One of the defining characteristics of the human race is our profound alienation from one another. What if a new technology promised to blur, or even erase, the lines that divide us? Director Guillermo del Toro’s new movie Pacific Rim poses that challenging question, and it is perhaps this otherwise-magnificent popcorn movie’s greatest failure that it never really explores that question.
In the world of Pacific Rim, mankind is under attack from enormous (think Godzilla-sized) alien beasts called “kaiju,” and has responded by constructing enormous robot warriors—”Jaegers”—to combat the menace. We are told that piloting a Jaeger is too much for a single human brain, that the power would overload and kill the pilot, and so each Jaeger is piloted by two human beings whose minds are connected in a technological bridge called “the Drift.” While engaged in the Drift, Jaeger pilots share thoughts, and can experience each other’s memories directly, as if both are reliving the moment.
If we as human beings were to develop such a technology, it would have the potential to fundamentally change human existence. Humans do not communicate directly (via telepathy, for example), and must rely instead on the imperfect, error-prone medium of language. This fact determines many facets of human culture: morality, religion, social taboos, and the various artistic media we employ as alternate means of more emotional communication. The misunderstandings that result from our less-than-perfect communication are perhaps the single biggest determinant of how we interact with one another.
Imagine, then: what would change if we could communicate simply by inviting another human being into our thoughts, sharing them directly? How different would day-to-day life be if every one of those potential misunderstandings could be erased, literally at the push of a button?
The short answer, of course, is “Nearly everything.” At a bare minimum, any such contact with the mind of another would tend to instantly create the sort of emotional and psychological intimacy usually shared by couples who have spent many years together. Taken to its full extent, one can imagine that such technology could create a “hive mind” within the species that would render religious and cultural differences almost entirely moot. At that point, any meaningful definition of humans as individuals—along with the whole package of individual rights posited by philosophers from John Locke onward—would vanish, irrelevant.
It’s a terrifying prospect, and one which del Toro would have done well to at least consider, if not explore, even to a minimal extent. Doing so could have vaulted Pacific Rim from the ranks of solid, well-executed summer popcorn movies, into the realm of the most important conceptual science fiction ever produced.