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Monday, July 15, 2013

A Lit Major Watches Pacific Rim


There will be SOME spoilers here because an article like this can't help making a few, but nothing TOO major.  No plot synopsis.  No character secrets.  No revealing who makes what noble sacrifices.

Pacific Rim.  It's a decent movie.  Really.  It's not bad.  It delivers exactly what it promises.  Two hours and change of mind numbing special effects, explosions, and a tissue paper thin plot that is JUST plausible enough to bridge the space between fight scenes without me wanting a refund. The sentimental-a-thon that you have to sit through to get to the money shot is not even 17% as awful as Bruce Willis's farewell to Liv Tyler.   ~shudder~

Of course, you have to leave your brain at the door for movies like this because that's how big special effect summer blockbusters work.  You're there to watch special effects and if some plot or characterization happens to occur while you're there, that's cool too.  Brains shouldn't even come into the theater.  I gave mine enough money for a Starbucks and dropped it off at the nearby Barnes and Noble.

This concept is especially important with Pacific Rim. You have to accept that a united-world task force, instead of designing a better bunker buster bomb, depleted uranium shells, or even some kind of armor piercing missile, decided to build twenty story robot mecha that would kung-fu fight the monsters.  (Yes, you read that right.  KUNG FU FIGHT the monsters.) You have to accept that even though the monsters (kaiju) are coming in from a SINGLE POINT OF INGRESS in an ocean fissure near Hong Kong, the world's greatest military minds came up with the idea to build robots that deploy from miles away and not simply have a bazillion cannons aimed right at the fissure that fire the second their incredibly accurate monster sensing computer detects a kaiju....or even, like, patrol the area or anything. You have to accept that even after six years of fighting the best tactic they have is still to spend twenty minutes punching the kaiju in the face and doing WWF moves instead of just inventing a bigger gun.

And don't even get me started on why they didn't use the sword a couple minutes sooner....

But then what kind of movie would that be, right?  We want robots doing a suplexes on shark/dragon things and beating them up Fist Of The North Star-style.  That's what makes it fun!

So I used some extra duct tape to suspend my disbelief, and smiled as the robots and monsters reenacted "Enter the Dragon."  All was well.

But I want to warn you now, something might go wrong if you're a literature major, or indeed if you have any experience in critical analysis.  Don't let your brain join the party.  This is especially, especially true if you've studied any psychoanalytic theory.

Even before the popcorn coma started to kick in, I noticed that Pacific Rim was changing the us vs. them theme from a typical Hollywood blockbuster.  Usually even if you're watching a "World in Peril" movie, you notice that the cast looks like it was plucked from The Fair Oaks Country Club or something.  (Aliens like invading Utah, I guess.)  Michelle Rodriguez might bring some edgy ethnic flavor to the cast (even though she won't be making it to the end....ever).  And of course there's Will Smith.  But other than that, it looks like the floor of the Senate during an abortion debate.

I'm not saying Pacific Rim passes the Bechdel Test (it doesn't), that it wasn't more of a sausage fest than a German town in early fall (it was), or even that has a genuinely multiethnic cast (it doesn't), but it gets closer than a lot of its contemporaries.  There are mostly Asian looking people in Hong Kong.  The leader is a person of color with an Aussie accent.  Not everyone speaks English.  It kind of feels a little more realistic.  Okay, well maybe except for Ron Pearlman.

The problem was....that sort of got me thinking, but my brain was still back in Barnes and Noble.

You need me boss? It asked. I'm just hanging out in the literature section near Faulkner and making esoteric jokes with the brains of all the other people watching summer blockbusters.  But I can come help you think about stuff if you want.

No way.  I don't want to mess this up.  If I start thinking about why these giant robots with missiles and plasma cannons and shit use hand to hand combat first and only use their guns as a coup de grace at....point blank range this whole thing is going to come tumbling down like a house of cards.

Okay boss.  Hey, do you know how many Chaucers it takes to screw in a lightbulb?

I tuned my brain out and went back to the movie.  But then Pacific Rim had to challenge me.  I don't want to ruin the movie, but it is very focused on shoes.  There are a number of shots of just a single shoe.  And suddenly I wondered what the hell they were supposed to symbolize. And maybe they had something to do with how the pilots had to work in pairs. A single shoe is useless after all.....

You can't do this without me boss!  I'm coming.

No, stay where you are!  You'll ruin everything!

But it was too late.  My brain came flying into the theater and to the shocked horror of everyone around me, it jumped into my head.

"What are you doing?!?" the mother of the family next to me screamed in her best Not-To-Fifty! voice.  "Nooooo!"

But it was too late.

SHOES, I thought.  Shoes are about status and mobility at the same time.  A loss of shoes might indicate a loss of both of those things. An inability to travel? Perhaps servitude? It did seem that everyone who lost a shoe was also fettered to certain duties--stuck, if you will, by a certain kind of status that shifts when the shoe is either taken or returned. Plus like shoes, the pilots of the mecha are useless if they're not in pairs. Wow, there might be some real symbolism here.

But once my brain was in my head, doing it's brain thing, it brought the semester of literary analysis with it and that horrible, horrible week of psychoanalytic theory and Herman Melville.  That's when I saw it.

Oh holy flaming Pope balls did I see it.

My jaw dropped.  Pacific Rim is a psychoanalytic smorgasbord.  Everywhere you look there's some Freudian implication right in your face (or in the characters' in some cases).   Everything is really, really big.  Big gigantic walls!  Big gigantic explosions!  Big gigantic monsters!  The predilection for showing the sheer titanic scope of everything in this movie could itself fuel a doctorate thesis in bringing Freudian analysis back into the spotlight.  But then these big robots start using freighters and swords and big, long phallic symbols to fight with.  Every single scene involves a big long object being bandied about by a gigantic robot.  They even decided who could best drive the monster by sparring with thick, long wooden staves.

And let's not forget the penistongue....

Well surely it can't be as obvious as.......oh.
Then the monsters start showing up with increasingly well rendered mouths dripping their horrible (sometimes acidic) saliva all over the place.  With every new monster incarnation, their mouths look increasingly like vulvas.  Oh and did I mention that the source of all these horrible monsters is a rift deep in the ocean birthing this stuff out.

And yes, if you're paying close attention, you notice there are more than a couple of shots of phallic symbol weapons being jammed into drippy sideways mouths.  As if you needed to be told that subtly was not among the virtues of a movie with giant robots.

And then there's the baby...but I don't want to get into spoilers.

I almost (almost) had myself convinced that maybe--just maybe--I was reading too far into it and that my brain had just brought too much baggage, until the end.  I don't want to ruin the ending, but I will just switch to my best Neo voice and say: "Sphincters.  Lots of sphincters."  It's like a giant en-utero fight complete with a placenta breaking birthing sequence.

Seriously, maybe Guillermo del Toro's next movie should tell us about his mother.

But if you can keep your brain from crashing the party, Pacific Rim is a fun ride with lots of explody bits, people who are easy on the eyes, and did I mention really really big robots fighting monsters?

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26 comments:

  1. I think we're two for two in movies we've seen together that had an overwhelming amount of Freudian imagery of penises and/or vaginas.

    Honestly, I think you need to stop letting me pick the movies.

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    1. Yeah, Cat, you know if you're trying to tell me something, there are easier ways.

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    2. I think the only thing I'm trying to tell you is I have really questionable (or really awkward) taste in action movies.

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  2. people who are easy on the eyes

    I think that's really the biggest thing that was missing for me. I can forgive a lot of bad plot if I get to watch pretty people, but I didn't find any of the characters particularly attractive. Too much beefy muscle-men. Ew.

    Ok that and I had an awful stomach ache the entire time (started before the movie - I nearly didn't go because of it but Auros really wanted me to go and I decided it had gotten better-enough). That obviously isn't the movie's fault and I think I would have hated it even without that, but it certainly didn't HELP.

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    1. Awww. I'm sorry they weren't your type of easy on the eyes. I basically could have fallen into Rinko Kikuchi's eyes so the only thing I noticed otherwise were lots of flexy muscles.

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  3. Tiny thing -- Idris Elba was using something close to his regular accent, which is London (specifically Hackney), not Aussie. I feel kind of jerky and nitpicky for bringing that up in the face of a really entertaining article, but.

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    1. Nah, that's cool. I'm not very good with accents. Anything outside of California simply sounds delicious to me.

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    2. 'Delicious' is definitely a fair assessment.

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  4. Um.

    How many Chaucers *does* it takes to screw in a lightbulb?

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    1. I probably shouldn't have tuned my brain out. That one's been making me curious too, but now it won't tell me.

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    2. Just one, but he'll need to put a cradle in front of it first.

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  5. See? I came for the viral, and now I'm staying because of things like this. You're fascinating. I like you. Stop doubting yourself so much.

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  6. I haven't seen the movie yet, so I can't comment in depth on this, but my friend made an interesting point by drawing a comparison to the old animated series Neon Genesis Evangelion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neon_Genesis_Evangelion_(anime)), in which a group of troubled young people (of multinational background) are recruited to pilot large robot mechas to battle giant monsters known as Angels.

    Unlike most anime, the series is rife with intriguing psychoanalysis and Biblical symbolism—the robot mechas are called Evas, the Angels descend from two enigmatic beings called Adam and Lilith, there's lots of Freudian birth/body neuroticism, and each of the main characters have major parent problems. In addition to H.P. Lovecraft, I could see that show as an inspiration.

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    1. Oh yeah. That's a classic! Sadly this movie wasn't really anything like it--except for the Freudian stuff.

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  7. and some of us just really wanted to see a fun monster movie.

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    1. Well, just don't think to hard about it. You should be okay. It was certainly that.

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  8. I let my brain come along to the movie with me and spent the whole time giggling in near-hysterical silence. I didn't notice the phalluses much, because our culture is so completely inundated with them and I hardly see them anymore, but oh, I saw the vaginas. Saw those for sure. At this point, I'm even tempted to suggest that those vagainas, and their ultimate destruction, suggests a deep-seated fear for femininity, birth, and all that scary women stuff. You know, repressed traits reemerging as monsters born out of our shadows and all that goodness. ;)
    (And yes, I'm a lit major with an interest in psychoanalysis, haha.)

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    1. Right? I mean just as soon as you see it, it's like knock-you-on-your-ass overpowering.

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  9. Haha I really enjoyed this post. I ditched my brain when I watched this movie so I pretty much enjoyed it although I did wonder why all the punches and kung fu stuff when they had that nice cannon thingy. The world can invent giant robots and neural drifting what not, but still like to wrestle with Godzilla's friends. That whole drifting thing? Crazy. It's hard enough living in your own head. Anyway, I like Idris Elba. And that dad dude who was in The Unit.

    Anyway, I stumbled in here from that viral post.

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  10. Fantastic review! Trying to work, appear professional and read your blog at the same time is not do-able. My phone rang and I had to explain to a client why I was trying to sound intelligent but at the same time suppressing laughter of the type usually reserved for solemn events where laughing is not an option. Explained myself and he's decided Pacific Rim is not for him, either. My brain has separation issues, even a Starbucks wouldn't convince it to leave home, even if the reason was self-preservation.

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  11. My brain didn't make it past the double prologue. It rolled my eyes in my head, quite painfully, said "what the heck," quite loudly, and stomped out the back of my head. Then, when they started talking about why the mechs needed two pilots, it poked back in and laughed so hard my ears fell off. There was no more thinking after that.

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    1. Visually, it was worth seeing, not to mention that I got to see it at the LucasFilm screening room, which is worth the trip all by itself. I did a two part review on it on my own blog.

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    2. Very cool! Feel free to link that blog here. I will clear it personally if the spam filter catches it. I'd love to take a look.

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    3. Part 1:
      http://strangepegs.blogspot.com/2013/07/pacific-rim-part-1-and-bitter-fruit.html
      Part 2:
      http://strangepegs.blogspot.com/2013/07/pacific-rim-part-2.html

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  12. I will admit that I didn't really get that into the underthemes to the film. When I left the theater, my first thought was "That was a fantastic Power Rangers film."

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