Sunday 9 January 2011

Monsters (Gareth Edwards, UK, 2010)

Who are the monsters? This is the question for director Gareth Edwards: the aliens, or humanity? NASA once sent a probe to investigate the possibility of extra-terrestrial life in the far reaches of the solar system. Six years ago, upon its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the probe crash landed in the jungles of northern Mexico. In so doing, an alien species was let loose upon the planet. Growing from wee fungus pods into massive squid-like beasts, a vast area of the border between the USA and Mexico is now known as the Infected Zone. At the South American end, a soaring metal fence cuts across the continent; while a reinforced concrete dam divides the zone from humanity at the US border. Inside, the area has been abandoned by humanity. Cities, towns, villages have been reclaimed by jungle, now the home of the alien horde. And with each passing year – as the beasts breed and their population surges – the threat of a breaching of the boundaries becomes an ever more likely event. Accordingly, US and Mexican planes traverse the skies above the zone, laying down poison into the jungles below, in what is increasingly being seen as a futile attempt to corral the animals. Enter Scoot and Whitney: he a photojournalist who will do just about anything to hit the front page; she the daughter of the owner of Scoot’s US based newspaper. Caught up in the evacuation of Mexico where the containment barrier is first breeched, their journey takes them into the heart of darkness and out the other side: from San Jose through the Infected Zone and – after a number of close encounters with the alien beings – into the heartland of Texas. Holed up at a deserted service station awaiting transport home, they now believe themselves safe. However – just as in Mexico – the aliens overwhelm the defences. Scoot and Whitney are the first to witness aliens on US soil. Edwards plays out this scene perfectly – riffing off Jurassic Park (1993) and War of the Worlds (2005), Whitney hides beneath the counter of the shop as alien tentacles weave through the environment, searching out the nooks and crannies of the room. However – this attack is a ruse – the alien is seeking contact with its mate. Edwards creates a scene of incredible beauty as two of the aliens entwine, their tentacles enfolding tenderly, their bodies aflame with electricity, inner luminescence creating astonishing patterns in the night sky. Scoot looks on with wonder – then he and Whitney kiss for the first time.

Such a mirroring of humanity and the aliens has – in truth – been unfolding from the very beginning of the film. In the first instance, our heroes and the aliens are both adrift in the zone, in an unfamiliar environment they are not naturally disposed to. Each are attempting to survive the world which has been given to them. In the second instance, the aliens are under constant attack from the humans with their bombs and chemical weapons; while the humans are essentially prey to the alien predators. The environment describes a situation which devolves into a duel: aliens versus humanity. This mirroring – accordingly – creates a certain reciprocity. Thus the question at the heart of the film: who are the monsters in Monsters? Such a question is made possible through a cinematic process Deleuze will describe as the extreme limit of the large form action-image...

To read the full exploration of Monsters through the Deleuze's sign of 'the limit of the large form action-image,' see Deleuze's Cinema Books: Three Introductions to the Taxonomy of Images...


  1. That is the exact message I saw in the film. Excellent analysis.

  2. I like your take on the geographical faux pas at the end. After seeing the film a few times, that was the one thing that still bugged me. Taken as an allusian to Mexico's troubled history, it makes a lot more sense.