Attack on Titan (live-action 2015), Kronos Eating His Children, and what it takes to fight giant monster cannibals.
First, the answer is yes. See it. For the record, I’ve only tasted bits of Attack on Titan’s previous incarnations. This is my first real Attack on Titan story and it was great. The detail put into sets and costuming consistently maintained the illusion that the world I saw extended far beyond whatever slice of it we got to actually see. The acting worked for me. The Titans turned out to be pretty satisfying giant monsters and I dug the story.
Right. Now that that part is out of the way, let’s talk about monsters.
Okay, this is Goya’s painting of Saturn (Kronos, a Titan from ancient Greek mythology) eating his son (painted on the walls of Goya’s house with other pics between 1819 and 1823). Why is he eating his son? If I recall, he ate all his kids for fear they’d overpower him at some point. The horror in this painting has been haunting me for a long time. Cannibalism freaks my shit. I DON’T like cannibals. (It’s hard to like people that feed on other people). Make this figure in the painting bigger in relation to its snack, give him the coloring of a corpse and a vacant, eerily amused, and ravenous stare and you’ve got a live-action Titan. And they’re actually pretty terrifying the way they munch down on crunchy, juicy humans. They’ve got a distinctly Japanese flavor that evokes recollection of Japanese ghosts, spirits and cannibal demons depicted in classical Japanese painting and printmaking (also Butoh dance).
But it’s the cannibal part that produces the most horror in my mind.
What gives? They’re not human. How can the Titans be cannibals?
OK. You’re right. Technically, Titans can’t be cannibals because they’re not eating the same species. BUT they look exactly like giant naked humans without nipples or genitals and they bite normal-sized humans in half and eat them. That’s cannibal enough for me, especially considering the context of this story.
Spoiler free context: Walls high enough to keep out giants surround and protect (and imprison) the endangered humans and their town. Outside the walls there are Titans and they will eat you. Inside the humans seem safe, but they’re not.
As far as I’m concerned, Titans are giant people eating other people. (This strikes a nerve with me as an allegory of something we humans do all the darn time in more roundabout ways.) Hold that thought.
So there I am, a third of the way through the movie, reeling from the cannibal horror that began before I thought it would and all I’m thinking is, “Dammit! Someone has to fight the giant cannibal kaiju!”
But the humans seem terrible at it. This movie presents two kinds of humans – the ones that seek safety, and the other kind, the kind that are maybe more like the monsters. These are the ones that fight monsters, of course. And this is my favorite part of the story. You can fight the Titans and win, but only after paying a price. There’s always a price when you become a monster to fight one.
But I bet you knew that. In a way, you already know Attack on Titan. The same story has been retold for thousands of years. There’s a reason for that. It’s an important story. It’s one of our collective myths. This time around, the players are humans dying in a walled world and heroes that fight the terrifying man-eating Titans. Awesome.
A.D. Bloom is the author of the War of Alien Aggression and other books. His characters fight monsters.