Put away your thumbs. This is not a movie review.
I went to see Pacific Rim two days ago. And I freaked out. So, spoiler alert.
I don’t like 3D screenings. They feel like an unmasked cheap gimmick that distracts me from the actual movie. But in this case, the only screening at a time that worked for us was a 3D one, so we shelled out the extra bucks for something we didn’t want, bought some overpriced sodium-coated exploded GMO kernels, and put on our gimmick-goggles.
I think I liked the movie, but that’s overshadowed right now by the fact that about a third of the way in, my heart started beating out of my chest and I lifted about two feet out of my body and stared at my own white-knuckled stranger’s hands digging into the arms of the seat, and felt like I’d been reliving the same moment in an infinite loop. That’s how my panic attack starts: I know it too well. I breathed, I counted, I pinched myself, I talked myself down, and then it started all over again. This is strange for me. As I discussed in headcheese goes to the movies, the cinema is one of my favorite and most comfortable places. I go there to unwind. Even watching disturbing films that I might later regret, I never panic. Until this time. I kept thinking about telling Person of Interest that I needed to leave, but I felt too ridiculous, too ashamed, and too angry with myself.
I think the 3D accelerated this development, because of the way it set me inside the action, but I may have had the panic response even without it. Some of the images apparently acted as powerful triggers for reactions to trauma that I am only beginning to comprehend.
The trouble started when scenes started showing the traumatic memories of the female lead, Mako, who was evidently her family’s sole survivor of a kaiju attack on Japan. Now, I am always prone to being upset by images of children being harmed, but the sensations they typically evoke are those of intense grief, and concern for my own child. Not so in this case. The little girl wailing in the ruined streets, running pointlessly from the claw of a gargantuan monster, still clutching one little red patent dress shoe, grabbed something in my viscera and ripped it out mercilessly and waved it in my face.
My family is not dead. I have never run wailing through an apocalyptic cityscape. Yet I was that child, somehow, and I could neither understand nor control the terrifying sensations– so basic and indistinct that I can’t even name them emotions– that were strangling me. All I could do was paper them over long enough to get to the other side. But through the whole experience, and up to now, one word keeps screaming in my head. Helpless. The sound in the girl’s cries: equal amounts anguish and terror. Screaming because there is nothing to do but scream, and then giving up even that. The grown, strong woman’s enslavement by the memory of such, as she steps inside its 3D world and becomes the girl again, leaving her incapable of mastering the incomparable power she has just been handed. And, another step removed, my own inescapable horror at being dropped into her fictional but very real experience. Utterly. Helpless.
The word wouldn’t leave me alone, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t go looking for it. It just stuck, on the bottom of my shoe, in my throat, everywhere. It blew raspberries at me, until I started repeating its name, and stuck myself back onto it, and let it take me where it wanted me to go: like an old drinking buddy, to all the worst places you never want to see again. To the rifts where my kaiju live.
I didn’t know there were rifts. I commented recently, in I’m not laughing, that I haven’t integrated the experience of my second abusive relationship into the ongoing story of myself, but I thought I was hiding it away sedated in Schrodinger’s cat carrier, from which it sometimes crept out at night to nip at me. I didn’t realize it, and so many other things, were still there complete with their own perverted world where they made the laws, a breath’s breadth away. I didn’t realize how many times a day they still cross over and recklessly rake their claws across me, not cat claws that coax out a drop of blood, but city-demolition-derby skyscraper-claws. Which is the illusion? I think that I am strolling through the pretty, ordered constructs I continually begin: and then suddenly I am hiding behind a dumpster wailing, clutching my defooted shoe– did someone just plug me into my own brain?
I am playing with the cat, and I stop for a moment to look out the window. A microexpression to someone else, maybe, passes but I have been ripped from my skin and thrown down on my twin-size bed, snapping its slats, with sweat and spittle raining on my face and fingers digging into my neck and two hundred pounds on my diaphragm. I am dazed on the phone at 2AM, woken by my psychotic lover excoriates me with invented slights and threats of being what I most fear and believe myself to be, completely and irrevocably alone. I am stupored by vodka on my back feeling every excruciating inch and second of being unsentimentally fucked without a muscle to move. I am seventeen years old shaking and pleading in the driver’s seat of a blue Dodge Caravan trying to stay on the highway while my first boyfriend and soon-to-be-husband tells me in measured, icy tones how he is going to murder me because I flirted with a boy at work. I am five years old under a tented sheet in my family’s tow-along camper and also in my constant unknowingly-autistic-child world somewhere between confusion and oblivion, but dimly aware of ripples in my opaque wading pool, which I will keep effectively bailed out until, ten years later, I am touched again and a deluge rains in. I look away from the window. I am playing with the cat.
Supposedly, I am in control now. Supposedly, I am supposed to rebuild, to live in a world where buildings stand upright and people help each other and I can walk and talk and sword giant monsters to death. I say that I will try, but when I say I am, supposedly, not that girl anymore, I know that I am wrong. I just got very good at hiding, and found a really dark alley.
I want to say that I am the monster, as well, keeping my own rifts open, because I hate the word victim and I’m fucking sick and tired of the word abuse and abuser and I don’t trust the word evil, but when I try that sentence out I feel like a traitor to myself, and I don’t like that any better. So let’s go ahead and admit it: there have been monsters in my life. Some of them came from outside and busted me up. Others were hiding here embedded in the ground by H. G. fucking Wells. Was I “innocent?” I don’t know: Can you be accessory to a crime against yourself? People who criminalize suicide would seem to think so, but that’s another story. I went and lived by the ocean and threw rocks at it, and built my house against it, and sometimes tried to drown myself in it. I was always a pig-headed brat determined to do what people told me not to whether it felt good or not, I always wanted to be loved no matter by whom, and I was (am?) one of those characters I detest who stand open-mouthed gawking at the apocalypse instead of running for their fucking lives. (No, not am. Now I run too much and don’t look where I’m going.) I didn’t make the monsters up, but maybe I wrote them in. Maybe I felt like an extra thrown into the role of the protagonist, a part I didn’t have a clue how to play.
Only when I think of it in those terms does the question resolve itself into a fruitless one. A child’s dilemma: Who Started It? No one needs a Quixotic thrust against a vanished enemy, or a Spartacus to stand and declare himself when no one else is listening. But anyone can see this place is a fucking shitheap, so grab a ShopVac, you lazy twat. But: that requires being here, all here. I would love to live in a world where the giant claw is no longer an inch from my face and the earth doesn’t shake behind me and the air isn’t choked with plaster dust and I can just get up and walk away. But that’s not where I am. Sometimes, I still wake up from dreams trying to figure out how to scream, perceiving deludedly that heaviness of my sleeping arms and legs. Helpless.
I’m not going to extend this waning metaphor to talk about how I need to build a giant nuclear robot and explode the shit out of the rift after I find a way to stabilize it by letting more monsters through. That’s quite enough of that, thank you. The movie’s not an analog of my life. It was a startling and acutely painful trigger that, in return for my endurance, whispered me a single word that gave me more insight into my anxiety and general fucked-up-ish-ness than months of introspection.
So I guess in the end, in its own way, this is the longest, most useless movie review ever. Guillermo del Toro et al, I’m pretty sure you made a kickass movie except for the nonsensical bit about people focusing on making googly eyes at each other when making a last ditch attempt to save humanity from extinction, but I’m afraid much of it was lost on me because I was busy counting my breaths and riding waves of flashbacks. Thank you for that– no, seriously– no I’m not being a smartass for once, okay?! Seriously. It hurt like hell, so I don’t know how exactly I’m supposed to be pointing my thumbs, and I highly doubt you knew what you were making, but really. Thank you.