Last week, Brian asked a question about PACIFIC RIM, about the symbolism of the red shoes worn by Miko as a little girl, and apparently kept by Marshall Pentecost. What, exactly, was the point of them? Well, through some world history and film history, let me offer some thoughts that might formulate some type of answer.

Fundamentally, within the story, I think they simply serve to show a bond between the characters. It raises a question, what does this mean, why is it important to them? Later, we discover why; she wore them when he saved her from the Kaiju. In that respect, I think it is fine as it is. But there is more depth to it, I believe.

Red Shoes and Ruby Slippers

If you think of red shoes, and you care about film, you should already be at Powell & Pressburger. THE RED SHOES is one of their masterpieces, and very well regarded by many other film makers; undoubtedly Del Toro is a fan. I don’t know that there is any more in this bucket than that, but it was also praised for its use of Technicolor, which happens to lead me to another great filmic reference.

From Powell and Pressburger

If you don’t flash to THE RED SHOES, you should certainly flash to THE WIZARD OF OZ. Another cinematic masterpiece, and a special effects beacon of its time, I don’t doubt it is being slyly referenced, along with Alice in Wonderland (White Rabbit…). None of these references are too significant, nods really, but they help establish a sense of style and feel among other things.

There is also that visual element the shoes bring as well. A clear, strong color like that, in that drab city scape as it is being destroyed, that red helps both to highlight and focus on this tiny girl in this whirl of devastation – not so far from the devastation of the atom bomb, itself the influence on the greatest of all Kaiju, Godzilla –  as well as hinting at the death and bloodshed they can’t quite show you. It also acts as an anchor in a memory/dreamscape like that. The object holds the key to the psychological event. It is the distinct thing that we as an audience, and Pentecost and Miko as characters, can connect to the experience. I would say that is its most important role, and that any resonance you might feel more thematically comes purely from those old references.

Shoes as a Mark of the Missing

Finally, Hannibal’s shoe… how does that play in? See what you think of this. At the Auschwitz museum, there is a pile of shoes. They represent one days’ worth of dead in the Holocaust, and they are the most awful sight. There are maybe 25,000 pairs. There was a temporary 9/11 memorial of 2,974 shoes in Somerset County, NJ, a few years ago too. An empty shoe is a powerful reminder of the person who once stood in it, and I think in this way they can touch on apocalyptic imagery without overstating it. This even ties back to the girl. The other film those shoes brought to mind, was SCHINDLER’S LIST. I grant you, in that instance, it was a coat, but in many ways the imagery jibes. Again, I don’t think there’s more to be had pushing here, either, but I felt it. I don’t even think there is any harm in playing on those images, the use is so slight that it does not diminish the reality.

A 9/11 Memorial

In fact, shoes often symbolize death and loss. I’ve been to quite a few towns in the US now, and I’m never surprised, and always moved, to see a pair of boots memorializing a dead soldier. The fact is, shoes are surprisingly unique items that say a lot about their owners and empty, they look…wrong. I think, in the end, it is actually as simple as that. Without necessarily tarnishing more – let us say “worthy” – symbols and images, Guillermo manages to harness them to enhance the depth of his own fantasy piece.

Shoes can be symbolic of a lot of things, I’ll put up one last one to consider, safety. We are safe in our shoes, they are secure, they protect our feet, which can be fragile, and feel exposed. In her memory, she lost one shoe, she became afraid. The shoe returned is that mark of safety, and protection. In the end, it is entirely up to the viewer if they feel the artist presented things well, but I certainly feel they were there for a reason, and I’m confident that more than one of the ones I’ve presented count. Brian is definitely right about this though, shoes are massively symbolic things; when you see them in films, pay attention.

  • Brian McNatt

    Not a bad article. Thought of Wizard of Oz, but I’ve never heard of The Red Shoes. I’ll have to check it out.

  • skwerl

    The character’s name was Mako, not Miko. Interesting article.