2017 Film Essays

‘Colossal’ and the Monstrous Pettiness of the Male Ego

SPOILERS

Although Anne Hathaway’s Gloria is the lead character in Colossal, Nacho Vigalondo’s genre-merging of romantic comedy and Kaiju, the true centre-piece of the picture is Jason Sudeikis’ Oscar. Introduced as the classic nice guy, Oscar’s arc from the innocent friend to the ego-driven, envious bully is not only an ideal foil for Gloria’s journey, but forms the reactive core of the film’s biting take on gender and ego.

When Oscar first appears, he offers to help Gloria move back into her parent’s house. He’s the image of the hometown hero — denim jacket, trim figure, pick-up truck, with well-trimmed, middle-aged scruff and an upbeat attitude. He’s an American man’s man, quaint, upright and harmless, and the exact inflection of the life Gloria had in the city that she so desperately needs some time away from.

For its first half, Colossal sets up this dynamic as being the thrust of its drama. Gloria enjoys being back home, drinking with Oscar and his buddies, and there’s a less than subtle nod at a possible romance. Occasionally becoming a Kaiju seems like the insurmountable roadblock for Gloria’s quiet, peaceful life, as chaos follows her wherever she goes.

In typical Vigalondo fashion, this isn’t quite the case as the movie takes a dark turn on itself. Oscar exhibits some envy when Gloria sleeps with one of his friends, before it’s discovered that he also has a Kaiju counter-part — a massive mech to Gloria’s not-Godzilla. From here, the once charming romantic-comedy morphs into something darker as small-town kinship becomes envious obsession, and romance turns into ownership. Oscar begins to act increasingly erratic at the behest of Gloria, who won’t show any romantic interest, who won’t allow herself be trapped in their quiet little town the same way he’s become.

Oscar embodies a kind of perverse chauvinism inherent in the divide between he and Gloria. Each night, he hangs with the same friends, all of whom experience the same problems over and over, and he lives the same life day in, day out. Gloria’s presence represents a kind of nostalgic excitement, as she celebrates their old bar. But really, to Oscar, Gloria’s presence is a patronizing reminder of the life he could never have.

In New York, Gloria worked as a writer before she lost her job and fell into alcoholism. She had options, and aspirations, and acted on them with clear ambitious fervor. Moving from a Middle American township to a full-time writing gig in a city like New York is no easy task, even if the position is temporary. To Oscar, Gloria’s move seems like a betrayal of the future that should’ve been his own. During one of their more heated confrontations, he makes as much explicit, telling Gloria what he should’ve had.

Oscar and Gloria’s stand-offs do come with a lighter edge than one may expect — this is, after all, a comedy — but to anyone who has spent any extended time in online pop culture communities, or paid close attention to the wider western socio-political climate, Oscar’s raw anger and frustration toward Gloria is altogether too familiar. The topic of feminism, and the focus on an increasing female presence in various industries remains heated, and the vast majority of that heat comes from men who take affront to the notion that society has an unconscious bias against women, one that should be rectified.

Oscar is a fickle man; Gloria’s disinterest causes him to act out like a 17-year-old rejected at a house party. He begins stalking her and tries to make her stay. Otherwise, he’s going to use his Kaiju powers to kill people. Her autonomy doesn’t exist because his desires are the default. Vigalondo portrays this pettiness in plain sight, and it’s easy to laugh off Oscar’s bullheaded, pathetic misogyny as that of pure sexual frustration. But just a few weeks ago, selected corners of the internet — mostly men — lost their fucking mind because some cinemas decided to host women-only screenings of Wonder Woman. Years and years of being the preferred and privileged have ingrained an underbelly of narcissism to the male ego that will sink to any level when it feels threatened, and it doesn’t take much to set it off.

Gloria herself is trapped between this egoism, and its inverse. Her ex-boyfriend from New York, Tim (Dan Stevens), is much more appreciative of her and concerned for her wellbeing. He calls her out of the blue and travels to see her, looking to retrieve her from a troubled situation. But he, too, doesn’t fully respect Gloria’s autonomy; he tells her waitressing is below her. In a conversation with Oscar, the two discuss Gloria in the third-person while she sits right beside them, with Oscar sending her to get them beers. Good-hearted as he may be, Tim’s ally-ship to Gloria, and what she wants, remains driven by male ego, as he thinks that he knows what’s best for her and will drop her perspective to argue his own.

Tim is the underlying danger of a male feminist who believes that he knows women better than themselves. He obviously cares for Gloria, and he’s a better match compared to Oscar, but he still has an abstract, dehumanizing view of her. For Gloria to be with him, she must be reaching her potential as he sees it, and with that comes the notion of feminism as a kind of trophy. The relationship comes with the caveat that Tim can say his partner is some career-woman with a new media job. Yes, it’s commendable that a partner wants their significant other to have every success in life, but those aspirations shouldn’t overwrite someone’s ability to be happy. At first, Gloria is entirely disenfranchised, detached from her friends and making her way through life on a lull. Success has stopped mattering because she’s lost track of her identity, along with the sense that Tim is ill-equipped, or perhaps unprepared or unwilling, to provide the necessary support.

It’s no surprise that Colossal concludes with Gloria flying to South Korea to escape both, defeating Oscar’s big robot in the process. Given her options, South Korea seems only proper for Gloria. Maybe she can finally make a life that’s actually hers.

If only.

Anthony McGlynn (@AntoMcG) is an Irish writer and film fan. He has strong opinions on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and thinks ‘Frozen’ is a better Christmas movie than ‘Die Hard.’ 

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