Lately, I have found myself somewhat obsessed with the idea of juxtaposition and contrast in film (which is probably obvious considering I wrote about it last week as well). This is because, regardless of how strong and poignant they are on their own, a film's imagery and thematic elements are best seen when they are set against something else. However, contrast can also serve a different purpose. Instead of working to more fully illuminate existing concepts and themes, it can be used to shift these aspects of a film toward a different meaning or purpose.

To see this, there's no better place to look than at one of the most important (in my opinion, at least), and prolific film franchises of all time, Godzilla, and how he went from an unstoppable force of destruction to Earth's greatest protector with the help of some villainous space aliens.

Starting with 1954's Gojira and its 1956 American re-edited adaptation, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, the Godzilla franchise now includes over 30 entries, 28 Japanese films produced by Toho Studios, three of which received American adaptations, and two American-made films (though I try my hardest to forget the existence of the abomination that was the 1998 film). Over the span of these films, Godzilla has acquired an abundance of new abilities, come back from seeming death, and tripled in size, but there is one major change that he has undergone that is by far the most radical.

Initially, Godzilla was designed as a representation of nuclear warfare. He was mutated into existence through radiation from nuclear testing, and his sole purpose was to destroy Japan. It was a harsh critique of nuclear power and warfare, coming from a Japanese film made only nine years after America used nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Eventually, however, this narrative changed. Starting with the franchise's fifth film 1964's Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, the series shifted. Now, instead of humanity being threatened by creatures that were the product of its own doing, these threats now usually came from space, either in the form of the actual monsters or alien species using monsters as part of an invasion plan. In these films, Godzilla, as well as other Earthly monsters like Mothra, became heroes. They were no longer hell-bent on the destruction of Tokyo, but instead worked to defend Earth and its inhabitants from invasion.

This change was partially to capitalize on increased interest in outer space during the space race, but it also highlights the way that space has been used to reflect societal perception about the world around us. The original, nuclear allegory Godzilla seen in Gojira, showed the destructive force that mankind wields, especially from a Japanese film made less than a decade after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, the introduction of an extraterrestrial threat, and Godzilla's subsequent transformation from destructive menace to beloved protector of Earth changed this narrative to be celebratory of nuclear energy.

This is especially poignant considering that Gojira's release in 1954 coincided with the launch of Japan's nuclear energy program the same year, and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster was made during the construction of the country's first nuclear power plant. Gojira was made as a warning to humanity about nuclear weapons and energy. By Ghidorah, however, nuclear energy had become a means of modernizing Japan, and the best way to change this narrative within these films was to introduce an outside threat.

With 2014's American Godzilla, we saw the two ideas merge. This film, like Gojira, was a response to a nuclear crisis--the 2011 Fukushima meltdown. This time, however, Godzilla is still the hero. By doing this, the film is molded to fit both different eras of the franchise, as well as modern perspectives on nuclear energy, which are incredibly varied and nuanced. Yulia Frumer, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, (where she teaches the class "Godzilla and Fukushima: Japanese Environment in History and Films"), talks about this thematic arc in the Godzilla franchise from Gojira to Godzilla (2014).

"In all the movies between, where Godzilla fights other monsters, radioactivity and nuclear power were not that important. In the period of "Atoms for Peace" policies, they were pure entertainment. But now, with the recent events in Fukushima, we are coming back to the original film's thinking about what humans' playing with the environment could have caused. In the trailer, the scientist character is saying, 'We are playing with nature, and it's all going to come back on us.' That's almost an exact quote from the original movie."

The effects that humanity has on the Earth have played a continually larger role in how our society as a whole operates. Looking back, it seems strange to watch these films and see alien antagonists deciding to attack Tokyo partially because of its pollution and realize that this moment was meant to portray them as evil and villainous. It painted them as repressors of human progress, and the only way to stop them was through Earth's greatest nuclear weapon--Godzilla.

Looking at how this perspective changed so drastically within these films is a reminder of how important it is for us to constantly analyze and question what films are saying to us about society and cultural perspectives at the time. Specifically, it shows us that the one of the best ways to redirect fear and antagony is by introducing something else that is more other than the original subject.