely went into the cinema expecting a comedy. Just look at the movie poster: a wide-eyed Anne Hathaway scratching her head, mirrored by a bewildered monster in the same pose. Well, I was wrong. Sure, there were a few moments that made me laugh. But this was not a comedy. About half way through the film I had my last giggle and then the plot turned so dark it was almost in psychological thriller territory.
It really worked, though. I think the mixture of different genres made the key issues Gloria faced - that is, learning to take responsibility for her actions - much more poignant. We’re invited to go on the journey with her. We get to experience the lighthearted comedy and slapstick humor of irresponsibility, as well as the sobering reality of growing up.
Gloria begins the film in a kind of suspended adolescence. The first time we see her, she shuffles into her boyfriend’s apartment, hungover and making excuses. She’s whiney and annoying. She gets kicked out, which sucks, but you know, she’ll just move home to Mum and Dad’s. It’s kind of funny.
It’s much less funny when people die. There’s one particular scene (it’s in the trailer so I won’t give a spoiler warning) where Gloria dances around in the playground to prove to her friends that she’s the monster. She has this big silly grin on her face, and her friends think it’s awesome.
Until she trips and her monster alter ego in Seoul also trips and kills some people.
That’s what I meant earlier about that familiar feeling that emerges in fantasy. Gloria experiences a situation we have all been through. We were just goofing around. We didn’t mean to hurt anybody. But we’re still left with disaster.
The rest of Colossal shows Gloria’s attempts at making things right - some more successful than others. I enjoyed seeing her change her stance from blame-shifting to actively trying to get her life in order so she doesn’t repeat her mistakes. I began to respect Gloria because of how she handles her inner monster.
The real monsters in this film, though, are the men. Seriously. Every single man in this film is awful. Colossal would have been a much simpler film if all Gloria had to deal with was the monster in Seoul. But no, she has to deal with a horde of assholes.
At first, I felt that the trials the men bring to the table diluted the message of personal growth and responsibility. Just as Gloria’s starting to get her shit together, everything implodes again. It seemed like the film was telling me that she couldn’t actually take control of her life, because she was at the mercy of other people who kept screwing things up for her.
I think this element made Colossal more interesting. In a way, Gloria’s monster is an oversimplification of how our actions affect others. Oscar and the boyfriend add a bit of complexity to the story. Gloria now has to face the challenge of trying to dig herself out of a sloppy pit of powerlessness while being pummeled with grime by those at the top of the pit. They’re supposed to be her friends. Maybe they’re even supposed to love her. Gloria’s fight to climb to the top of that pit felt symbolic. Gloria is all women trying to put together a better life. I couldn’t help but cheer for her.
Colossal told a super unique story in a way I’ve never seen done before, raised some interesting issues, and kept me guessing the whole way through.