Pacific Rim was conflict on an intimately enormous scale


Pacific Rim is another of the many apocalyptic movies out this summer. I was intrigued by the science in this movie, but mostly I enjoyed the action and the wholesale destruction that makes this a summer blockbuster. Because Guillermo Del Toro directed the visual style is artistically interesting. Since Pacific Rim is a summer blockbuster and not Pan’s Labyrinth his themes aren’t too ponderous but I found a few to ponder nonetheless.

Much of the action takes place in Asia with obvious tributes to Japanese monster movies, especially Godzilla. The name, Kaiju is a reference to the stable of monsters from Japanese film. Del Toro says that Goya’s painting The Colossus and George Bellows‘ boxing paintings were also inspirations for the look of the film. There is an intimacy in boxing and wrestling that is not present in other types of combat. Their weapons are their own bodies. For me, this idea of internal, intimate engagement was the most intriguing theme.

The earth is threatened by aliens who invade not from space, but from an inter-dimensional portal opening from the ocean floor. Massive aliens known as Kaiju come out of the sea to destroy everything in their path. After trying traditional warfare, humans create Jaegers, equally large robots who look a bit like Transformers or The Iron Giant to battle the Kaiju. Kaiju and Jaegers engage in metal on metal combat, wrestling and tossing one another around WWF-style. The Jaegers are also equipped with some nifty cutting tools as well.

Rather than controlling the Jaegers from a distance, like drones, two co-pilots sit inside the Jaeger and while they are inside, the robot becomes the body their minds control. Operating the Jaegers is so complex that it takes two minds to control it so each pilot controls one half. Pairs of pilots are usually related in some way, father and son, siblings, or lovers so that it is easier for their minds to meld. The theme of intimacy continues in the concept of the mind meld. Two human beings who are already close become exposed to one another’s thoughts as they cooperate to guide the Jaeger through combat. Their decisions and responses have to be as one entity to keep the Jaeger moving. I didn’t get the sense that they delve into one another’s memories but that they are cognizant of what is in one another’s minds at the time they are operating the Jaeger together.

Co-pilots Mako and Raleigh get into one another’s heads and see traumatic memories. One little girl clutching a tiny red shoe stands in the rubble of skyscrapers facing the enormous Kaiju that has destroyed her world as an equally enormous Jaeger saves her life. Mako’s childhood memory, which Raleigh sees, is another example in the film of a personal and intimate image. In real life when one person is pulled from the rubble of the latest disaster it is always personal. Equally personal and intimate is Raleigh’s memory of his brother who dies fighting the Kaiju. Apocalyptic movies only really work when we can focus on one person’s survival or one person’s death.

Mako and Raleigh struggle with what’s arises from their memories. Out from the bowels of our own earth come the Kaiju. Sure they are coming in from somewhere else through a portal, but their entry point is inside the earth and this detail made the threat feel internal. What is within is so much more intimately dangerous than what is external.

Most of the other characters were standard-issue. The project director Stacker Pentecost plays the mentor. Chuck Hansen offers a swaggering rival for Raleigh. Two typically nerdy scientists channelling Dr. Okun from Independence Day get up close and personal with the creature as they study the complex Kaiju biology hoping to find clues to the Kaijus’ origin and intentions. Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Charlie Day plays one of the scientists and his scenes with Ron Perlman as the scuzzy black marketeer provide most of the comic relief. To be honest, I would like to have seen more of that in the Jaeger scenes. Mind melding lends itself to some hilariously awkward moments but Del Toro didn’t go there. I sort of wish he had.

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