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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Anthropocene gothic : the monstrous anthropocene of Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water, and Pacific Rim Payne, Shannon


The anthropocene, the current geological epoch of anthropogenic climate change, presents a problem for fictional representation. Indeed, scholars have identified problems with representations of the anthropocene in both realistic fiction and climate fiction (cli-fi). The former fails to capture the surreal changes to the weather and the landscape, while the latter focuses on the future at the expense of the past and present. Cli-fi in particular has followed a mode of climate change discourse known as “catastrophizing.” This discourse evokes responses to climate change that replicate the historical power structures that caused it in the first place while putting the Global South at greater risk of suffering the consequences of climate change than the Global North. Is there a way to represent the anthropocene in fiction without replicating this discourse? In this thesis, I argue that the Gothic offers a language with which to access the historical and social complexity of the anthropocene. In order to make this argument, I perform a close reading of three Guillermo del Toro films—Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water, and Pacific Rim. These films, when taken together, form a trilogy of what I am calling “anthropocene gothic.” Del Toro’s anthropocene gothic uses monsters to represent the fraught relationship between past, present, future; blur the distinction between human and other-than-human; and break down the boundaries between self and other. Rather than focusing on large-scale disaster, these films focus on complex historical and social relationships that fueled and continue to fuel the progress of anthropogenic climate change. The anthropocene stories that these films tell are stories of violence and exploitation, as well as of kinship and transformation. These stories resist simplistic catastrophe narratives by embracing complications and the potential for a hopeful future.  

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