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Job and the Monsters: A review of Pacific Rim

August 14, 2013 One Comment

Job and the Monsters

by Ted Giese

Pacific Rim is not a dumb action film. It’s visually sophisticated, complex and—if you like epic sci-fi—it could be the best fun you’ll have in theatre this summer. There’s more to this film than watching giant robots battle giant monsters. As it presents a world where ingenuity and humanity is more powerful than brute strength, Pacific Rim focuses in on themes of cooperation and relying on each other in times of trouble. With this emphasis on human resourcefulness, there doesn’t appear to be a spiritual core to the film. But is this true? What spiritual ideas might be buried under all that hulking armour and monstrous flesh?

Man vs. Monster

Building on an almost 50-year cultural fascination with the concept of piloted massive robots, Guillermo del Toro has created a vivid live-action mecha anime film unlike any other.  Sometime in the future, the ocean develops an unexpected rift along the Pacific Rim. The rift is a worm hole between dimensions. Through the rift, Kaiju (Godzilla-like monsters) rise up from the deep to attack the world.

After conventional munitions prove insufficient, humanity sets aside long held differences to build giant mechanized war machines called “Jaegers.” Hundreds of engineers, technicians, programmers, and mechanics service every massive Jaeger.  Each machine is operated by two pilots (teams are necessary to avoid the mental strain of piloting such a gigantic mecha alone). With these new weapons, humanity strikes out against its massive, inter-dimensional enemy, hoping to bring the battle to the creatures before they make landfall.

With such technology, it’s understandable that the film’s characters have some confidence in defeating the monsters. Early on in the movie, Raleigh Becket reflects in a voiceover that “there are things you can’t fight: Acts of God. You see a hurricane coming, you get out of the way. But when you’re in a Jaeger, you can finally fight the hurricane. You can win.”

Ironically, this comment comes just before Raleigh and his brother battle a Kaiju only to lose brutally. His brother dies, their Jaeger is destroyed, and Raleigh is left to work a civilian construction job.

Kaiju and Leviathan

The Kaiju represent Pacific Rim’s most profound Biblical allusion: the Bible’s “strange beasts”—the Behemoth and the Leviathan, creatures invoked when “the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to Me.” Of Leviathan, He asks Job:

Leviathan

Gustave Dore’s “Destruction of Leviathan.”

“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook? Will he make many pleas to you? Will he speak to you soft words? Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant forever? Will you play with him as with a bird, or will you put him on a leash for your girls? Will traders bargain over him? Will they divide him up among the merchants? Can you fill his skin with harpoons or his head with fishing spears? Lay your hands on him; remember the battle—you will not do it again! Behold, the hope of a man is false; he is laid low even at the sight of [Leviathan]. No one is so fierce that he dares to stir [Leviathan] up. Who then is he who can stand before Me?” (Job 41:1-10).

The Kaiju of Pacific Rim will not be led around on a leash; they are every inch the biblical Leviathan, and the fight against them in del Toro’s film is won not by technological advancement as much as by the human spirit. The Kaiju are presented as the opposite of humanity—living nightmares of irrational disaster.

Unlike Scripture’s Leviathan, the Kaiju are not understood to be part of God’s creation; the idea that there is a God at all is largely dismissed in Pacific Rim. When Raleigh talks about the Kaiju, referring to them as something like an ‘act of God,’ the language is more akin to what you read in an insurance policy. Within the film’s narrative there is no sense that God is asking questions through the Kaiju, unlike God’s questioning of Job where Leviathan is used an illustration.

The viewer may be left to wonder if Director del Toro intended the Kaiju to be a biblical allusion to Leviathan. If it is, perhaps he is intending to answer God’s question on Job’s behalf: Yes, humanity can battle and defeat the monster Leviathan. If not, the Kaiju still can’t avoid being compared to the biblical Leviathan. Perhaps the pop culture of our day is still freighted with enough Christian capital that such comparisons are inescapable.

“We can do it!”

With its focus on self-consciousness, self-reliance, and co-operation—where refuge is found in man and human community rather than the divine—Pacific Rim is the embodiment of many Modern ideas about science and technology. The work of humankind in the face of the natural world and the challenges presented by our surroundings is unspiritual at best and at worst a purposeful rejection of the divine. At one point a military leader gives a rousing speech saying, “Today at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen to believe in each other. Today we face the monsters that are at our door. Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!” This could be an early 20th century mantra: “With our own self-consciousness we have chosen to believe in each other and we, not God, will determine when and how the story of humanity will come to a conclusion.”

This could be an early 20th century mantra: “With our own self-consciousness we have chosen to believe in each other and we, not God, will determine when and how the story of humanity will come to a conclusion.”

The speech answers brashly the question God asks Job in the Old Testament—“If you can’t even deal with Leviathan how do you expect to deal with Me?” In Scripture, Jesus says it’s God the Father who determines when and how the apocalypse will occur (Mark 13:32); in Pacific Rim man cancels the apocalypse.

Much of contemporary film culture follows the idea that life is fractured, truth is unknowable, and everything is relative to everything else. Because of this, many current films lack a concrete sense of optimism or hope. Pacific Rim is not lacking in hope or optimism—mainly because it embraces self-reliance and co-operation as the answer to troubles. As refreshing as this optimism can be in a world seemingly devoid of optimism, the Christian view may ask: When faced with the hurricanes and the monsters of life, where ought Christians to put their hope—in humankind’s self-guided ingenuity and civic virtue, or in the “things above” (Colossians 3:1-4)?

Although God is largely missing in Pacific Rim, there is a throwaway line about how some people think God sent the Kaiju to punish humanity for its sins. This thought seems connected to the Book of Job as well. God having a hand in destruction and retribution is a thought that comes up early in the book when Job confesses this hard truth “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10).

Within Pacific Rim, the scientists discussing this notion of divine vengeance quickly dismiss the idea as foolishness. With the dismissal of this line of questioning, the reason for the calamity of the Kaiju is left largely unconsidered and the bulk of the story centres on dealing with the monsters without really asking why the Kaiju are there in the first place. For the main characters in the story, God has nothing to do with it—there really is no God to speak of in the first place. Humans must rely on each other and everything else is counterproductive.

Many Parts of One Body

A Jaeger from Pacific RIm.

A Jaeger from Pacific RIm.

While the concept of humanity’s shared war against the Kaiju is depicted in an unspiritual way there are some things that will remind the Christian of Scripture in a positive way. The Jaegers are entirely manmade instruments only operational due to the involvement of many people. This echoes the concept of the body of Christ: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-6).

St. Paul teaches that Jesus is the head of the body of Christ. In Pacific Rim, the head of the body is operated by two pilots who are themselves only human. Yet they share each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and share each other’s sufferings (2 Timothy 2:3-6), as do brothers and sisters in Christ. Christians do this in living lives of mercy in communion with God and each other; in Pacific Rim, the pilots are technologically joined in a kind of mental handshake that shares memories and experiences. The film presents this as being easier to accomplish for family member—father/son teams or teams of brothers. The storyline uses this closeness to develop the idea that it is humanity’s ability to work together which makes the difference.

Good or Great Movie?

Less frustrating than Man of Steel, Pacific Rim is fun in the way Star Trek into Darkness was fun. Within minutes the film pulls you into a unique world and then time zips by. When most of 2013’s summer films have faded away Pacific Rim will likely still be going strong. Its worldview is interesting to encounter even if it’s just as unfriendly to Christianity as Post-Modernism. Christian viewers will know that “it is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118:8-9). In this scenario, it’s still better to take refuge in the LORD than in Jaegers, no matter how cool a giant duel-piloted robot would be. Still, creatively speaking Pacific Rim is solid and some of the best film fun available this summer.

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Rev. Ted Giese is associate pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Regina. He reviews movies for both The Canadian Lutheran and Issues, Etc. Starting in September, he will be conducting a free online course on Christianity and the Movies for Concordia Lutheran Seminary (see here for more details).