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Before | After

Some of you know that Pacific Rim has completely eaten my fannish brain. A lot of that doesn't surprise me -- I mean, Idris Elba and Max Martini. In a movie together. Being BFFs and slashy. Plus there are giant robots piloted by hotass people punching out giant monsters. Even with all my big issues about certain aspects of the movie, I still have become a huge fan of it, and the more I think about it, the more I realize it's about relationships, first, and heroics, second; surprisingly, this is the first media creation I've ever seen that comes close to portraying what it has felt like for me to have lost my twin sister, and to try to carry on without her.



There have been a few good posts I've seen floating around about how even though he's a young white male, Charlie Hunnam's Raleigh Beckett isn't really the typical young white male lead at all -- that he listens, cares, helps other people in a way you don't usually see a lead do in this kind of movie. That relates a bit to what I want to talk about -- Raleigh's loss of his brother Yancy, and what it must be like for all the Rangers who drift together and share so much in the mental space they inhabit once neurally linked.

When we first see him, Raleigh's so excited about the chance to kick kaiju ass. They are clearly in a barracks or bunker of some kind, and we know this is life during wartime. They establish the relationship that Raleigh's the young puppy and Yancy is the older, more grounded brother. But they both disobey a direct order from Stacker Pentecost about saving the fishing boat, and that may be partly what gets Yancy killed by the kaiju and nearly kills Raleigh. The first time I saw this, I felt a really surprising sadness, but the second time I saw it, I actually cried at the scene where Raleigh brings the crippled Jaeger to the shore and collapses.

Growing up as a twin is sometimes a really weird thing -- just as I have no idea what it's like to be a single-birth person, most people don't understand what it's like to be a twin. They have a lot of media-fed ideas: that we all are mind-melded, that we can have, like, private languages or communicate with each other telepathically, that we marry partners who are exactly the same as our twin's partner, and so on. It's always kind of driven me nuts, because twins are a diverse group and not all of us are soul-bonded with our twin, you know?

However, the connection we have is undeniable, and it is usually a lot more intense than for normal siblings. You do grow up realizing that a lot of who you are is pretty much the same as who your twin is. Some of us like that, and some of us don't. But when you lose your twin, it's ... undescribably painful. It feels like you have had some of yourself ripped away. One of the most common problems twins who've lost their sibling experience is not knowing who they are anymore -- am I still a twin? Am I the person I always thought I was? When my sister died, a lot of my own character changed dramatically, and it took me many years to realize that some of those changes were because that aspect of my personality was found in my sister, and she was gone...and so was that part of me. Most of us deal with a horrible depression after we lose our twin; I met many twins afterward who thought constantly of suicide, and I admit I think about it a lot too. Our pictures of the future are changed drastically and we have a hard time integrating our new status into our expectations for the future.

All of that shows in the way Raleigh changes after he loses his brother. Because they were connected in the drift, they shared more of themselves than any normal brothers would. They know each other's feelings, thoughts, and they're bonded in a really unusual way. Having Yancy torn from him when he was in Raleigh's mind would be unspeakably cruel. It would be that way with any pilot torn from his or her co-pilot in the drift, but the fact of them being related and already loving and admiring and respecting each other would increase the horror of his loss exponentially.

The movie did this unbelievably well. I felt all the shock and pain of losing my sister in the scene where he stumbles onto land in Alaska. It was agonizing. And I really didn't expect to find that in a monster movie, not at all. So much of the criticism of the movie centers on the cardboard characters and crappy dialog; I really disagree with this, because cardboard characters do not evoke such an intense response from an audience member. Raleigh stumbles through his life afterward, working on the wall, clearly not with any focus, and he's probably had a lot of time to try to move beyond the incredible suffering having his brother ripped away from him would bring about. But he doesn't seem all that healed when Stacker asks him to come back, and the movie does a damn good job of showing why he doesn't want to have that kind of pain again.

When he gets to the Hong Kong shatterdome, you can see him instantly connect to Mako -- he doesn't get annoyed when she critically assesses his character; instead he tells her that combat is different, and you can't make assumptions. You can see the pain that's still in him when he explains that, probably remembering their decision to try to save the fishing boat, but rather than being your typical man-pain-having character who acts out with macho posturing or sarcastic humor, Raleigh deals with it by getting back in the saddle, by connecting to Mako, by trying to help humanity make one last stand against the kaiju.

It's already an incredibly heroic and selfless act to be a Ranger and fight kaiju -- all of those teams in the shatterdome are badasses, and you'd have to be to do such a crazy job. But for Raleigh to take that chance and face that kind of unspeakable loss again once he's back in a Jaeger is beyond heroic. And he's nothing like any other guy we see in these kinds of things -- he talks about his pain to Stacker in Alaska, and is clearly completely besotted with Mako, not in a romantic way, but in a way that speaks to his need for connecting to someone. He sees someone who clearly is going to get it -- she's had her own losses, and Raleigh can spot that a mile away. Pain recognizes pain.

This affected me way more strongly than I expected. Especially because it's Raleigh's pain that puts Mako and everyone else in danger during their trial run -- his memories of Yancy being ripped from him are what makes the connection falter, and then Mako begins chasing the RABIT. One of the things I heard often from the partners of "twinless twins" in support groups was that they knew that as much as they mattered to their loved one, they could never have the connection that they'd had with their twin -- even some of the kids seemed to say that they knew their own parent loved them more than almost anything in the world, but that nothing would ever compare to how they felt about their twin.

Nothing's ever going to replace Yancy for Raleigh. As connected as he'll be to Mako, it's still going to be different. But what a risk he takes, anyway -- knowing just how terrible it can be, yet still willing to jump into the neural handshake with someone anyway. His support of her never wavers, even after the disaster with the trial run. He's not a silent, square-jawed, shoot 'em up kind of guy; he's caring and supportive and desperate to connect to someone.

As well, the Hansens have a unique connection because they're father and son. I've seen a lot of people write about how Chuck's so fucked up because he sees his dad boinking his mom all the time in the drift, but honestly, I don't believe that's what happens. It's really clear that the drift is fragments and feelings -- we see it more than a few times. The only long, clear memory we see in the drift is Mako's, and that's only once she chases the RABIT. Herc's been piloting Jaegers since the very beginning of the program, and has probably drifted with many different people. before pairing with his son. He's going to be controlled enough that he won't bring traumatizing things into the drift; Stacker says at the end that "he brings nothing into the drift" and we have no reason to believe that Herc isn't capable of the same thing. Herc, on the other hand, probably gets more than his fair share of Chuck's resentment for not saving his mom (this comes from the novelization, I guess), or flashes of traumatizing memories from his childhood in a world ravaged by war with genocidal alien monsters.

Losing a kid would be horrible enough, but imagine the kind of pain Herc has to endure at the end of the movie -- the son he has connected with over and over, mind-melded with, not to mention losing his best friend. I have this vision of the universe where later, Raleigh and Herc grow really close, sharing their pain, helping each other heal. One of the things that has always been hardest for me in handling my sister's death is that very few people want to hear about it, and even vanishingly fewer can even begin to grasp what I feel. It's hard to explain when you're sort of entwined with another person's soul what that feels like to lose it. The loss that Raleigh has had to endure alone, and that Herc has just had at the end of the movie, were incredibly on point for me. I had no expectation that I would see something like that in an action blockbuster summer movie.

That's what makes me so angry and disappointed about the dialog around the movie. It's got an intense emotional core, all these people dealing with loss and uncertainty and soul-crushing pain. To just dismiss it is to ignore how much Raleigh and Stacker and Herc and the others have sacrificed. I was actually glad that at least the Wei triplets went together, because I couldn't bear to think of them losing one of their siblings. And what would it be like for a married couple, like the Kaidonovskys in Cherno Alpha? Talk about an intense riff on the idea of soul mates in a marriage.

I don't usually get that teary at movies, certainly not at big action flicks. But this is probably the first time I've ever seen anyone approach just how emotionally intense it is to bond with someone far beyond our normal capabilities, and to lose them. For me, Raleigh is a true hero not because he's a young white American male, but because he has faced unspeakable loss and rebounded to save the world in spite of it all. And that he championed the one person he knew could help him do that, a character who would usually be relegated to the background girlfriend who needed to be rescued role. Mako is the one who rescues Raleigh in the end, and by drifting together, they save the world.

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batwrangler
Jul. 31st, 2013 05:10 am (UTC)
This movie was doing an amazing amount of stuff visually and emotionally (which makes the stuff it missed really sting -- I'm hoping for an extended cut that shows us more about the other teams). This is a very interesting take on it. I'm still sorry about your sister and how hard it is to process grief in our culture. *hugs*
gwyn_r
Jul. 31st, 2013 09:10 pm (UTC)
I actually kind of want to...write a letter to del Toro and tell him that there are all these amazing thinky posts coming out from people who recognize how good the movie is, and that just because it didn't do well here doesn't mean he didn't connect to his audience. I wonder how you do something like that?
liviapenn
Jul. 31st, 2013 01:20 pm (UTC)
It sounds kind of awkward to say "I really liked this post" but I do, I love all your thoughts about Raleigh and heroism and Herc & Chuck and everything.

he doesn't get annoyed when she critically assesses his character; instead he tells her that combat is different, and you can't make assumptions.

I loved this! It's so similar to things we've seen before, where someone (usually a woman) dares to criticise the action hero for being reckless or violent or whatever, and the hero is like "You have NO idea what you're talking about, how dare you judge," and then later, the critic admits that the hero is right and his methods should never questioned. But instead, Raleigh does the total opposite and is like "Wow. You have a solid point." And even better, he already has total faith that Mako WILL be an awesome Jaeger pilot someday, as opposed to reacting like, "Whatever, you'll never understand."

... I really wonder if the whole "this movie was badly written" thing is coming from people who just didn't realize that there were a *lot* of these sort of cliched situations but... tipped on their side, *without* the annoying hero-centric story deformation we're all used to (where everyone who criticises the hero is evil or misguided) and then also just... presenting them in a very warm, human *real* sort of way. (Guillermo del Toro has a thing for this kind of hero-- your post actually got me thinking about his adaptation of Hellboy, and how he's sorta similar to Raleigh, in that they're both kind of gentle and emotionally vulnerable in a way you wouldn't expect.)

Uh, but anyway. Like, I've seen some criticism that the movie is badly written because it "loses track" of Raleigh's story and I'm just like, no. I get it, you're confused because the movie didn't do that thing where Everything Is All About The Young White Dude. They didn't *need* to have it be all about him, because Raleigh's story comes across perfectly well-- it just isn't the ONLY story in the movie. And ironically, that's what makes Raleigh such a great, likable hero, is that he's allowed to be one, I don't know... naturally? Like, the movie doesn't squish everyone else down in order to make Raleigh look good. You know?

(Also, this movie has a simpler and tighter *plot* than any summer blockbuster or action film that I've seen in ages. The humans have a plan, their plan encounters a setback, they overcome that and move forward, the "drift with the kaiju" subplot converges with the main "bomb the breach closed" plot just in time to add more tension difficulty to the final battle-- like, this is an ACTUAL PLOT, one you could sit down and diagram, not a "run everywhere, explode everything" spectacle.)

I've seen a lot of people write about how Chuck's so fucked up because he sees his dad boinking his mom all the time in the drift, but honestly, I don't believe that's what happens.

Yeah, Chuck is not *super* interesting to me but I wish the people who *are* interested in him would actually be like, "Wait, he is in his early 20s and he's been piloting a Jaeger for 10+ years?" This war has been his whole life. It's defined him. And now the whole world thinks Jaegers are useless and nothing he's done means ANYTHING and he's completely helpless to stop it! That's so much more interesting to me than "daddy issues."
liviapenn
Jul. 31st, 2013 01:20 pm (UTC)

I was actually glad that at least the Wei triplets went together, because I couldn't bear to think of them losing one of their siblings.

I was thinking about that briefly, like "Wouldn't it make more sense to build a regular two-man Jaeger? Then if one guy breaks his arm you can rotate the third guy in and you're still fine?" But then I realized there's really no point to that, because Raleigh surviving (and later, Herc and Chuck both surviving despite Herc's broken arm) are basically total freak happenstances that wouldn't have happened in normal Jaeger/kaiju fights. Like, if one person was that badly injured in a kaiju fight, probably both pilots would die. So it totally makes sense for the Wei Tangs to go together, because there's no advantage to one guy staying behind, but together they have the advantage of three arms. And they probably wouldn't *want* to send two out and have one stay behind anyway, especially being triplets and especially after drifting together.
gwyn_r
Jul. 31st, 2013 11:28 pm (UTC)
and then later, the critic admits that the hero is right and his methods should never questioned.

Yes, yes, this a thousand times. I hate this. I was so happy when he responded so mildly, so calmly, and recognizes that she *sees* him even though she really only knows him on paper.

I really wonder if the whole "this movie was badly written" thing is coming from people who just didn't realize that there were a *lot* of these sort of cliched situations but... tipped on their side, *without* the annoying hero-centric story deformation we're all used to (where everyone who criticises the hero is evil or misguided) and then also just... presenting them in a very warm, human *real* sort of way. (Guillermo del Toro has a thing for this kind of hero-- your post actually got me thinking about his adaptation of Hellboy, and how he's sorta similar to Raleigh, in that they're both kind of gentle and emotionally vulnerable in a way you wouldn't expect.)

I think this is the best way of putting I've seen yet...this idea of tipping everything on its side. Because man, you could just make a huge list of all the standard Hollywood action movie points it knocks down. ANd I don't think most people can even understand it, at least, not the kinds of people in middle America who think the shit that we are fed all the time in theatres is great stuff. And yeah, that was one of the things I loved about Hellboy -- how accepting and sweet Red is in his own way. The scenes in the first movie with Selma Blair still kill me -- the way he loved her so much, but respected her need to deal with her problems. Ugh, I have so many Hellboy feels.

Yeah, Chuck is not *super* interesting to me but I wish the people who *are* interested in him would actually be like, "Wait, he is in his early 20s and he's been piloting a Jaeger for 10+ years?" This war has been his whole life.

Yeah, Chuck is only interesting to me because he's Herc's son and I loooooooove Herc, and I think the bad attitiude he had for Raleigh was not well done, but this is a kid whose dad had to make a decision to save his life or his mum's, and that's a whole lotta weight to carry for a kid. Then you throw in the fact that his dad raised him in the Jaeger program, and you can see that he doesn't have a much knowledge of the way the world works. He's the son of a rock star, then he's a rock star, and he's suddenly thrust into a situation where the world's ending and they're it. I would probably lash out at someone I thought might have helped put me there.

But I also keep coming back to him and Herc taking those flare guns. What a couple of badass motherfuckers, to go stand in front of that kaiju and shoot flares into his face. I was like, go Chuck, you do stupid things with your daddy and show the world what kind of heroes you really are. Augh, I have such feelings for them now!

ann1962
Jul. 31st, 2013 07:14 pm (UTC)
I had no idea this movie had these themes. No review I've seen has touched on anything the way you describe it.

Now I actually want to see this movie. And hugs!
gwyn_r
Jul. 31st, 2013 11:33 pm (UTC)
I really, really loved this movie, enough that some of the things that would normally make me angry don't make me angry. It's really, truly, the most emotional movie I've seen this year. I was genuinely shocked at how much I felt afterwards, and even the friend I saw it with, who's kind of a robot himself and not prone to emotions, immediately wanted to see it again and let me talk for hours afterward about the characters and their emotional arcs.

I think there might be some things in there that could be hard for you, in the same way some of the stuff was really difficult for me to cope with. But at the same time, there's stuff that's so uplifting that it helps you overcome it.
ann1962
Oct. 13th, 2013 03:08 am (UTC)
I finally got to see this movie. On viooz.co. I can't believe more people didn't see the depth that was there. Thanks for this review. I doubt I would have wanted to see it as much without it.

It's like a shadow movie took place behind the movie. Godzillaesque movie on the surface, and real emotion tugging underneath. Interesting stuff. Not sure the breach ever really seals though. Just changes. Thank you.
gwyn_r
Oct. 13th, 2013 06:23 am (UTC)
A shadow movie -- yes, that's it exactly. I just...gah. I have so many feels for it. I can't stop writing fic for it, and I haven't been able to write for years.
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