A Close Reading of Pentecost’s Speech

Time to do something different. In literary criticism a close reading is, according to wikipedia “the careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of text.”[1] Usually this is reserved for works of literary consequence (think The Odyssey or Heart of Darkness). But because this is Essays, Not Rants! and I can do whatever the heck what I want so I’m doing a close reading of Marshall Stacker Pentecost’s speech in Pacific Rim.

Let’s do this.

Backstory, in case you don’t know which speech I’m talking about. Stacker Pentecost is the leader of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps and the fight against the Kaiju. As the film draws to the climax it’s time for their final stand. In classic movie fashion, Pentecost takes this moment to address the Jaeger crews and everyone else, to give that Final Speech.

Today, at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time…”

We’re not quite in the meat of the speech yet, this is just to set up the gravitas of it. Pentecost (and by virtue Travis Beacham, the writer) are reminding us that this is it. If this doesn’t work, nothing will. We’re at the edge. Game over, guys, game over.

“…we have chosen not only to believe in ourselves but in each other!”

There’s a choice to be made, the characters could have chosen to run for cover or to stick it out and fight. They chose this fight. But not only that, but they chose each other. One thing that Pacific Rim emphasizes is that we’re in this together. America’s not saving the day, it’s multinational effort built on trust. It could be argued that this is reflective of the growing global identity younger people have fostered by the internet, but I digress (though that is a cool idea).

Today there’s not a man or woman in here who shall stand alone!”

Something quick to point out is how Pentecost/Beacham doesn’t just say “there’s no one” but rather “not a man or woman”. It serves to emphasize that it’s not just the men leading the way, but the women too. Mako Mori, one of Gipsy Danger’s pilots, is exemplary of this and the speech does not forget her. Moving on, we’re again reminded of the bond between everyone involved. No one’s alone in this, no country or person is alone in the fight. Again, it’s reflective of a global united identity.

Today we will face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them!”

Again we see the word ‘today’. The speech’s a call to action, no one’s sitting around. It’s like Aragorn’s speech in Return of the King or the St. Crispin’s Day Speech in Henry V, it’s about today. It’s about doing it now. Moving on we see a declaration that we aren’t going to run or wait for them to come at us. We’re going after them, we’re facing these monsters. Argue that the Kaiju are the embodiment of problems thrown at a younger generation or just beings of hopelessness, this speech says that we will face them and fight them head on. There’s this hope in the speech.

Today we are canceling the apocalypse!”

This might be my favorite line in the movie. It embodies the tone and feel of the movie. The end of the world hasn’t happened yet, it can be stopped. It can be canceled. It’s oddly optimistic in a movie about giant monsters destroying the world. More than that, it’s defiant. It can be read as reflecting the desire of people to see change in the world, for the seeming inevitable downward spiral to be righted. It can also be seen as a declaration that the world’s not gone yet, that we can cancel this apocalypse.

It’s easy to write off an epic speech like this as just pontificating for the sake of it, but I think that Travis Beacham and Guilermo del Toro had a bigger point to say in this speech. It’s hope in the face of tragedy, it’s defiance. Sure, it’s literally about Kaiju, but when you really take it apart it, like the movie, is so much more.

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