Friday, July 12, 2013

Pacific Rim: "Finding Each Other in the Losing"

In a post-screening conversation at LACMA on July 11, Guillermo del Toro told the audience that his latest movie was inspired by this painting of the Colossus by Goya.  I might also add that the film appears to have been influenced by every movie and fable that del Toro's ever encountered--and that is a good thing.  As Northrop Frye asserted, all art comes from all the art that preceded it.  It's what gives Pacific Rim archetypal stature.

There are those who will refuse to see this movie as more than a machines vs. monsters action flick, who will not be able to let their minds "drift" with it (more on that trope later), and there are others who will delight in its relentlessly breathtaking visuals and impeccably directed and edited "flow," as del Toro referred to it.  He shared that he felt that this film is perhaps his first that has the kind of flow he always sought, which he feels is the hardest thing to achieve in a movie.  He described himself as "mad but sincere" in his OCD attention to every detail and his "super-mannered" approach to filmmaking.

It's hard to know where to begin to talk about this film.  It is, of course, first of all, a big spectacle action film.  But as del Toro describes it, this extremely complicated production was in the service of a very simple concept:  "I like extraordinary circumstances to occur to someone who is unprepared."  His aim was to make an adventure movie about "unaffected heroism" in which there is no one main hero, but rather one in which the collective is the hero--"a mosaic of good and bad guys" who all contribute to defeating the kaiju (literally, monsters in Japanese).

Del Toro (seen at left with Elvis Mitchell) is an erudite, engaging, and funny man who comes across as someone of profound authenticity and integrity.  He acknowledged that the monsters  are akin to pure id, and he talked about his childhood fears and the bouts of enuresis they (along with his parents' green shag carpeting) induced.  Del Toro also shared how having daughters affected his script, which he co-wrote with Travis Beacham.  Just as del Toro didn't want a conventional sole hero, he also didn't care to depict a traditional love interest, or to show co-star Rinko Kikuchi (seen below with Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam) in what he hilariously described as "suspicious hotpants"--in other words, to reduce her to a sex symbol.  (I must add that her character's introduction in the film is a stunningly choreographed scene.)  Click here for a video of part of del Toro's talk.

For all the complexity of the movie, for all its action and business, there is also a certain restraint that I loved.  And humor.  Two of the characters--one who's a mathematician (Burn Gorman), at odds with one who's a brain researcher (Charlie Day)--are broadly conceived (as is the outrageous blackmarket-dealing character played by Ron Perlman) and they sport highly stylized costumes, but this humor and stylization are perfect complements to the war story (I kept thinking of the humor of Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove).

What I loved most about Pacific Rim, though, is its theme of "finding each other in the losing," as del Toro put it.  All of the main characters endure loss--of parents, of partners, of children.  Images of the young Mako (Kikuchi's character) carrying her red shoe in a memory (del Toro sees the shoe as a symbol for her heart) is a terrible beauty. To find their way out of these losses, the characters must connect (E. M. Forster!)--and join the collective.  This is accomplished literally and metaphorically in the film via "drift"--the Jaeger pilots attacking the kaiju must achieve a neural connection--sharing their memories and deepest fears--in order to be able to pilot the Jaeger machines together to create their left and right "brain" hemispheres.  The film could be seen as a PSA for contemporary interpersonal neurobiology, which is having great impact in psychology.

Pacific Rim delights in all the movie tropes--it has elements of Transformers, Blade Runner, Inception, Godzilla movies to be sure, and many more (my companion was reminded of The Fifth Element and Schindler's List).  But it makes them all new.  Stunningly so.  It leaves you revved.  Which is why we go to the movies.

In her article in Forbes, Dorothy Pomerantz makes another case for seeing this film:  although inspired by Japanese kaiju, "[Pacific Rim is] an original story"--not one based on previous material from TV or books, or another sequel.  And we want to encourage the studios to bank on more of them.  Frankly, I think this movie is going to make a Godzillian bucks.  

Del Toro, who got a standing ovation after the 2D screening, urged the audience to see the film in 3D (he said he feels the post-conversion was "great") on "the most obscenely large screen" you can find. have your mission, if you're willing to flow with it.

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