Political and Strategic Analysis of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim

By Ciaran Kovach

Contains spoilers.

Pacific Rim is a film I am very fond of indeed, there is a great deal of simple, straightforward satisfaction and fun to be gleaned from watching a film centred on the premise of giant bipedal mechs punching equally massive Godzilla-style creatures in the face. Pacific Rim not only boasts spectacular ‘dumb’ action however, an excellent cast, a well written story and fabulous music makes it an all-round pleasure to watch.

Aside from the film’s merits I have just mentioned, another reason I enjoy Pacific Rim so much. If one such as I, a student of International Politics takes a minute to read unto the events and story of the film, it paints a picture of a very interesting world both familiar and alien.

In this article I will delve into the strategy, politics and economics which Pacific Rim does not explore in-depth, but provides the politically astute reader with a great many subtle insights. To those who have not seen Pacific Rim, beware spoilers, obviously.

To begin, what is the immediate impact of the commencement of the Human-Kaiju conflict? Kaiju attacks on the coastlines of the nations of the Pacific Rim, particularly pre-Jaeger programme attacks, would cause severe economic damage. The economic costs of massive damage to buildings in affected cities, loss of life and economic disruption would run into hundreds of millions at the very least. As well as the immediate economic costs of such attacks, affected areas would be branded as poor places to invest money in, on account of the possibility of a giant monster stomping on it, resulting in further economic decline. State budgets would also be strained by the costs of rebuilding cities and dealing with floods of refugees.

The fact that the first Kaiju attack was apparently treated as a one-off gives some insight into global perception of the threat at the beginning of the conflict. The Kaiju attack that devastated 3 US cities was treated akin to an act of God and it seems like a conscious decision to bury their heads in the sands was made by the world’s governments. The idea of follow-up attacks being too terrifying a notion to give thought to.

The Kaiju not only have a pronounced impact on built-up coastal areas, but also on the Pacific Ocean’s ecosystem. A phenomenon called ‘Kaiju Blue’ is touched upon. The phenomenon appears to resemble an extremely pervasive oil spill. I feel that it is safe to assume that following a number of Kaiju attacks, Pacific fish stocks would be severely affected and Pacific Rim coastal communities would begin to suffer health problems.

After repeated Kaiju attacks, Trans-Pacific trade is deemed extremely risky and 50% of Pacific shipping lanes are closed. This would surely have a huge impact on global trade and the global economy. Countries with their major trading ports situated long Pacific coastlines such as China and Japan would see their export and import industries suffer hugely. It is logical to assume that this would led to a very pronounced shift in economic power from the Pacific nations to the nations bordering the Indian and Atlantic oceans as companies scramble for alternative, safer shipping routes.

The severe global economic recession brought on by the Kaiju, combined with the apparent inability of state militaries to effective stop Kaiju attacks would cause massive social unrest, particularly along the Pacific Rim. This would further weaken the global economy and in extreme cases, tie down the militaries of states affected by Kaiju attacks, resulting in Kaiju attacks becoming more devastating.

The creation of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, a coalition of Pacific and non-Pacific nations aimed at countering the Kaiju threat is not a surprise. Faced with the continuing global economic crisis, social unrest at home and a seemingly unrelenting, genocidal enemy, only a truly irrational state would refuse to join such a coalition over political grievances.

The near immediate successes of the PPDC’s Jaeger programme, while extremely expensive, would surely do a great deal in restoring public confidence in their governments and reducing the economic impact of Kaiju attacks.

The increasing public popularity (possibly aided by censorship of exact details of Jaeger operations) and media exposure of the Jaeger programme has a number of political ramifications. It is implied that despite being part of the wider PPDC, the manufacturing of Jaegers and training of pilots are the duties of individual member states. This would likely lead to something of an arms race. The larger member states such as the US, China and Russia would likely compete with one another to have the best Jaegers and pilots for political influence within the PPDC. The smaller member states would politically align themselves with the major member states that can better provide protection for them.

Jaegers would also likely be used for domestic political purposes. Use of imagery of state technological power and heroic, patriotic pilots would stir up a great deal of nationalistic, patriotic sentiment which could be harnessed as a means of pursuing policy. Jaegers would also enforce the authority of state as a thin red line between citizens and horrific monsters, helping silence dissent against unpopular policies.

The steady escalation of the Kaiju assault is extremely significant. Faced with increasingly powerful Kaiju and more frequent attacks, a conclusion would be reached that realistically, one of 2 futures exists for humanity. The first future involves humanity figuring out a way to destroy the breach through which the Kaiju are emerging, something which is deemed impossible until the later events of the film. Alternatively the entirety of human civilisation must begin shifting towards total global warfare to ensure that the PPDC can escalate the Jaeger programme at the same pace as the Kaiju evolution and possibly win a war of attrition, a dark, uncertain and dystopian future nobody wishes to consider.

On the shift away from Jaegers to coastal walls; with the escalation of the Kaiju threat to category 4 and a loss rate of Jaegers that the PPDC considers unsustainable, the PPDC makes the desperate and foolish move of building giant fortifications along affected coastlines as a ‘cheaper’ alternative. This is a fundamentally flawed strategy. Like the Jaegers, the fortifications would have to be escalated at the same pace as the Kaiju threat, resulting in huge long-term expense. There is also the question of how long a Kaiju can live for and how far it can travel. Even if the walls along the Pacific Rim held, there is no guarantee the Kaiju would not simply swim to previously unaffected coastlines and attack them. Thus the only viable application of coastal fortification is if most of the planet’s coastlines were fortified, which would cripple maritime trade and would incur astronomical costs (remember, constant escalation would be needed). Containment within the Pacific by a larger, more advanced Jaeger force is more logical strategically and economically.

The ultimate failure of the Sydney ‘Wall of Life’ and the mothballing of the Jaeger programme results in Pan-Pacific unrest erupting again. Unrest is further exacerbated by the PPDC evacuating important persons and supplies inland, leading to a sense of abandonment.

There exists within the world of Pacific Rim a transnational black market in ‘Kaiju resources’. It is implied that governments and law-abiding corporations found no practicable use for the remains of Kaiju (other than military research). Either that or fears of Kaiju-transmitted diseases and/or ‘Kaiju Blue’ style biological contamination led to prohibitions on civilian exploitation of Kaiju remains. Regardless, the deaths of Kaiju in densely populated areas founded a new criminal enterprise, trade in Kaiju cadavers. The trade appears to be based on the real world poaching of rare animals with Kaiju body parts being used for pseudo-medicine and decoration as well some practicable uses (Kaiju faeces for super-powerful fertilizer). It is implied that the business is extremely profitable, particularly after the head of Jaeger programme struck a deal with one of the major Kaiju resources crime bosses for desperately needed funding in return for leaving fresh Kaiju carcasses unsecured for a long time. The fact that the head of Jaeger programme himself is forced to go to these criminals for funding would suggest that they exercise great influence over local authorities where they operate.

On the alien ‘Masters’ intentions and diplomacy; Dr Newton’s insights through drifting with a Kaiju brain reveals that the Kaiju are bioweapons used by a genocidal alien race who’s method of advancing themselves is to exterminate the populations of planets and strip the planets of their resources. Their extremely advanced technology, vast resources, sophisticated strategy and seeming disregard for sentient life other their own suggests that even in the event of communication being established, the ‘Masters’ would not accept less than total surrender by humanity. There is simply no way that humanity could outlast them.

Finally, I shall touch on the existence of the ‘Kaiju cult’. Hannibal Chau informs Dr Newton of their existence in passing, that they consider the Kaiju to be agents of divine punishment. Given the far-reaching and severe effects of the Human-Kaiju Conflict, it is possible that the Kaiju cult itself is far-reaching and boasts a very large number of adherents. The opulence and centrality of the Hong Kong Kaiju cult temple certainly suggests that. Indeed, it is possible that some of the social unrest throughout the conflict is as a result of agitation or terrorism by cultists outraged by the PPDC’s efforts to oppose the Kaiju.

You see, Pacific Rim isn’t just another ‘dumb action film’ is it?