Monsters seems to revolve around a simple, universal need: that of companionship. Interestingly, in a film that uses monsters as a plot device, the companionship concept is by far the most prevalent element. With characters at the center and monsters at the periphery, Monsters is about our need for togetherness, the sadness of separation, and our semi-paradoxical tendency to wall ourselves from the world around us.
As the result of a NASA probe crashing on its way back from seeking extraterrestrial life in our solar system, roughly the northern third of Mexico has been deemed “infected” and has become inhabited by giant, tentacled alien life forms. Samantha, the daughter of the head of a news organization, just so happens to have been injured in a recent attack by one of the creatures in Mexico, so her father has hired one of his photojournalists in the area, Andrew, to help her get back to the United States safely. Due to a combination of bad luck and stupidity, though, Andrew and Samantha are forced to make their way directly through the “infected zone,” escorted by individuals of questionable reputation, as their only possibility of getting back to the States.
The themes of separation and togetherness are present in various forms throughout the film. Samantha is separated from both her fiancé and her father, Andrew is separated from his son, and the United States has separated itself from Mexico with the construction of a giant wall. Andrew and Samantha’s togetherness in their journey somehow feels significant to the characters from the moment they begin heading home. Early on, Andrew is dismayed at the sight of Samantha’s engagement ring, despite having known her for only a matter of hours. At first the attraction seems purely superficial. However, as they proceed together through shady dealings, dirt roads, and alien encounters, a true love clearly develops. This is not due to a particular dynamic between the characters. They fall in love simply because they have each other.
Conversely, isolation, particularly isolation from those you know and love, is portrayed as an ultimate misfortune. The film’s saddest moments come when the characters realize how far they are from their loved ones. Indeed, most of Monster’s suspense hinges not on the uncertainty of whether the characters will be harmed by the monsters but on whether they will become stuck in Mexico. This melancholy of isolation is depicted even on the national scale. When we see a view of the United States walled off from Mexico and, seemingly, from the rest of the world, the image is almost devastating. The characters pause to ponder the social seclusion of the country, but the image is more poignant than any of their words could be.
The wall around the United States (or at least its southern border) is much like the engagement ring around Samantha’s finger. Each item signifies a devotion strictly to those inside (inside the borders or inside the relationship) and a rejection to those outside. For as much happiness as those things can create, they also lead to sadness. Monsters suggests, though, that by spending a few special moments with someone left out, even if those moments are coincidental or accidental, previously locked doors can open.
Monsters ends with several beats of fleeting togetherness and cuts out before we can respond. If we struggle to attach feeling or meaning to the ending, that may what director Gareth Edwards had planned. Perhaps the end results of relationships are not as important as the feelings experienced during those relationships. Any sadness that is to be felt should not come from the loss of what was. It should come from the lack of what is yet to be had.