Do not read this if you have any intention to see Colossal, a film written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, from Spain. He also acts, although not in Colossal.
I reveal the entire arc of the movie and my interpretation of the meaning I find in it. I think, as with any piece of art, it is important for you to come to it with your own thoughts and experience as much as possible, to get the most out of it. The artist creates the work, and the audience then shares in the creative process. After you have created your own thoughts and interpretation, it is interesting and expanding to discuss it with others. The personal meaning of any piece of art is ultimately the meaning you discover and create. But that is a process that may never end – great art inspires ongoing creation in the minds of the audience – movies, visual, music, written – all art is fundamentally the same in this.
Colossal opens with Gloria (Anne Hathaway) coming home one morning after partying all night, to her boyfriend’s fancy New York apartment, that she shares. He loves her, but this isn’t the first time and he’s had enough. He’s packed her things and she’s out on the street in shock. She decides to return to her parents’ home in some small town. The house is empty and she sleeps on the floor the first night. Following that fitful sleep, she strikes out to buy an air mattress. On the way home, she meets up with an old elementary school friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who owns a bar and she starts working there – not the best job for a person with alcohol issues. A reasonable and predictable start for a movie – drama or romantic comedy – there are aspects of both of those genres. But we also have a Godzilla-like monster attacking the capital of South Korea that is central to the movie. Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas.
This movie has elements of a romantic comedy as Gloria reunites with Oscar, who seems on the surface to be a nice guy, who can perhaps rescue her by bringing her back to the real world. We soon see that he has a drinking problem as well. Over time, his character becomes darker, without good intentions for Gloria, but their nature is unclear.
Gloria hangs around the bar after closing every night, with Oscar and his two friends, Garth and Joel, drinking until she blacks out. One morning – or likely one afternoon, she awakes after another night of drinking to find that Seoul, South Korea has been attacked by a giant monster, laying waste to a swath of the city, killing hundreds. Watching the video reports of the monster, she notices that it shares a habit of scratching its head as Gloria does – a nervous tic. Eventually, Gloria correctly comes to the inescapable conclusion that she controls the monster. The monster appears in Seoul when she finds herself at a playground at 8:05 in the morning, waking up after a night of drinking. She is horrified by the destruction that she appears to be causing by her rambling walk around the playground. In kind, the 300-foot monster aimlessly walks through downtown Seoul demolishing buildings and crushing its innocent citizens. At first she is intrigued by the discovery that she controls the monster, but is horrified by the outcome for Seoul.
Soon enough, a giant robot appears in Seoul to accompany the monster and Oscar discovers that he controls that robot, so together they can wreak havoc on Seoul if they wish. But Gloria tries to tell the people of Seoul that it’s all an accident and she means no harm. She is waking up. Gloria stops drinking as part of her transformation. Oscar’s dark side now comes to the fore as he encourages her to keep drinking and when Gloria threatens to leave, Oscar forces her hand. If she doesn’t act in the way he wants, he’ll continue to destroy Seoul and kill, as the giant robot.
There are issues of sexual tension as well – not a big surprise. But it is handled with subtlety. At first it seems that Oscar is interested in Gloria romantically and for most of the movie, it is unclear what their prior relationship had been, although there is a sense that Oscar may have had a crush on Gloria that never went beyond friendship. They seem bound to each other, but without a strong logical or emotional reason, if you simply see them as normal human characters.
In one late night at the bar, Gloria expresses some romantic interest in Oscar’s friend Joel, who regularly stays late drinking, but when that friend awkwardly tries to kiss Gloria, she rebuffs him. Oscar discovers this a moment later, and is enraged by his friend. Oscar’s reaction does not fit his character up until then and it doesn’t seem to fit his unsettling and ambiguous feelings for Gloria. Oscar is not as he seems, as his darkness becomes more apparent.
Another night, Gloria does go over to Joel’s house and they end up in bed – obviously her intent at this point, but it hardly seems like the beginning of a romance. Some reviewers have seen these aspects of the movie as male misogyny and a sense of ownership that Oscar and other men have for Gloria, but Joel is innocent and unsophisticated – she has the power in the relationship. I am not here to defend male misbehavior. But it’s too easy to consider that the movie is about sexual politics. It’s an aspect of the movie, but it doesn’t ring true as a major theme The male characters are not ones to be emulated, and Gloria is the central character, having our sympathy and empathy. But Gloria can hold her own, despite her drinking. She is lost in her self-destructive behavior, but she never comes across as weak. And throughout the movie she becomes stronger.
Colossal goes way beyond sexual politics. It is a profoundly psychological movie, and best appreciated from that view.
Gloria is not simply the central character of this movie – she is the movie. And not from an acting standpoint. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis both give nuanced and sincere performances, well supported by the other actors.
My take on this movie is that it’s all about the psyche of Gloria and all the characters, are actually aspects of Gloria herself. You can enjoy the movie as a more conventional comedy – drama – monster movie, but it makes the most sense when one recognizes that it’s all about Gloria and her psyche. The other characters and their interactions are not fully formed and there is often a sense of awkwardness. The oddest and most unpredictable character is Oscar, but none of the characters make sense as fully formed people because they aren’t. Some people criticize the movie for this and for the general level of fantasy and absurdity, but many people are able to accept the movie on its own terms, without my interpretation. For me, we are not dealing with conventional characters acting out a conventional narrative, or even a wildly fantastic narrative. This movie is inhabited by pieces of Gloria and her life in a mythic process of growth for her psyche and her soul.
I find a number of clues to this and the most obvious one is that this monster, which is ultimately a vital aspect of Gloria, is attacking and destroying Seoul. In Gloria’s self-discovery, she is coming to understand that she is destroying her own soul. Her partying behavior is a manifestation of her self-destruction that she seeks to change.
Oscar is a complex character whose interest in Gloria is unclear. He doesn’t act consistently interested in her romantically or sexually. He does not make an obvious move in that direction and his reaction after his friend does so, is ambiguous – much more anger than jealousy. Far into the movie, Gloria tells Oscar that she can see that he simply hates himself. Bingo. Oscar represents the part of Gloria that is so self-loathing. He is the aspect of Gloria that hates herself, leading to her self destructive behavior and drinking. Again – all the characters are aspects of Gloria or character props in her psyche and in her self-discovery. It doesn’t make nearly as much sense to see Oscar as a pivotal person in her life if he is simply some guy she went to school with. As a representation of a major part of her psyche, Oscar’s role in her life makes much more sense
This is reinforced by incidents in which Oscar reveals that he knows about Gloria’s circumstances and her feelings. He is clearly not some intuitive and he has only just reconnected with her. He talks about following her on the Internet as she is an employed web writer. If he represents a part of Gloria, he must know her story. Normally this could help Gloria to fall in love with Oscar – “he gets me!” But it’s not how it works here, because Oscar was never destined to play that role in the movie. Oscar knows much more about Gloria than she does about him and he is more interested in her. This mirrors our often oblivious ignorance of aspects of ourselves that can dominate our lives with little or no awareness on our part. Oscar knows that his existence depends upon Gloria – it is not a romantic or sexual connection he feels to Gloria – it is existential. She must remain unaware of his significance and malevolence if he is to remain a part of her. As the movie progresses, Gloria does become aware of Oscar’s nature and the danger he poses to her. He continues to threaten her, but her dawning awareness means that his days are numbered, as long as she continues on her path.
I think it is relevant that Oscar is a robot in Seoul and not a living creature. This points to a fundamental metaphysical difference between Gloria and Oscar. A robot cannot be conscious in the same way a living creature can be. Oscar is not conscious in the same way as Gloria, because he is an aspect of her. Oscar is not a person in the conventional sense – he can be seen as an archetype living within Gloria’s psyche.
At another point in the movie, Oscar’s other friend Garth notices that the monster never looks down as it’s attacking Seoul. The monster is moving unconsciously, without any regard for the environment. Garth thinks that this shows the monster is controlled remotely. This is true. The monster represents the core shadow of Gloria and she is unaware of how she is behaving or for the consequences of her actions. The monster and Gloria are not “looking down”. At first she is ignoring the deeper parts of herself – “not looking down” as she is bent on self-medicating her pain, remaining unaware, and in doing that, continuing her self-destruction.
We never find out the source of her pain, although it is telling that she has returned to her parents’ home and it is empty of people and furniture, with no explanation. Gloria has her boyfriend, who lectures her before he kicks her out and briefly we are exposed to her clueless and uncaring party friends who come into her boyfriend’s New York apartment to party after he has left for work, following his request that she not be home when he returns. Gloria is alone. There are no other people in her life. She must have a back story, but we are never told it, except in a flashback of her and Oscar on their way to school as children.
This is towards the end of the movie when it’s clear that Oscar is not Gloria’s friend in the least. In flashbacks, that are gradually revealed throughout the movie, they are each carrying school projects of cardboard models of a city and Gloria’s is of a Korean city – Seoul. Her model is swept up by the wind and carried off. Oscar gives chase, and catching it, he destroys the Seoul model with his feet, in the same way the monster destroys parts of Seoul, except Oscar’s is a purposeful act of destruction. Gloria’s monster is careless and not conscious in her terrorizing of Seoul. As Gloria watches Oscar from a distance, destroy her model of Seoul, lightning bolts from the heavens illuminate around her and we discover that this was when the monster was born, or at least first revealed in Seoul. The movie itself opens with the monster briefly appearing in Seoul twenty-five years earlier – at that same time that Oscar destroyed the school project, but there is no major destruction of Seoul then, so it’s considered a hoax. The creature simply appeared, frightening some people, and vanished until Gloria reunites with Oscar.
This monster, born of Gloria’s psyche, is not fundamentally bad or destructive, but when animated with the self-loathing represented by Oscar, the monster does become dangerous and destructive in its unaware activity. Apparently, this monster appeared in order to communicate with Gloria when she was ready for the lesson. The monster is dormant through Gloria’s self destructive escapades until she is ready to confront her demons – in the form of Oscar.
Late in the movie, Gloria’s boyfriend turns up in this small town, claiming to have business there. He is really there to rescue her, but that would be too easy. Gloria is on a quest for true personal revelation, to find her own strength. There is a confrontation at the bar with Oscar, Gloria and her boyfriend. Oscar makes it clear that he is a malevolent force in Gloria’s life and is not prepared to see her leave. Oscar is determined that he and Gloria remain bound to each other. If she leaves with her boyfriend, Oscar threatens that he will continue to attack Seoul – Gloria’s soul. She cannot find peace in a simple return to her old life. Gloria has passed the point of return. The monster of self-knowledge, including her destructive patterns, has been revealed and made real to her, so she must deal with that. She now cares about the destruction and carnage in Seoul – in her own soul.
We see Gloria becoming stronger as she confronts Oscar and her demons. She has stopped drinking and this brings her greater clarity. She is still hanging out with Oscar and the two friends, despite her not drinking. At one point, Oscar demands that she drinks a beer and threatens to attack Seoul as the robot the next morning if she refuses. Gloria takes the beer and confidently pours it on the floor. Gloria does confront Oscar at the playground, to prevent his attack on Seoul, but in this realm, he is stronger. Gloria fights bravely, but loses the first round. Oscar is confident of his dominance. This is before the confrontation in the bar with Gloria and her New York boyfriend, where Oscar shows just how self-destructive he is by lighting a massive firework bomb in the middle of his bar. Amidst the flames, we see the beginning of the final showdown between the core of Gloria and her dark shadow in the form of Oscar.
Her boyfriend asks her to fly home with him and Gloria indicates she will. Instead she flies to Seoul to confront Oscar, on her terms. Oscar returns to the playground in the morning so he can attack Seoul as the robot, while Gloria confronts the robot in Seoul. Oscar is unaware of the danger he is in, that Gloria is now in Seoul, as the monster appears in the small town by the playground. It’s as if there is a portal between the playground and Seoul – a portal between our soul and our physical life. Lightening appears over the playground, as it does in Seoul when the monster materializes. Gloria, through the monster, grabs Oscar and as he rises up in her grasp, the robot in Seoul does the same – over the harbor – powerless. Interestingly, the robot could not see, or did not notice Gloria in Seoul as she stood before the robot there. But now floating over the harbor, the robot and Oscar are at Gloria’s and the monster’s mercy. Oscar begs to be set free, but as he pleads he demands that she put him down – “bitch” he cries, in a last desperate attempt at control. But Gloria knows what she must do, and as the monster, she throws Oscar with force and likewise the robot is cast off into oblivion.
The people of Seoul are saved and jubilant. As some people in the movie had thought, the monster was not evil, but ultimately a protector of Seoul. Gloria is spent, but walks dazed into a small empty restaurant bar. The young woman at the bar asks if she’s okay and Gloria says that she has an incredible story to tell. We are confident that Gloria has won the battle. Oscar and the robot are gone.
This is a modern take on the age-old myth of self-discovery and casting off our demons after we recognize them – making them conscious with our awareness, when we can no longer ignore them. Gloria does this by herself. She is the hero of this tale and she requires no male intervention or help. Her demons are represented by males in this and are likely part of her back story, not explored in the movie. As Carl Jung wrote, we have our contra-sexual selves as important parts of our psyche. Woman have their animus and men their anima. This structure makes the movie simpler and stark, dramatizing the confrontations, adding another layer to the story-telling. We can all cheer for Gloria and her quest for freedom from her demons.
And the name of the town Gloria returns to? The town of her birth and childhood? Maidenhead – a sign that Gloria has crossed a major line in her evolution or growth back in Maidenhead, upon her return. Like so many of us, Gloria left her childhood and adolescence behind, yet far from “grown up”. Her unresolved issues continue to rule her life, as they rule our own, until a major crisis or revelation forces us to confront them. Or not. Gloria could keep drinking and partying, with another result. From the resolution of the movie, Gloria was ready for this profound change in her life. She was ready to cross a threshold into real adulthood.
At the end of the movie, when she is just recovering from her confrontation with herself via Oscar, it is left very open what she will do. She is talking to her boyfriend who is back in New York and he is wondering what happened when she didn’t come back to New York with him. She briefly explains she had something else to do, and does not reassure him or us on what she intends, after this disruptive crisis in her life. For me, this was perfect. Gloria is now free to move forward and it is too soon to imagine where that will take her.
This movie is a profound exploration of depth psychology in the triumphant tale of Gloria on her journey to the depths of her psyche and soul in a process of self-discovery, and growth.
Early in the movie, shortly after the monster begins its rampage on Seoul, Oscar says something very telling to Gloria, while they’re watching the reports on TV. “You know you’re watching something that is going to change the course of history.” It does change the course of history for Gloria, as all great myths change us.
The story is also metaphysical. We all have an inner life and an outer life. Many of us accept our inner life as more or less given and largely out of our control. We seem to be pawns of our psyche, our history and experiences. Most of us complain about our outer circumstances – the people, occurrences and circumstances in our life. We expect and wait for our lives to change when the outer world changes. In Colossal, as I believe too in our lives, the outer circumstances are simply and fundamentally the manifestations and props in our own inner struggles. Colossal can be enjoyed and analyzed on several levels, but I think it is more entertaining, makes more sense and has the greatest value when we see it as the journey of a single brave woman as she travels deeply into her own inner world to confront those aspects of her psyche that have been hidden from her awareness and bent on their own existence, rather than her healing and growth. All the components of the movie are ultimately generated by, and parts of Gloria, in her quest for growth, evolution, and redemption.
Colossal can be understood and appreciated at a number of levels – it is about human relationships, gender, addiction, childhood and monsters, and I am sure other levels are there as well. Just as we all have layers as individuals, so too does Colossal. I have explored here the level of the inner psyche of Gloria – what I see as the deepest layer of Colossal.
Nacho Vigalondo has given us a challenging and entertaining film with many layers, deserving our attention. He gives us a modern mythical take on the standard monster movie with a strong female lead. This is a movie that speaks to universal themes within us all. We all have shadows within us, that deny our essential goodness, and these require work to allow awareness of them and explore them if we are ever to become free of them. I look forward to seeing Vigalondo’s other movies. He is an interesting artist who takes chances.
Colossal is a wonderful movie with a deep lesson for all of us. We change our outer world, and our lives, by the inner work that we do. At the deepest level, we do well to see everything in our outer world as providing the input and inspiration for our psyche on our soul’s journey of growth. It should never be the only way we see our life, but it is often the most important way to see our life. The greatness of Colossal comes from it’s metaphorical exploration of vital themes for living – depth psychology on the big screen . Bravo. Great. Movie.