Colossal isn’t a movie that you would expect to end up being a lengthy and important depiction of an abusive relationship. The film, starring Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis and Dan Stevens, depicts Gloria (Hathaway) as an out-of-work writer who leaves New York City after her boyfriend kicks her out. Much of the movie centers around Gloria’s alcoholism and her new life in her New England hometown. The twist, however, is that there’s a kaiju monster attacking Seoul, and Gloria can control the monster’s movements by standing in a playground near where she grew up. This is where the movie takes a dark turn—and where the abusive relationship begins to unfold.
How does abuse play into Colossal? [Spoiler alert]
Once Gloria realizes that she can control the monster in Seoul, she decides to share this discovery with her new friends, Oscar (Sudeikis), Joel (Austin Stowell), and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson). It turns out Oscar can also control a robot that appears in Seoul just as Gloria can control the monster. After Oscar discovers he too can inflict harm upon innocent people in Korea, he uses this power to then manipulate and threaten Gloria into continuing to work at his bar by claiming he will use his robot kaiju to kill innocent citizens if she leaves town. Gloria does all she can to prevent Oscar from causing harm, but he uses various tactics of abuse such as gaslighting (blaming Gloria for her own abuse), intimidation (threatening that he will hurt innocent people if she tries to leave town), and physical violence (he repeatedly physically assaults her) to prevent Gloria from being able to escape her hometown.
What do other characters do when they see Oscar being abusive?
Joel, another character, witnesses Oscar’s violence, manipulation, and control and does little to prevent it. As a bystander, Joel has the ability to defend Gloria and prevent Oscar’s abusive behaviors. However, his character remains a passive witness. Rather than talking to Gloria and Oscar, encouraging them to consult professional resources, or stopping Oscar from physically attacking Gloria, Joel remains a passive bystander. We don’t know exactly why Joel does nothing—maybe he felt physically intimidated by Oscar, didn’t feel it was his place to intervene in Oscar and Gloria’s relationship, or even felt that his interference would only make matters worse—but his character is presented with several opportunities to intervene and yet chooses not to.
Why is it important for male bystanders to stand up for their friends?
It’s important to recognize that men are not the only type of people who can be abusive – abuse can be perpetrated by a person of any gender. However, it’s also important to recognize the social power men have with other males to prevent and stand up against abuse. Men need to be just as involved in the movement to end relationship violence as any other gender. In focus groups One Love has led with survivors of relationship abuse, many of the participants interviewed described how powerful it was to have their male friends intervene and speak out against women’s abusive male partners. This was, in part, because men were a in position to influence other males’ behavior in a way that women could not do safely. Intervention by men was also powerful because it was unexpected.
“My guy friends were the biggest advocates for me because a lot of my girlfriends were intimidated by and scared of him. [One night, my male friend] who lived with him happened upon us and said, ‘Hey, what the hell is going on?’ And just confronted him and was like ‘dude, you need to cool down.’ And walked him back home and was like, ‘don’t you dare follow her,’ and texted me ‘I’m watching him all night, don’t worry, you’re totally safe, we’re all going to make sure he doesn’t sneak out and come find you.’ From that point on, my guy friends that he lived with told me, ‘Please do not come to our apartment unless someone is there. If you are coming to visit, text all of us and we will make sure someone is there.’ They became my biggest advocates.”
As surfaced through the focus group that One Love held, men have the potential to be powerful advocates when speaking out against relationship violence. That is not to say that people of all genders can’t provide moral support and empower those in abusive situations to seek help, but it’s clear that men have an important role to play in this issue. As shown by Joel’s character in Colossal, opportunities to intervene when a friend is in an abusive relationship arise but are not always taken advantage of. If Joel had intervened and talked to Gloria or Oscar about the abuse that he was witnessing, perhaps the plot line would have been different.
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We hope that Colossal provides an incentive for anyone who witnesses unhealthy behaviors between friends to do something about it. Regardless of what gender you identify with, we all have a role to play in ending toxic relationships.