What Makes a Monster?

Technology at its best and worst in Pacific Rim and the world today

pacific-rimIn Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, we see the world attacked by alien creatures called the kaiju (Japanese for “giant monsters”), which arrive through an interdimensional portal in the Pacific Ocean. In response to the kaiju assault, humanity responds by banding together internationally and inventing the jaegers, giant robots named after the German word for “hunter.” As protagonist Raleigh Becket admits in the movie, “to fight monsters, we created monsters.”

Why this classification, though? What is it that makes the jaegers just as monstrous as the creatures they were built to destroy? It appears that their danger lies in the way they appear to represent technology out of control. In the first few minutes of the film, it is revealed that early jaegers were intended to be piloted by only one human, but people were injured and possibly even killed by the process that linked them to the machines, thus leading to the invention of a two pilot system. But even this was risky, we learn, because it involved a practice known as “the drift,” by which the two pilots would link their thoughts, and essentially be inside each other’s minds. This could prove deadly to the pilots or to those around them if, for example, one pilot were lost in battle or could not control his or her thoughts. In short, the jaegers are presented as a risky technological move, one that humanity took only because of the need to combat a greater threat.

In Pacific Rim, technology trumps nature — and it’s not the first time we’ve seen this theme in one form or another in this summer’s movies. The Lone Ranger hung under the threat of “nature out of balance” because of the corrupt advent of the railroad. Iron Man 3 showcased conflict between technological advances and human willpower and ingenuity. Even movies aimed at younger audiences, like the computer-animated Epic, touched on the need to preserve nature from the march of progress.

In movies like these, we can see where technology and progress can be viewed as scary things, as though they represent the world beginning to spin out of control. Perhaps, in scenarios like Pacific Rim’s particular apocalypse, it would seem that the world has gotten too big for humanity to control, so to speak, and the only response is to build something that can deal with such a situation. Technology can also be viewed as a vehicle for greed, a representation of the culture of waste that Pope Francis recently warned against.

Pacific Rim’s black market dealer Hannibal Chau certainly seems to embody this, caring more about the kaiju organs that he can collect and sell than for the fate of the people around him. There are reflections of this, too, to be seen in our own lives, particularly as technology has come to be equated in the modern world with the many gadgets available on the market. How often do we find ourselves feeling like we “need” the newest iPod, cell phone, computer, or anything of the sort simply because it’s the latest thing to hit shelves? How often do we weigh what we have against what we want, or what we think we need against what we actually require to survive? Do we consider those who have less than us?

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus states that “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21). He advocates a life free of materialism, focusing on helping others rather than amassing worldly possessions. Still, not all technology is fueled by greed. In fact, there are plenty of examples of technological advancements that act as aids in living the way Jesus taught. 3D printing, for example, has shown promise of revolutionary applications in medicine, helping doctors and scientists to better serve the community, while scientists looking for new ways to grow food could help address issues related to world hunger.

Jesus’ teachings encourage the world community (rich and poor alike) to stand in solidarity and work for the greater good. Ultimately, it is that kind of future that Pacific Rim, in its own frenzied and dystopian way, shows us — one where countries put aside their differences and work together. As long as we stay mindful and wary of the potential ill effects of allowing technology into our lives, it can be a useful tool for helping others and creating a better, unified global community … and for that, we should welcome the developments we witness in our world today.