Pacific Rim

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Pacific Rim – Guillermo Del Toro (2013)

Guillermo Del Toro’s blockbuster Pacific Rim drew the attention of the media and scholars for, among the others, its endeavour to challenge, or perhaps, perpetrate, normative representations of gender and nationality so deeply rooted in the science fiction film tropes. While discussing his Pacific Rim In an interview with Salon Magazine, Del Toro claims that he ‘wanted to make it about the world saving the world, no matter what color you have, what race you have, what belief you have – everybody in the movie saves the world, and we created a very equal structure.’[1] Unfortunately for him and for us viewers, this statement is not only emptied out of any relevance after the first watch, but underpins disengagement and fragile narrative structures that are dishearteningly relevant to the Hollywood blockbuster creators and fans.

Science fiction is a genre that, arguably, is often used to address social and world problems contemporary to one’s society. In the case of Pacific Rim, it is arguable that ‘[t]he alien, monster, robot of science fiction may provide an example of Otherness, against which a representation of “proper” human subjectivity is established, interrogated and, on occasion, problematized.’[2] In fact, enormous creatures (Kaijus – meaning ‘strange beast’ in Japanese), creep out the bottom of the sea in the Pacific Rim and threaten to wipe out the humankind from planet Earth. Only the aid of epically monumental metal man-driven robots and highly mentally and physically skilled pilots seem to be the answer to the threat. At first look, the idea of ‘Otherness’ seems to be strictly interconnected with the figure of the Kaiju, but a deeper text reading informs viewers of another kind of ‘Otherness’, that is not blatantly tracked down. In fact, Guillermo Del Toro’s Kaijus are, although spectacularly designed and meticulously depicted on screen with the aid of millions paid to the use of GCI effects, very poorly developed. They do not appear to present any human-like features and their rapturous urge to destroy and create terror leave us viewers with very little to ponder on. Is it a cheap metaphor of terrorism and war traumas? Instead, the figure of the woman in Pacific Rim seems to suffer the most of contemporary discourses of gender politics, negatively.

Pacific Rim’s 131 minutes present an unequivocal preference of male characters. Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) is one of the leading characters, and, together with a blonde pilot, whose given no more than two lines, remain the only two female characters in the film. Although Mako Mori’s character is crafted in a satisfying way, Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘equal structure’[3] is deeply questionable not only because of an obvious inequality in regard to male and female characters and extras, but because gender roles are tackled superficially and, ultimately, reinforced. In fact, Mako succeeds in the fight against Kaiju creatures alongside co-pilot and lead character Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnan) but it is obvious that Mako is, somehow, different from all the other characters (all male). She manages to achieves exactly what brilliant and muscled Raleigh does, but, instead of using verbal or physical aggression used by the other males, Mako employs notions of respect and resilience. In a male dominated world, where femininity equals weakness and quest for protection, mirrored by the father-like figure of the marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), her ultimate redemption from that stereotypical feminine image stands for encouragement and faith directed to the female viewer. This reading is strengthened by the fact that Mako Mori is, in fact, the only female character. She draws the attention of the viewer’s gaze, but this implies complications.

A more close reading of Mako Mori in contrast with her male colleagues suggests that men are rough and unwitty, while women are educated and resilient, ultimately promoting personality characters based on gender assumptions. In other words, Pacific Rim’s idea of ‘Otherness’ reside in the figure of the woman.  Critic Helen Merrick wrote that ‘the presence of “Woman”, whether actual, threatened or symbolically represented […] reflects cultural anxieties about a range of “others” immanent in even the most scientifically pure, technically focused sf.’[4] According to Helen Merrick then, gender is extremely important in the construction of science fiction narratives, and Pacifc Rim is an example of this. Guillermo Del Toro’s attempt to diversify gender representation on the big screen in Hollywood and his ultimate failure in doing so represents a lack of engagement with societal strands of gender discourse. Moreover, it highlights the disinterest of the few in charge of the Hollywood film industry to promote progressive ideas for, perhaps, economical reasons that mirror the rusty and toxic capitalist society.

[1] Guillermo Del Toro, ‘Director Guillermo Del Toro: Too Many Summer Movies Are “About One Race, One Credo, and One Country Saving the World”’,  Salon Magazine, 10 July 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/07/10/director_guillermo_del_toro_too_many_summer_movies_are_about_one_race_one_credo_and_one_country_saving_the_world/ [Accessed 03/02/2016]

[2] Christine Cornea, ‘Chapter: Aliens Others: Race and the Science Fiction Film’, in Science Fiction Cinema: Between Fantasy and Reality’, ed. by Christine Cornea (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 175 – 213 (p.176).

[3] Guillermo Del Toro, ‘Director Guillermo Del Toro: Too Many Summer Movies Are “About One Race, One Credo, and One Country Saving the World”’,  Salon Magazine, 10 July 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/07/10/director_guillermo_del_toro_too_many_summer_movies_are_about_one_race_one_credo_and_one_country_saving_the_world/ [Accessed 03/02/2016]

[4] Helen Merrick, ‘Gender in Science Fiction’, in The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 241-252 (p. 241).

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