Pacific Rim and the Drift Between Couples

What does piloting giant robots and long-term romance have in common? Both require advanced brain synchronization. Guillermo del Toro's new film Pacific Rim is more than a robot movie. It's an illustration of the evolutionary advantage of pair-bonding.

According to Greek myth men and women were originally one large creature facing two directions with four arms and four legs and four eyes. We were more powerful than the Titians, who in response to the threat handicapped humans by splitting them in half, separating the sexes and scattering them over the earth, where they continue to search out their other half.

In the film Pacific Rim the fate of the earth rests on the ability to operate giant robots called, Jaegers. These robots are the only defense humans have against colossal monsters which have emerged from an inter-dimensional portal on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Early versions of the Jaegers could be piloted by a single person, but as they became more complex in response to the rising complexity of the evolving monsters, Jaegers required two pilots, but not just any pair. In order to coordinate movement and intention the pilots had to be drift compatible. The drift is that space between minds where merging takes place. But just like with romantic couples there are pitfalls in that merging. Entering the drift means entering your own and your partners unconscious memories. In this state it is very easy to lose awareness of what is actually going on in the present moment.

Much of the discord between romantic couples is generated from reactivating unconscious childhood wounds. Unresolved emotional memories are stored in our limbic brain. This is a survival mechanism so that we are on guard for similar dangers in the future. The wound takes the partner out of the present relationship and disables the ability to connect or cooperate. Unintended reactions get triggered in both partners. Romantic connection is a sort of drift compatibility that has the same potential advantages of co-piloting a Jaeger, but also requires training and discipline.

Navigating romance is tricky business. The limbic system is the part of the brain that not only bonds but also remembers every bonding experience we have ever had, going all the way back to our first caretaker, and whether our needs were sufficiently met. This part of the brain also can't tell the difference between then and now, between our original attachment partner and our current squeeze. So you can imagine and have probably experienced the kind of mix-up that inevitably occurs. The same sort of mix-up occurs between drift compatible Jaeger co-pilots.

The solution for us as well as for these futuristic heroes is the same: familiarity with the unconscious memories and specialized training to stay in the present moment. Deep cooperation depends on it. Survival depends on it. One of the best ways that couples can become trained to co-pilot their relationship is through Imago Relationship Therapy. This includes breath control, emotional regulation as well as communication skills. We may not be fighting off giant alien monsters yet, but we are trying to stay in love and navigate the complex business of life with some degree of synchronization. We have often likened maintaining romantic connection to learning how to operate heavy equipment, but the giant robot metaphor takes it to a whole new level.

The purpose of marriage has evolved over the years. We don't need it to have children, own property or fit into society. The current purpose of marriage is psychological growth, developing neurological capacity that can only be gained by bonding with someone sufficiently different, yet similar. The old paradigm of individuality, from physics to psychology, has been replaced by a relational model that focuses on the space between things, whether sub-particles or people. Guillermo del Toro may not have intended to comment on couples therapy, but the evolutionary advantage of developing drift compatibility between couples is pretty obvious. Two heads are better than one.

Charlie Hunnam, who plays Becket, a pilot, commented that the film is "a love story without a love story. It's about all of the necessary elements of love without arriving at love itself." Others have added that "one of the script's central ideas is that two damaged people can metaphorically 'become one', with their figurative missing pieces connecting almost like a puzzle. Del Toro emphasized the characters' emotional intimacy by filming their training fight scene the way he would a sex scene."

We didn't think Pacific Rim would be a good date movie, but piecing this article together as we left the theater did culminate in a nice romantic afternoon.