Ramblings on Pacific Rim, Ender's Game, and the Transnational

July 29, 2013 at 2:03am

I went back home over the weekend having owed my friends movie time for a while. After an interesting day of missing showtimes at various theatres, we finally found ourselves experiencing Pacific Rim. It was great. It was a breath of fresh air. It was what I needed. Now I need to ramble.


Pacific Rim was purely, lightheartedly enjoyable. I loved the anime-like, fairy tale aesthetic and playfully dramatic soundtrack. I know the exact moment I realized how amazing the movie really was: when Mako declares that Gipsy Danger has one hidden resort and selects the sword from a panel seemingly out of nowhere. The sword protracts, the camera angle cartoonish, and as it locks into a rigid blade actually gleams. With the utmost gravity, Mako declares, "For my family." The dramatically triumphant musical cue begins. This is the film telling you not to think about it; only to sit back, relax, and have an amazing time. And that's what we did.


So much detail went into the creation of the film - and none of it was wasted. I'm sort of culturally/generationally removed from the whole kaiju/mecha movie shindig, but I know passion when I see it. Enough development was given to the major characters - Jaegers, pilots, crew, even Kaijus - that not only was a masterful mythology constructed and the world of the story fleshed out, but the pace of the story achieved a balance of explaining things enough while not dwelling on one thing to the point of tiresomeness. It's a testament to the movie that the characters were memorable afterward.

The thematic exploration of love felt very honest. The Drift, a major plot device, is about a trust that is complete, unconditional, unyielding. Letting someone into your memories is a severe blurring of boundaries. The development of Becket and Mori as drift compatible has some very cute scenes ("that's my room"), some emotionally and physically intense ones (training fight, "apologize to her" fight). But one thing stuck with me as I was thinking about the movie afterward; while the emotional character development is there, the characters never kiss. At the end of the film when their foreheads are pressed together, as moviegoers we're almost expecting it. Then they don't. I believe it's a good thing that the film can throw me for a loop in its final moments. It somehow has more impact that they only stare into each others' eyes with understanding.


Another thing that will throw audiences for a loop in a good way is the film's handling of the transnational. While aesthetically, the Japanese influence is very obvious, the worldbuilding is relatively culturally fair. One thing that our beloved Firefly never handled well is the conspicuous lack of Asians in a supposedly half-Chinese world. My friend was impressed by how Japanese was the primary language used to evacuate a room in an emergency. That small detail made the movie better for her. I appreciate details like that. A major premise of the story is that national differences were put aside to confront an alien threat. And it worked. I'm not sure if that premise (used in other works like Watchmen and Ender's Game), is pragmatic or hopeful, but as it stands depicted, I was sold on the idea that the world of Pacific Rim, especially the Shatterdome, was to an extent a successful cultural intersection. In Ender's Game, the International Fleet's IF-common language (later Stark, or Starways-common) is basically English with some international linguistic fixes thrown in. However, I suppose you still ended up with places like Path in Children of the Mind, which was at least an emotionally rousing if stereotypical representation of Asian people.

Ender Wiggin

I find the Ender's Game series extremely difficult to write about. I read the (then 8) books of the Ender and Shadow sagas when I was pretty young, and then Ender in Exile as it came out. I grew up with Ender. I was his age when he made the fateful decision to eradicate the Formics. I was his age when he struggled to shape his life after the Battle School took his innocence. The series means a lot to me. There's a lot of controversy surrounding the movie and the author's views, and after a lot of thought and reasoning that I won't explore in writing, I deal with it by separating the art from the artist.

I observed a lot of parallels between Ender's Game and Pacific Rim, both superficial and thematic. Of course, Earth unites across geopolitical lines against an alien threat. But the big takeaway present in both stories is that victory requires empathy. Ender was (tragically) effective because he knew that to defeat the enemy, he had to truly understand the enemy. Only when he loved his enemy could he find it in himself to destroy them. The killing stroke to the Kaiju invasion is delivered when Newt drifts with a Kaiju brain and opens himself up to the enemy. By understanding them, he discovered how to defeat them. Ender also knew that there is no victory without complete victory. He beat Stilson, Bonzo, the Hive Queen with finality - if he didn't, they would keep coming back and never ever stop. Fighting back Kaijus one at a time did nobody any good; they had to close the portal for the war ever to stop, for humanity to be left alone.

There's a lot more I could say about Ender, but you'll have to catch me in conversation. It gets a little personal.

I Like Stories that Make Me Feel Good

I guess the takeaway from all of this is that I really needed a feel-good movie with a fresh take on old themes, an original plot, and some great worldbuilding. I found that in Pacific Rim. I recommend listening to the soundtrack and feeling amazing, like elbow-rocket-fist-punching some monsters.