Not Your Ordinary Heroes: How Pacific Rim Takes Almost Every Hero Trope We Know and Punches It in the Face

Marjorie Eyong

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21st Century Expression

December 16, 2015

 

Not Your Ordinary Heroes: How Pacific Rim Takes Almost Every Hero Trope We Know and Punches it in the Face

If you take a quick survey of some of the most well-known action films, shows, and other media, it is easy to note several similarities. Often, we are faced with a lone, white male hero (or antihero), who goes through some form of the hero’s journey before he is finally able to gain the strength to singlehandedly defeat the enemy. In the movie Pacific Rim, while director Guillermo Del Toro plays with some of these typical hero tropes, he ultimately ends up almost completely subverting them. While Raleigh, the initial narrator of the film, may at first seem to fit the description of the typical white male hero, we quickly see Mako, his young Japanese female co-pilot, more fully assume the role of the hero than he does. Additionally, the film neatly subverts the idea of the lone hero, by making teamwork the only way to defeat the kaiju alien invasion. In doing so, Pacific Rim celebrates empathy rather than individual power, and envisions a world in which, ultimately, people must come together in order to save the world.

Throughout the movie Pacific Rim, the characters manage to completely challenge our usual expectations of the hero and the hero’s journey. As previously stated, Raleigh Beckett appears to, at first, fill the role of our typical white male hero. He is the first character that we are introduced to in the film, and he suffers the kind of traumatic, motivating loss that we often see heroes go through in films when he loses his brother Yancy, after their jaeger gets attacked by a kaiju. However, once Raleigh is recruited back into the jaeger program, he meets Mako Mori, a young Japanese woman with the potential to be an amazing jaeger pilot. At this point, the movie suddenly undergoes a slight change in perspective. Though we are still following Raleigh’s point of view, Mako and her struggle to prove herself as a pilot become the main character focus of the film. It is Mako, rather than Raleigh, who ends up going through most of the steps of the typical Hero’s Journey. She fights with her own self-doubt, she confronts her own traumatic past, her strength as a pilot is tested several times, and she deals with a unique external conflict as she tries to prove herself to Marshall Stacker Pentecost, a man who is both her professional authority figure and a reserved, but loving father figure. In contrast, while Raleigh is still an important character, he does not really undergo much character growth after he returns to the jaeger program, a mere 23 minutes into the film. Instead, Raleigh actually ends up taking on more of a mentor role for Mako throughout the rest of the movie, cheering her on, and consistently giving her support. In this way, it is Mako, rather than Raleigh, who truly fits the hero role in the film. In a world where most female characters are relegated to the role of solely being love interests, and where they often experience very little if any character growth, Mako’s role in Pacific Rim is truly unique. She is a fully realized character, one who’s inner strength and identity as a Japanese woman is respected and carefully crafted, and one who becomes a hero in her own right.

In addition to Mako’s role as the hero, Pacific Rim also defies the usual conventions of the heroic tale by placing a huge amount of emphasis on the importance of teamwork and empathy. In the film, the giant robots, or jaegers, that the pilots use to fight the kaiju must be operated by two pilots, through a process of memory sharing called drifting. Through the process of drifting, two pilots are able to share the burden of piloting the jaeger. If only one person attempted to pilot a jaeger, the stress would essentially kill them. This simple detail, that not working together would literally kill an individual pilot, underscores how much importance is already being placed on teamwork in this facet of the film alone. Additionally, pilot teams must typically have a strong relationship with one another in order to be drift compatible. Because of this, most of the pilot teams that we see in the film include siblings, spouses, or a parent and child. In this way, not only does the film prioritize teamwork, but also the importance of having an extremely strong bond within that team. Finally, the fact that drifting requires an act as intimate and as implicitly full of trust as sharing memories also underscores the role of empathy in the film. By making drifting and having two pilots necessary in order to pilot the jaegers, Del Toro completely shatters the lone individual aspect of the typical hero and antihero story. It is physically impossible for the pilots in Pacific Rim to fight on their own, and rather than things like emotions and family ties making them weak, these things make them infinitely stronger as pilots.

Through the elevation of the main female character and through the prioritization of teamwork and empathy, Pacific Rim completely shatters the usual tropes associated with heroes, punching through them like a jaeger to a kaiju and creating a film that resonates strongly within our contemporary moment. The film also envisions a world in which disparate cultures can come together, respect one another, and work together for the greater good, an ideal that our real world should absolutely always continue to strive for. Pacific Rim takes the things that are so often considered weak, and highlights how strong they can actually be.

 

Works Cited

Pacific Rim. Dir. Guillermo Del Toro. Perf. Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, and Idris Elba. Legendary Pictures, 2013. Film.

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Thinking Through Character and Narrative Themes in Pacific Rim

Facilitators: David Huynh, Marjorie Eyong, and JP Zhao

Throughout the semester, one of the most common aspects that we have seen in many of the movies and texts we have looked at has been the idea of taking familiar sci fi and speculative fiction tropes and re-imagining them in new and diverse ways. The movie Pacific Rim from director Guillermo Del Toro provides another great example of re-imagining familiar themes.

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Orleans (235-324)

“Have you thought of a name for her yet?” Mr. Go ask, nodding at Baby Girl.

I make a face. It be a big deal, naming someone. But I been thinking Nola, for New Orleans, or Enola for East Orleans. “Enola,” I tell him. “Enola Jeanne Marie, so she always know where she come from.”

“Enola,” Mr. Go repeat, rolling the word in his mouth like he drinking it. “I think that sounds just fine.”

(Page 272)

This conversation takes place between Fen and Mr. Go, right before Fen, Daniel, and Baby Girl try to head for the Wall. In this moment, Fen finally gives Baby Girl a name, Enola. This scene is significant for a few different reasons. From a reader’s perspective first of all, it subtly shifts the way we see Fen and Baby Girl’s relationship. Fen isn’t just protecting Lydia’s baby anymore; she is protecting Enola. While the reader is already attached to Baby Girl at this point in the novel, the simple fact that Fen names her adds another layer of connection between her and Baby Girl.

Additionally, it’s interesting to note how briefly and seemingly innocuously this moment comes up. The fact that Baby Girl finally has a name should be a big deal, but the author chooses to illustrate this moment with relatively sparse language.The understated quality of the moment aligns well with how Fen has been portrayed throughout the novel. While you can tell that she has already grown to care for Baby Girl, her moments of care have up until this point mostly been illustrated trough her devotion to Lydia’s memory, her determination to get Baby Girl to safety, or through how she handles Baby Girl, rather than through her words.

I hold baby girl to me. Got to feed her soon, got to lay her down for some real sleep. I count the days she been alive. “I ain’t risking Baby Girl catching the Fever. I gotta get her to father John first thing tomorrow, before she stuck here forever.” (Page 261)

Despite the sparse language of the naming scene, however, this moment represents one of the first times that we see Fen really verbalize how much she cares for and thinks about Baby Girl. While the moment may seem sudden, Fen explains that she has actually been thinking about a name for Baby Girl for a while, indicating how much Fen thinks about Baby Girl beyond just getting her to safety. Fen decides to name her after East Orleans “so that she always knows where she come from.” It’s a surprisingly sentimental gesture from Fen, hinting for the first time that parting with Baby Girl will end up having a strong emotional effect on her. Fen’s words are also especially poignant when you consider how much Fen and the people in Orleans treasure the memory of the legend of New Orleans and what the city once was. Fen chooses to give Baby Girl a name that represents that treasured history and it’s legends, further acknowledging the depth of her feeling toward Baby Girl.

This moment also serves as a turning point for the way that Fen talks about Baby Girl for the remainder of the novel. From this moment on, Fen steadily becomes more verbally protective of Enola, such as when she defends her from the O-neg tribe a few pages later (My face go cold as stone. “She ain’t for sale. (Page 282)) and culminating in the scene in with Father John near the end, when Fen nearly cries as she tells Baby Girl that she loves her and says her good-byes. (Page 303)

-Marjorie Eyong

Fledgling (Pages 83-149)

He made a sound– almost a moan. For a while,  he said nothing.

Finally I asked, “Do you want to leave me?”

“Why bother to ask me that? ” he demanded. “I can’t leave you. I can’t even really want to leave you.”

“Then what do you want?”

He sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know. I know I wish I had driven past you on the road eleven nights ago and not stopped.  And yet,  I know that if I could have you all to myself, I’d stop for you again, even knowing what I know about you.”

“That would kill you. Quickly.”

“I know.”

-Page 84

This conversation between Shori and Wright feels like a strong turning point in defining the relationship between the two characters. This takes place directly after Shori meets Iosif and the rest of her living Ina relatives and Wright learns what it means to be a symbiont.

In the beginning of the story, because Wright looks physically to be much older than Shori, it’s easy as a reader to feel uncomfortable with their relationship, despite the fact that Shori is truly older and a vampire. However, in this conversation we get a glimpse to just how much of the power in their relationship actually belongs to Shori. Wright feels almost frightened when he realizes the power that Shori has over him. Not only is Shori older and vastly more powerful than Wright, Wright is now bound to Shori to the point where he can’t make himself leave her or even survive without her. The idea of freedom, free will, and consent within their relationship becomes extremely complicated because of how much influence the Ina have over their symbionts.

This dynamic also emphasizes how different their relationship dynamic is from a typical vampire story. Often in vampire stories, the vampire character is male and much older, but looks about the same age as the human character. However in this situation, the female character is the vampire and looks dramatically younger than the male character. It takes the usual dynamic in a vampire story and gives it a notable twist, complicating it without simply just reversing the dynamic.

-Marjorie Eyong