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Posted by on Jul 12, 2013 | 3 comments

Pacific Rim: Of Monsters and Men

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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.

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Freedom is found in the mountains or on a bicycle- combining the two creates a holy sacrament. I love depressing music and beer as libation. It is my contention that theology is queen of the sciences.

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  • Kevin G.

    I just saw Pacific Rim myself, and also enjoyed it. It was nice after Man of Steel to watch a summer blockbuster that was actually fun.

    I do, however, think your point is interesting. I mostly ignored it while watching the film, but I did find the “We can do it! YAY US!” moments a little grating.

    Overall, though, don’t you think the movie is more part of the turn away from monsters as horror to monsters as “awesome!” that happened in giant monster films.* I mean, look at the Godzilla films themselves, first it was a dark allegory of nuclear power, but then the monster (or other monsters) became the awesome allies of Japan vs. other monsters in later films.

    I wonder if, in part, it’s because we’re less aware of, or at least less willing to acknowledge, large scale horror? Our monsters today in horror film tend to be the small-level personal ones. (Perhaps, anyway. That’s my impression, but I’m hardly a connoisseur of the genre).

    *I’m also not so sure about your analysis of King Kong given that we see him terrorizing natives before the Americans bring him to New York. Sure, they made his evil worse, but he wasn’t a nice friendly beast beforehand or anything.

    • Lance

      The Godzilla films that made the most money (for the most part) and received the most love from critics and fans were actually the darker films, which Toho studios stuck with through the mid-60s and returned to in the 80s and mid-2000s.

      As for Kong: indeed, he was a creature that the natives were afraid of… it seems that his personification changes, however, once he’s interacting with technology and city. Either way, I’ll admit to multiple layers and lenses to deal with King Kong.

      It would be interesting to do a bit of research in the different ways horror movies have been approached in the last few decades. I wonder how culture has changed their interpretation of what is or isn’t scary?

      As for Pacific Rim: it’s a fun film, and it’s best enjoy with a mind empty and a handful of popcorn. That said, it’s undertones seem to say some things that concern me. I can’t help but feel that cinema has done better in the past with really getting at what and/or who the giant monster is.

      • Kevin G.

        I think your right, it was, in that respect, certainly less than I might have hoped for from del Toronto.

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