*Editor’s Note: This is a spoil-heavy post; I suggest waiting till you’ve seen the film before reading this.
Dear Mr. Del Toro:
I am writing this letter to thank you for populating the world of Pacific Rim with people of variety, equality, and difference.
Thank you for a film where men are allowed to be both physically strong and emotionally expressive. The world of Pacific Rim includes brothers, fathers, and sons who vocalize pride (and the occasional bit of chagrin) with each other.
Thank you for a world populated with people of different races and nationalities, and for not including a single joke or line that undermines any of their personal power. In fact, race is never discussed in Pacific Rim. It’s not even a factor. Instead you give us Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba, a black man who is both military commander and loving father to his adopted daughter, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). It’s a pleasure (and rarity) to see any diversity on screen, and particularly for it not to matter a damn iota to the characters depicted on screen.
Thank you for including strong female characters in Pacific Rim. Admittedly, this beautiful picture would not pass the Bechdel Test, because there are no interactions between female characters. However, your representation of women in this film matters in great part because of what is missing: any discussion of their gender. There are two female pilots in this film: Mako and the Russian Lt. A. Kaidanovsky (Heather Doerksen). They may never interact with each other, but there are also no conversations between other characters about how they can’t do their jobs or how hot they look in their pilots uniforms. Indeed, the only time gender is even brought up is when Mako is referred to as a “bitch,” and this is done in a moment of tension and disapproved of. It’s the only gender-infused insult in the film, and it comes not after she sleeps around or cheats on someone, but after she fails her first test run as a pilot. In fact, the insult cuts so deep because it’s the only gendered moment among the pilots, and thus it’s out of place in the Jaeger-pilot world.
Thank you for your depiction of Mako, a woman both capable of great emotion and great physical strength. Yes, she is motivated by a sense of revenge, and yes, she often has a tear in her eye, but she is also able to overcome her metaphorical demons (mentally) in order to overcome some literal demons (physically). She is one of the best recruits for the pilot program, and we get to watch her kick some serious ass with a bow staff.
Thank you for not making Mako a typical action hero female: a character relegated to the sidelines so that she may be lusted after and later rescued by the hero. Instead you tell us her story and make her as equally damaged (and as equally important to the plot) as her co-pilot, Raleigh Becker (Charlie Hunnam). They have each lost something, and their stories are given equal weight. They share the burdens of the past and the present equally. It’s an equality rarely seen in action films (or indeed, any major Hollywood films of late).
Thank you for never suggesting that Mako’s power lies in her ability to be sexy or flirtatious, but instead in her actual physical strength and the power of her mind. You don’t subject us to gratuitous images of Mako in her underwear or undressing. She and our hero never sleep together. They are bonded by shared terrors, by present fears, and they are literally “compatible” with each other because of their brains–it’s their mental compatibility that makes them good co-pilots.
And thank you, thank you, thank you for that ending, which emphasizes their bond as co-pilots and equals–as two people who save the world, and who care for and respect each other. Thank you for giving us a moment of pure male-female friendship, bonding, and appreciation, without insisting that the bond exist because of sexual and romantic chemistry. The lack of a kiss is a most satisfying absence.
Thank you, Mr. del Toro, for creating a cinematic world that is vivid, beautiful, and terrifying. Pacific Rim was a real film experience, and–monsters aside–it was a world I could really get behind.