Monday, July 15, 2013

Thematic Wanderings : Pacific Rim

Mind is aglow with thoughts of Del Toro's Pacific Rim this week. And even though I may not have spent much time on these pages singing praises of the premise, and its pedigree, I can earnestly say that the film is among the core reasons why this site exists.

And even though much of the film treats itself like a wafer thin tribute to all things anime and tokusatsu, there was just enough symbolic meat to this particular bone that grants the film an optimistic edge that is sorely lacking in current blockbusters.

As mentioned in the review I posted to Anime Diet, the film centers on the value of unfettered human connection, and this is made explicit by way of the story's most challenging concept: "The Drift". The means by which our protagonists are capable of psychically linking themselves to their Jaeger mecha. And also, this cannot happen without a partner, so all Jaegers (with the unique exception of China's Crimson Typhoon which carries three pilots) require a well-synced duo to enhance the mammoth machine's fighting ability. In the process of The Drift, the minds of our two central pilot characters must intermingle, sharing everything from memories and feelings in a process of what is lovingly called a "neural handshake". And while this is on many levels more a concept at home in hard science fiction of the past, and even in anime, this is the kind of idea that must have been a pretty hard sell to the studio heads. And what most likely helps undo this fear, is a consistency of this idea carried over onto multiple planes in the script. Between the pair who inevitably conjoin to form the new Team Gispy Danger, pilots Raleigh Becket, and Mako Mori form an unlikely alliance that is the emotional backbone of the entire story. And this is also examined in the various quirky meetings that are sprinkled throughout.

"This is a dialogue..Not a fight."

Upon their initial meeting, Becket merely sees Mori as a bright would-be pilot with a number of simulation kills under her belt, but when she more than proves her mettle during replacement co-pilot trials, it becomes clear that she has overwhelming potential. Even so, the path to their destinies are blocked by not only the protests of a concerned guardian, they are also tested by Mori's lack of experience in Drift. This is illustrated beautifully in a sequence where Mori finds herself trapped in her own memories in what the program calls "chasing the rabbit", also known as RBBT. A trancelike rigor where the pilot find themselves unable to function as their brain is trapped in a significant memory. Not unlike losing a tether out at sea. It is within this sequence that Becket finds himself inside her childhood trauma in hopes of recovering his would-be partner. With such sync misaligned, matters are made worse as both minds must identify perfectly in order for any of this to work. It's a visually and sonically fascinating shorthand for the barriers that can often thwart the early stages of any relationship, be it personal or professional. Sharing in the moment seems to be the prime goal in the script, and this sequence of events is played with just enough sensitivity, and a respect for the urgency of the situation that it largely works.  

Connections: Father and Son, Brother and brother, culture to culture, generation to generation, axiom to axiom (Alan Turing and a modern "rock star" wannabe genius ala Steve Jobs?), connection is the central component to the entire script. It is even expressed in a larger sense by way of duality, represented largely by the nature of twos within our own bodies. Cerebral hemispheres, arms, and even shoes are illustrated as examples of this as if to imply that there is a more organic drive that is behind something our technology tends to obfuscate. Like anything else in the developing world, there are enablers, but the will to express is central to the user. As much as the Jaegers are an extension of our will to overcome nature, it is in us that we make strides, or slide backward.

There is even a large push in the film toward the loss of arms within the Jaegers during battle, as if there will always be situations where a binary choice cannot always be enough to overcome a situation. Even as a major character deduces a course of action as possibly "incredibly stupid", there is an almost blind faith in improvised action that the film seems eager to make into a point. Unlike your classic anime mecha, human movement is essential to proper Jaeger use, and Del Toro goes out of his way to make this clear. What the pilots do within their sync, the Jaeger will do. And it isn't simply a joystick, or panels that take care of everything. These machines are pretty much oversized suits that require an impressive amount of concentration and physical ability.

And let's not forget about the reason behind all this need for the film to emphasize connection. This is the easiest part.

"Category 3 Kaiju" - Followed by the possibility of Categories 4 & 5? And the explanation for the kaiju attacks, and their role in the general global scheme? This is where the film is as clear as day. Suddenly, the primary theme carries with it ecological concerns. A kaiju eiga tradition.

Although I am a little curious as to the film's finale, and the implications of the kind of weapon that is humanity's last option. While it can also be seen as tribute, it does send some slightly odd messages.

That said, so much of Pacific Rim is pretty straightforward. Ripped almost perfectly from years of many of my favorite things sprinkled with a dash of welcome pluralism, it is a movie event not to be missed.


  1. I like your emphasis on the deep "connection" idea, vis-à-vis our increasingly mediated world. Your highlight on improvisation too, and gut instincts for that matter, is interesting too. Combined, both counter any notion of the pre-eminence of technology and systems over humanism.

  2. Thanks so much. While the film does adhere to many classic blockbuster formats, it does carry with it an almost sly amount of allegory regarding a rally cry for greater homegrown awareness and faith in simple communication. Not bad for a movie ostensibly about robots versus monsters from the sea. It even goes so far as to emphasize the drawbacks of previous thought models. (IE - The Wall as metaphor for hiding from inevitability, or even stopping at nuclear power as a "final" solution.)