Pacific Rim: Of Monsters and Men
I love giant monster movies. On my desk, right next to my most coveted philosophy and theology books, is a 4-inch tall Godzilla toy I got when I was no older than 9. In childish glee, I have been attempting to wait patiently for Guillermo del Toro’s newest film, Pacific Rim, to hit theaters. A no-holds-barred blockbuster, Pacific Rim is a simple story. Through a portal in the Pacific ocean, giant alien monsters called Kaiju (Japanese for giant monster) have come to Earth to destroy its people. In response to the threat, humanity pools its resources to create Jaegers (German for hunter), which are giant robots piloted by two people through a neurological link. With the survival of the human race on the line, the film centers on a last-ditch effort to save the planet from the giant invaders.
I enjoyed Pacific Rim immensely, but I can’t help but feel giant monster films have the ability to teach us something that was missing in del Toro’s film. The motif of fighting monsters is an important one, but I wonder about the importance of the monster being ourselves, rather than something else entirely.
The first Godzilla movie (Gojira) was a dark, brooding film with very tangible concerns. Its director, Ishiro Honda, was a WWII veteran who lived through the tragedies of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs. Godzilla, awoken by nuclear testing in the Pacific, comes to ravage the Japanese mainland. The images of the damage he leaves in his wake are strikingly similar to the photos taken after the bombs were dropped on August 6 and 9, 1945. Godzilla was not a bloodthirsty beast, but a tragedy spawned by humanities fetish for power and destruction.
The monster is not the radioactive creature destroying the city, but ourselves, with the same destructive capabilities within our very being.
King Kong had similar motifs (22 years before Gojira). Though Kong was a powerful and ferocious animal, the true antagonists were those trying to turn him into an economic powerhouse, the greatest live show on Earth. Kong’s fall from the Empire State Building was not a victorious death over a monster, but again the tragic death of something misunderstood. Human nature is shown to be the real horror.
Pacific Rim quietly delivers a rather different message. The monsters are other than ourselves, and if we stand together in unity, the indomitable human spirit will not be vanquished. Humanity melds itself with advanced technology to fend off its giant foes, as if to say that evil will be conquered through human means. Yet, a flip through a history book or the news, perhaps even a look in the mirror for some us, will show that humanity does not strive for the ideal good. We make an awful mess of things, and we have since time immemorial.
Let me sprinkle this with some positivity before we go down the depressing rabbit-hole. Humanity is not an evil thing through and through; we are not simply monsters. But, we must continually struggle against ourselves. Though we indeed have the ability to stop some of our inner evils, the humble power to entirely usurp our corrupt condition is outside of ourselves. God alone can redeem humanity. However, this is for another post.
I will give credit where credit is due: it’s been many years since I’ve had as much fun at the movies as I did with Pacific Rim. My inner child was more than satisfied. Yet, my mind can’t help but reflect back to the shoulders on which Pacific Rim is standing: classic movies that showed monsters to be tragic, complex creatures that were personifications of our evil. They gave us monsters that were less terrifying because of their destructive force, and more relatable because we were their creators—they were reflections of ourselves.
Enjoy the giant robots fighting towering monsters. Trust me, Pacific Rim is a true adventure of a film. Just remember that we don’t need to do much searching to find the real monsters that wreak havoc on the world.