At the end of Pacific Rim, two pairs of co-pilots are going off to fight the final batch of monsters. Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi are getting in one robot, while Idris Elba and Robert Kazinsky are getting in the other. It seems unlikely that they’ll all survive this battle. Then a number of ominous things happen:
- As soon as Elba suits up, Kikuchi says to him: “You’ll die if you get in there.” And he responds, “If I don’t get in there, we’ll all die.” Hmm…
- Elba and Kazinsky take time out to have tearful farewells with everybody, explain that their sacrifice is worth it, and have some tearful hugs. The other pilots just hop in their robot and take off.
- Just before they leave, Kazinsky’s father runs up to Elba, tearfully points to Kazinsky and says, “That’s my son, you’ve got there…” And you expect him to add, “You take care of him!”, but instead, he just repeats “…My! Son!” in a heart-in-his-throat “I’m proud of my dead gay son” tone of voice.
Why does one pair say all those good-byes and the others don’t? Because they’ve all read ahead in the script…and as soon as we see those scenes, we have, too.
These scenes were supposed to make the deaths of these characters more emotional, but they have the opposite effect. Dying won’t be that sad now, because at least they’ve had a chance to get closure with all their loved ones. They want to make us worry more about these characters, but instead we worry less. We’re re-assured that there won’t be any surprises and so we’re already halfway out to the parking lot in our minds.
Just because the audience watches people feeling an emotion on screen doesn’t mean that the audience will share that emotion. In real life, you only realize that you really care about someone when you start worrying about them all the time. The true source of worry is uncertainty. “Do I dare to care about this person, even though I don’t know how it’ll end?” When you eliminate the uncertainty about a character, whether you’re certain the character is either going to live or die, you eliminate the emotion.