Cloverfield is a very enjoyable satire on the monstrous egotism of modern American life. The basic plot line is common enough: an unfathomable monster appears as if from nowhere and begins destroying Manhattan in New York. A group of young people are caught in the mayhem and seek variously to rescue their loved ones and escape. So far, so conventional. The particular conceit is that the film is portrayed as if by the portable video camera carried by one of the young people concerned. He, Hud by name, observes that people will want to see events “documented,” that they will want to “see” what is going on and repeated questions about “if you are watching this …” In other words, it is all about look at me. There is, of course, no need for documentation as we have science and scientists – but in monstrous ego land, what the individual experiences is of vital importance, much more important than the big, objective picture.
The characters themselves are mostly wholly self-obsessed. Hud himself cannot stop talking out loud to his colleagues as they race around the city about the most inappropriate subjects – just because “I have to talk about something.” Well, no of course he does not have to do anything, he is simply a person used to doing whatever he wants without consideration of anyone else. Another character is obsessed with a girlfriend he had been planning to leave behind when he was promoted and posted to Japan. He decides he has to rescue her and leads his friends into dire circumstances because of his unwillingness to think about them – indeed, at crucial moments, he becomes entirely uncommunicative as he decides what he wants to do without any consideration or even recognition of their presence. In a not very subtle but very funny moment, the girlfriend is pictured unable to move because she has been pierced and impaled by a sharp object.
Everywhere the characters go, people continually shriek “oh my God, oh my God.” Not “oh God” or “God save me” or anything other than “oh my God.” The deity has been completely converted into the possession of the individual. You are my God and you had better save me. This theme is repeated far too often for it to be accidental.
However, what confirms the film’s meaning as satire is the nature of the beast itself. The film’s tag line is “something has found us,” which suggests a science fiction theme but there is no evidence of a spaceship and the monster itself is clearly bestial, possibly demonic in nature and employs no technology at all. Ticks drop from its enormous body and form vicious spider-like creatures which can infect others to become like themselves through biting. Selfishness inspires more selfishness. The opening shots of the coming of the monster show an oil freighter exploding in the water off Manhattan – there are few more potent symbols of selfishness than the oil freighter. There is a suggestion that the monster emerges from that explosion but the circumstances are appropriately vague. Events occur at the same time. Untangling cause and effect is a complicated process.