Does ‘Cloverfield’ Actually Mean Something?

Monster food — or a metaphor? Photo: Courtesy of Paramount

So far, most of Cloverfield's reviews tend to write it off — or praise it — as a simple movie about a giant monster biting a hole through greater Manhattan (and lots of Manhattanites). But could it be something more? Maybe! As Vulture boldly predicted back in November, interpretations of the film seem to vary based on how one feels about (i.e. how much one hates) its ostensible protagonists, a group of witless, overentitled, twentysomething holograms, most of whom — SPOILER ALERT! — meet their grisly ends at the jaws and/or tentacles of the monster.

The Voice's Nathan Lee reads deep, positing that Cloverfield is a "death-to-New-York saga" and a comment on the accelerated yuppification of New York following 9/11. The movie, he says, "enacts its deft simulation of that infamous September morning in order to brutalize the society that flourished from its ruin like some tacky, tenacious, condo-dwelling fungus." Times economist Tyler Cowen thinks along similar lines but suggests it's more a slap at the social-networking generation, writing on his personal blog, "[T]his is a movie about how the young'uns have no tools for moral discourse and that all they can do is utter banalities and take endless pictures of each other and record their lives for no apparent purpose. I can't recall any other movie that so completely devastates its intended demographic."

By and large, though, other critics just thought the kids were dumb and not really symbolic of anything. In her review last week, the Times' Manohla Dargis preemptively disagrees with any possible abstract interpretation, calling attempts to intellectualize Cloverfield "straw-grasping" and "charitable." "This new monster is nothing more than a blunt instrument designed to smash and grab without Freudian complexity or political critique, despite the tacky allusions to Sept. 11," she says.

We won't deny that we enjoyed watching a bunch of young professionals whose apartments are nicer than ours get flattened, eaten, or generally pulverized, but we didn't find them quite so odious that they could plausibly represent New York's entire yuppie class (or even the typical MySpace user). If J.J. Abrams, director Matt Reeves, and screenwriter Drew Goddard were trying to make a social critique, they were pretty subtle about it. Still, it's certainly something to think about if you're one of the lucky few who can make it to Cloverfield's ending without getting seasick.

Douchebags, Run for Your Lives! [VV]
Cloverfield [Tyler Cowen]
We’re All Gonna Die! Grab Your Video Camera! [NYT]
Earlier: ‘Cloverfield’ Trailer: We Pretty Much Know How This Movie Ends