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Canceling the Apocalypse: Globalization Processes in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim

by Deidrene Crisanto

Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 science fiction fantasy film, Pacific Rim, is a visually striking narrative that depicts an unconventional alien invasion and humanity’s equally exciting response. A summer blockbuster with high entertainment value, this sci-fi narrative is a colorful exhibition of globalization processes. This essay explores some of the processes of globalization exhibited in this narrative world.

INTRODUCTION:

Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013) is a visually striking science fiction narrative that depicts an unconventional alien invasion and humanity’s equally exciting response. Gigantic extraterrestrial monsters, referred to as Kaiju (a Japanese word that literally translates to “strange beast” and has in recent times referred to a genre of monster films made popular in 1950s Japan), surface from a portal at the floor of the Pacific Ocean and the nations and communities of the world pool their resources together to build a response team of equally gigantic robots. These 300-foot-tall robots, dubbed Jaegers (German for ‘hunter’), are controlled by human co-pilots linked by a neural bridge which allows them to share each other’s thoughts, feelings and memories as they cooperatively control the machines in defensive battles along the coastlines of the Pacific.

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Promotional art depicting Jaeger machines

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Promotional art depicting a close-up of Kaiju Specimen

After initial success with the Jaeger program, the infrastructure becomes increasingly unsustainable and the program’s commander, Stacker Pentacost (Idris Elba), struggles to sustain the initiative as the crisis increases in its immediacy and scale. As a result of these instabilities, the international council at the head of defense and disaster relief seeks to end the Jaeger program in favor of a massive public works project to build a defensive wall along the Pacific coastlines. The narrative follows Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunman), an ace Jaeger pilot who disappeared from the system after the death of his co-pilot and brother, and later returns to the program to co-pilot his old Jaeger, Gipsy Danger, with Pentacost’s adopted Japanese daughter, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), in a final, internationally collective effort to end the alien invasion once and for all.

PACIFIC RIM AS GLOBALIZATION ANALOGY

Globalization is the system of processes of integration and the exchange of ideas, products, world views and other cultural artifacts between communities across the globe. Globalization studies encompass a number of topics that participate in “the expansion and intensification of social relations and consciousness across world-time and world-space (Steger 15).” Pacific Rim, in turn, exhibits distinct globalizing zests through its production processes and the exploration of the science fiction genre. Del Toro, an American director with Mexican roots whose tendrils have spread across international cinema, collected an international cast and crew from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan to produce a live action anime world heavily rooted in distinctive SF genres and tropes. The film revolves around a multiracial, multinational team banding together to fight a global threat. While this blockbuster film is rooted in the Pacific stage with respect to national identities, it is clear that the Jaeger initiative is a microcosm that represents a universal, planet-oriented ideology that subverts the physical, political, and social boundaries to create a globally conscious world through its interrogation of certain globalizing processes and identity boundaries.

REGIONALIZATION: A GLOBALIZING PROCESS

To begin, let us deconstruct the main mechanisms of globalization at work in Pacific Rim. The nation-states represented are primarily from the Northern Pacific region of the globe but the extra-terrestrial Kaiju threat allows the remnants of humanity to build an identity that is planet-oriented rather than limited to nationalistic boundaries. Through the designation of the alien Kaiju as “Other” in relation to humanity at large, national and regional loyalties become hybridized for a common planetary goal.

Pacific Rim is a regionalization mechanism that exhibits shared resources and ideas among diverse global communities to achieve a common goal. According to Arie M. Kacowics in their study “Regionalization, Globalization, and Nationalism: Convergent, Divergent, or Overlapping?”,the term “region” refers to clusters of states coexisting in geographical propinquity as interrelated units that sustain significant security (Kacowicz 530). As Pacific Rim illustrates, regionalization can act as a globalizing process when mediated through the dynamic between those nation-state systems and those civil communities. Civil communities are designated institutions, collectives, and organizations that aren’t explicitly tied to government structures. Regionalization is the growth of societal integration within a given region, including the undirected processes of social and economic interaction among the units, such as nation-states (Kacowicz 531). The Shatter Dome, the common headquarters among the Jaeger teams, is a physical representation of regionalization. As Raleigh is guided through the Shatter Dome by Stacker Pentacost, the audience is given a visual representation of the integration of world views, resources, and goals.

SCENE: Meeting the Jaeger Pilots (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wz0N1ixGV6k)

REGIONALIZATION & HYBRIDIZATION

Regionalization can undermine tenets of globalization or expand it as a process via integration and hybridization. An interesting point of Pacific Rim is that some of the most compelling state-based processes of globalization – economic and political- aren’t explicitly addressed. By operating outside of a nation-state/politically-driven narrative, other forms of interdependence are strengthened. Cultural globalization, which is inherently driven by individuals and civil society rather than state structures, is rapidly intensified in the face of this extra-terrestrial threat. By placing Pacific Rim’s narrative at a level of threatened security, a collective human identity, framed in a sense of planetary boundaries rather national boundaries, is built once more from the pieces of a deconstructed world. The broken world of the impending apocalypse causes a global conscious to be built from its smallest pieces.

The defensive tactic is situated in a type of collective militarized globalization, while the film mediates universalism by placing narrative emphasis on the individual. The model mentioned before by Arie M. Kacowiczexplaining the interdependence between regionalization and globalization includes the examination of pluralistic security communities—communities made of plural nation-states banning together to protect common interests—via regional integration. According to Kacowicz,

“…the concept of pluralistic security communities is directly linked to the notion of integration. The study of regional integration is concerned with explaining how and why states voluntarily mingle, merge, and mix with their neighbors so as to lose several factual attributes of sovereignty.” (Kacowicz 541)

 

This model of integration can be applied to the relationships of nation-states and their Jaeger teams in Pacific Rim. People power, not state power, then becomes the mediator between regional and global interests, and the mechanism through which a global consciousness is perpetuated during the immediate crises of the narrative. The Jaeger program acts as an auxiliary to state systems and operates outside of individual sovereignties, which means that it might be more productive to recognize the ways in which cultural hybridization is present: the Jaeger pilot teams strengthen regional identity that is then extrapolated to represent a global consciousness for the new international system.

The Jaeger program is the result of an international “pool of resources” but operates outside of the nation-state system; as the nation-state system adapts to this extraterrestrial threat to security, a global civil society emerges to protect universal human interests, i.e. not being killed by aliens. The Jaeger program, as a non-nation state system regulated by the economies and military forces of the international nation-state network within the film, represents the people-driven mediation between regionalization and globalization; it links civil groups to state groups to form what Kacowicz refers to as a “network control gap” that works as a check-and-balance standard with which to mediate inequities between civil and political society (Kacowicz 540).When bureaucratic powers seek to end the Jaeger initiative in favor of a symbolically hegemonic defensive wall that lines the Pacific coastline and links the countries in a state-established public works project,the Jaeger initiative acts in discordance with the advisement of global leadersthereby checking the power of the nation-state system in favor of global security. This impulse is illustrated in the following scene:

American UN Representative: … The Jaegers are not the most viable line of defense anymore.

Stacker Pentecost: I am aware. Those are my rangers that die every time a Jaeger falls, which is why I’m asking you for one last chance…

British UN Representative: Excuse me, Marshall. Excuse me!

Stacker Pentecost: One final score with everything that we’ve got.

British UN Representative: Excuse me! The Jaeger program is dead, Marshall. On the other hand, the coastal wall program is a promising option.

American UN Representative: The world appreciates all that you and your men have done, but it’s over. We will authorize you to take all remaining Jaegers to the last battle station in Hong Kong. We’re prepared to fund you for the next eight months while the coastal wall is completed. After that, you will receive no further support.

Canadian UN Representative: You have our answer, Marshall.

[the TV monitors go black as the meeting ends]

Tendo Choi: So that’s it? It’s over?

Herc Hansen: Suits and ties and flashing smiles. That’s all they are, Stacker.

Stacker Pentecost: We don’t need them.

 

The undirected processes of individual volunteerism and civil society serve as the mechanism through which globalization is perpetuated despite the regionalism of the nation-state structure of the fictionalized United Nations.Rather than focusing on a single national identity, Pacific Rim focuses on the relationships created between the nations of the pacific and the dynamics of civil society as they areextrapolated from interpersonal relationships between the individual members of the Jaeger initiative. With these models of globalization in mind, let us examine the science fiction tropes exhibited in the production and world of Pacific Rim that speak to globalizing processes.

SCIENCE FICTION & GLOBALIZATION

According to George S. Elick in The Science Fiction Handbook, “Science fiction [increasingly called speculative fiction] is extremely imaginative literature” that is based on hard science, metaphysics, advancement of technology and deals with recurring motifs and themes: futurity, utopia, dystopia, space and time exploration, etc. The science fiction genre has been long known to synchronically and diachronically unite audiences throughout the world; the aesthetic language of science fiction is interpreted in multiple complementary ways through comics, film, television, and video games. In Pacific Rim, the conventions of science fiction and globalization overlap in an alien invasion that intensifies social relations through cultural and production processes.

The marks of cultural globalization in Guillermo Del Toro’s cinematic vision are exhibited in the production process, the pop culture influences on the film’s aesthetic, and most clearly in the interdependence between a multiracial, multinational, multitalented team of characters. The globalization of Pacific Rim is exhibited in a) the defensive battles between the extraterrestrial monster-aliens and human-piloted robots b) by the imagined visions of a near future that hybridize and expand current tech trends. The film serves a globalization allegory from the bottom up: the relationship between regionalization and globalization can be is exhibited in the interpersonal relationships between individual Jaeger pilots, the depiction of civil society in the world of Pacific Rim, and the dynamics of the alien invasion trope.

Science fiction has, over time, become less of a specific type of text and more of an “attitude” imagined through well-established ‘technoscientific’ vocabulary and imagery; it operates in the delineation of metaphorical borders and boundaries via universally recognizable conventions. Science fiction is a particular style that is consistently recognizable across cultural contexts. Similarly, cinematic conventions can be understood as an aesthetic language informed by the interactions between international film industry trends. Guillermo del Toro and his fellow film colleague, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, refer to film as the “Esperanto of film”—“the language of image, music, human bodies, human voices, and of course subtitles” (Barnard 209).”

Guillermo del Toro is a Mexican film director, screenwriter, producer and novelist who navigates between Spanish-language pieces and mainstream American movies that are acclaimed the world over. His strong connection to the timeless genre conventions of gothic, horror, and fantasy fiction reveal a globalizing consciousness in which del Toro and his collaborators attempt to highlight the globally connective medium of film. In an interview at San Diego Comic Con prior to Pacific Rim’s release, Del Toro acknowledges his interest in creating an international blockbuster film via casting and aesthetic choices: “I didn’t want it to be a single country saving the earth. … I wanted to have people from every race color creed possible to work as a unit (Weintraub).” Del Toro is an artist interested in celebrating the heterogeneity of film and art histories.

Pacific Rim takes place in an alternative universe where everything is the same—exactly the same, save for the introduction of an alien invasion. At the time of its release, 2013, the setting was in the near future, around 2017. By using a near future setting, world-time is explored, subverted and expanded in unique ways. According to Hugh Charles O’Connell in his exploration of Near Future Narratives in the British sf boom:

“The near future operates not only by making the present a historical past for the near future, but also by making the near future … a place where one can imagine futurity.” In other words, this setting allows us to envision a utopian future that is “structurally impossible in our present.” (O’Connell 69)

 

This means that the absorption of real-world issues into the realm of fantasy permits social problems to be examined carefully and resolved in unexpected ways. Monster-driven apocalypse cinema reveals the “fragility of industrial civilization as its infrastructure is rendered asunder (Stymeist 404).”Through physical destruction, ground is broken for the possibility of new social and political structures in light of the eradication of the old ones (ex: Godzilla). As the Pacific coastlines are destroyed, humankind concentrates itself in the safe haven of Hong Kong and the kaiju invasion serves as a setting for new social/culture structuresas old structures are eradicated.

Global science fiction, presents “alternative concepts of cosmopolitanism and planetarity (Cscicsery-Ronay475).”An underground and thriving market for the sale of kaiju body parts and memorabilia evolves while legal resources are limited (in a cafeteria scene, the father of the Australian Jaeger team informs Raleigh that because of the Jaeger initiatives’ connections they are able to obtain food unseen by common society). A new religion is established venerating the aliens as gods, and the anti-Kaiju wall that spans the boundaries of the Pacific coasts creates new economic opportunities and discourse previously unrealized in times of peace. It is in the symbolism of Kaiju and Jaeger that cultural globalization is kept in check. The Kaiju represent a hive-mind mentality and homogenization while humankind’s attempt to eradicate them reveals the celebration of individualism and multiplicity. The Kaiju reveals that which is in our capacity to make us monstrous, and the rapid advancement of technology serves as the mediator to better humanity’s collective interest of not being destroyed by aliens.

THE DRIFT: HUMAN IDENTITY & GLOBAL CONSCIOUSNESS

The Jaeger teams and their interactions, in turn, represent the complications of regionalization as a process of globalization. These complications are ultimately reconciled in the final triumph over the Kaiju. Before Raleigh and Mako team up, each Jaeger is piloted by partners who share the same biology and therefore, nationality. Yancy, Raleigh’s late older brother, warns Raleigh of arrogance at the beginning of the film before the firstfilm battle with a Kaiju. Raleigh’s arrogance is a pointed interrogation ofthe attitude of American exceptionalism that ultimately contributes to the downfall of Gipsy Danger in the first kaiju battle of the film. Later in the film, Raleigh enters the Shatter Dome for the first time and is introduced to the last standing Jaegers. The Chinese Jaeger, Crimson Typhoon, is piloted by a team of identical tripletsand represent a type of individualistic thinking that’s too frenetic, as exhibited by the triplets’ fighting style, that also later proves to be unsustainable. The Russian Jaeger team, Cherno Alpha, is tough and authoritative yet represents a type of framework that operates too far outside the regional interests: Stacker Pentacost quips to Raleigh that the “Russians can get anything” despite the world’s diminishing resources. The father-son Australian team, Herc and Chuck Hansen pilot the newest and most technologically advanced of the Jaeger robots. This Jaeger is framed as being the ultimate savior in the alien invasion, but Chuck’s inability to cooperate with the international team causes his father injury and Chuck must learn to adapt outside of his own nationalist identity.Ultimately, the limited interests of each Jaeger team fails them individually while the integration of world views via the “neural handshake” and the interchange of Jaeger pilots between Jaeger bots saves the world from imminent doom.

The remaining ‘ethnic or culture differences’ are “residual practices and symbols used for local political power within a worldwide system of electronic world-representation” (Cscicsery-Ronay). These “residual practices and symbols” are engulfed and assimilated through the“neural bridge” used to control the Jaeger bot and connect the minds of Jaeger pilots. Individualidentities are hybridized to create a single consciousness in“the drift” (the film’s term for the connection), the most important physical mechanism to control the larger-than-life robots. Raleigh explains to Mako: “You have to let go of the memories, just be in the ‘now’.” To work as a Jaeger pilot, one abandons their past compulsions and brings only their best mental and physical assets into the drift.

“The drift” is a technological space that destabilizes identity in order to create a neurological system that is powerful enough to combat the decay and destruction exhibited by the Kaiju. The human identity is broken and shattered to make a more productive version of itself: cultural hybridity and integration depend upon the destabilization of constancy (Cscicsery-Ronay 479). When Raleigh and Mako first enter the Jaeger as co-pilots, Mako’s inexperience leads her toward introspection which is experienced physically thanks to the technology of the Jaeger bot. Mako’s mind takes her to a familiar memory: the death of her parents and her first fearful encounter with a Kaiju. While it is implied that this is a memory to which Mako returns to on a consistent basis, that perpetual return to this traumatic event serves her negatively until Raleigh enters the memory and physically pulls her from the dreamlike state. The integration of Raleigh’s conscious self with Mako’s unconscious self destabilizes the constant chaos held in this formative memory, allowing Mako to confront the trauma and become one with Raleigh and the Jaeger bot and thereby returning her to a heightened state of awareness that allows her to more fully combat the Kaiju.

CLIP: Pacific Rim ‘The Drift’ Featurette (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VYA1OW2SkE)

After the destabilization of identity, the last standing Jaeger pilots then represent the best the world has still to offer in humanity’s last security efforts. In Pacific Rim, no single country is responsible for the security of the planet, and the Jaeger initiative only finds success in the creation of a multiracial, multinational crew that overturns the paradigm of biological/national affinity and proves the value of individual, voluntary association based collaboration for the mutual benefit. The final Jaeger teams consist of a multinational, multicultural team representing a hybridization of identities to create a single global identity: Stacker Pentecost, a black British lieutenant pilots Stryker Eureka with the white Australian Chuck Hansen; and white American Raleigh Beckett pilots Gipsy Danger with Japanese national Mako Mori. This consciousness is evident in Stacker Pentecost’s rallying speech before the final Jaeger-Kaiju battle.

Today. Today… at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves, but in each other. Today there is not a man nor woman in here that shall stand alone. Not today. Today we face the monsters that are at our door, and bring the fight to them. Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!

 

Rather than representing their respective countries, by sharing mental facilities in the drift and destabilizing preconceived notions of individuality, the Jaeger pilots represent the success of global consciousness and regionalized processes in protecting humanity’s self-interests.

CONCLUSION

The Jaeger pilots of Pacific Rim do not shed their individuality to appease an unstoppable hegemonic globalizing impulse, but rather a global community with universal desires and collective behaviors is created by hybridizing skills, labor, and resources. Theinterconnectivity of the “best” of available individual and national intersectional identities previously separated by boundaries creates a system that is used ‘cancel the apocalypse.’ The Jaeger pilots represent the unpredictability of populations/civil societies and it is in the reconciliation of duty/obedience to nation-state systems and the humanistic compulsion of “doing the right thing” that Pacific Rim exhibits the transformative powers of regionalization as mechanism of globalization. According to Kacowicz, regionalization and globalization operate in co-existence and neither system can fully replace the other (Kacowicz 552). However, by examining the convergence, divergence, and integration of these processes and recognizing the different “types” and “shapes” of globalization rather than a single, linear model, we can see how globalization can spread through the voluntary action of individuals within their respective civil communities.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Barnard, Rita. “Fictions of the Global.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 42.2 (2009): 207-215. Web.

Cscicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. “What Do We Mean When We Say “Global Science Fiction”? Reflections on a New Nexus.” Science Fiction Studies 39.3 (Nov. 2012): 478-93. JSTOR. SF-TH Inc. Web.

Kacowicz, Arie M. “Regionalization, Globalization, and Nationalism: Convergent, Divergent, or Overlapping?” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 24.4 (Oct-Dec. 1999): 527-555 JSTOR. Sage Publications, Inc. Oct-Dec. 1999.Web. 14 Mar. 2015.

Pacific Rim. Dir. Guillermo Del Toro. Screenplay by Travis Beacham. Perf. Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, and Ron Perlman. Distributed by Sony Classical, 2013. DVD.

“science fiction, n. and adj.” Def. 3. OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2015. Web. 4 April 2015.

Steger, Manfred B. Globalization a Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

O’Connell, Hugh Charles. “The Boom’s Near Future: Postnational Ill-Fantasy, or Literature Under the Sign of Crisis.” CR: The New Centennial Review 13.2 (2013): 67-100. Project MUSE. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

Weintraub, Steve. “Guillermo Del Toro Explains Why He Put Together an International Cast for PACIFIC RIM; Talks About the Film’s Monsters, Robots, and Massive Battles.” Collider. 01 Aug. 2012. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.