Submitted by Danny T.
The underlying theme to the Pokémon film, Mewtwo Strikes Back, is philosophy vs. complacency. Mewtwo, the antagonist in this film, represents philosophy. He is constantly searching for the meaning of his artificial existence; whereas, the Pokémon trainers, Pokémon, Giovanni, and Mew all represent the complacent approach to life. As the film begins, the narrator explains to the audience, “Life: the great miracle and the great mystery. Since the beginning, humans and Pokémon alike have searched for its meaning.” This illustrates a bygone philosophical pursuit that has long been abandoned, as we soon come to understand.
The film brings the audience to Mewtwo’s sudden conception into the world. “Who am I? What am I? Why?” We can see the underlying philosophical theme being demonstrated in this scene. When Mewtwo is brought into the world of Pokémon by the hands of science, it represents the ignition of philosophical awakening sparked by the frustration of undervalued truth. Mewtwo hears scientists outside his stasis chamber commenting on his mental prowess. “His brain waves are surging”, Mewtwo then shatters the glass prison that holds him, and is now free; symbolically breaking the chains of the antiquated rhetoric that breeds intellectual complacency. Immediately following this scene Mewtwo begins to make inquiries to the circumstances of his creation, thusly revealing his introspective nature. The scientists’ insubstantial partial answers are typical of the sophist manner of complacence with half-truths. Mewtwo, seeing beyond the veil of lies, transubstantiates his curiosity with indignant rage, and then annihilates the laboratory he was given birth in. Emerging from the ashes, Mewtwo declares the magnitude of his power, thusly acknowledging the nigh-limitless potential of philosophy.
Immediately following Mewtwo’s liberation, a helicopter arrives, and we are introduced to Giovanni, who, in comparison to Mewtwo, sees the foolishness and folly of the sophistic scientists whom Mewtwo has murdered. Recognizing Mewtwo’s power, Giovanni extends his hand to Mewtwo as a supposed equal. No sooner does he offer his partnership to Mewtwo than does he begin to indoctrinate him into obedient complacency with his own brand of dogma. This establishes, in contrast with Mewtwo’s sincere intentions, Giovanni as a representation of the complacent institutions that pervert philosophical aim with antiquated doctrines, and supplanting that aim with complacent obedience.
Mewtwo, who is now taken under Giovanni’s wing, is given a protective suit of “armor.” This “armor” represents the control that modern institutions take over philosophical drive and the complacent attempt to “protect” the masses from their own curiosity. Mewtwo is now seen in a blackened room. Wires, which resemble puppet strings, now bind him. Mewtwo, who has become disenchanted with Giovanni’s doctrine, finally confronts the sanity assassin about his purpose in the world. Giovanni simply states, “To serve your master.” Giovanni, who has blinded Mewtwo with false hopes and dreams, is now revealed to be a master of puppets. Mewtwo becomes enraged by Giovanni’s sophistic answer. Now frantic, Mewtwo becomes a violent saint of anger, severing the wires that were bound to Giovanni’s never ending will. When Mewtwo says, “This cannot be my destiny; I was not born a Pokémon! I was created! My creators have used and betrayed me, so I stand alone!” he is rejecting the doctrine of the sophist institution that breeds complacency. When he sheds his protective “power suit” he sheds himself of his reliance on the dogma that has been binding his potential.
After his rejection of Giovanni’s doctrine, he returns to his philosophical pursuits, asking once again the questions “Who am I?” and “What is my true reason for being?” upon his return to the point of origin where he was created. Upon further introspection, he resolves to find his own purpose. And in doing so, Mewtwo comes to the resolve to purge the world of humans and Pokémon alike.
In contrast to the introspective undertakings that seem to concern Mewtwo, we are next introduced to the carefree Pokémon trainers, Brock, Misty, and the film’s protagonist, Ash. These Pokémon trainers occupy themselves with far less abstract matters: food, work, and Pokémon battles. Such is the significance of frivolity, complacency, and triviality in their world. The trainers live in a world that thrives on monotony. We can observe a clear example of the Pokémon trainers’ carefree and insipid lifestyle when a Dragonite knocks over all their food that they just spent a great deal of time preparing while delivering mail and they seem relatively unbothered by that fact. The Pokémon trainers are invited to attend a Pokémon gathering with other select trainers, which is to be hosted by “The world’s greatest Pokémon trainer” True to their carefree and credulous natures; they readily accept this suspicious invitation. The only question any of them thinks to ask about this implausible proposition is “Is there a rewind button?”
Transitioning back to Mewtwo, we witness Mewtwo using his mental abilities to cause a massive storm, perfectly embodying the philosophical tide being created in the Pokémon universe by Mewtwo’s awakening.
Predictably, Ash and his companions rush for shelter to escape the danger of Mewtwo’s storm. They find their shelter inside a Pokémon center with a crowd of other trainers and their Pokémon. When a large crowd gathers at the gate, Ash and his companions learn that due to the storm, the ferry to New Island has been canceled. Upon further explanation, the harbor manager begins to explain her belief that the storm is connected to a prophecy based on ancient writings. She mentions legendary “Winds of Water” that are prophesied to wipe out all but “a few” Pokémon and then goes on to describe a cryptic verse in the ancient writings that says “in their sorrow… the water of their tears restored the lives lost in the storm” At this point, she cautions the Pokémon trainers that “There are no Pokémon tears today. Just waters no one can survive.” These statements acknowledge the general indifference and complacency in the world the Pokémon trainers live in. They also serve to foreshadow the grim consequences of this complacency.
In reaction to the news of the canceled ferry, a few of the Pokémon trainers decide that they will forego the harbor manager’s ominous warnings and make their way to New Island using their Pokémon. Ash manages to obtain transport to the island through Team Rocket, who disguise themselves as Vikings and offer to give Ash and his companions a ride in their wooden boat. Being the ever complacent and charmingly indifferent protagonist that he is, Ash feels no need to ask any questions as he takes them up on their offer. As they go into the water, the harbor manager comments on how the Pokémon trainers will make great Pokémon masters for “following their hearts” against her own grave warnings. This makes clear the level of cocksure certainty that the acceptance of complacent methodology brings in the world of Pokémon.
Shortly after the protagonists and Team Rocket set off in their wooden boat, the boat is then capsized by a massive wave, and they are sucked beneath the tides. Caught way down in the undertow, the protagonists instinctively release their Pokémon in an effort to survive. This demonstrates how the Pokémon function as an enabling crutch for the Pokémon trainers’ acquired inability for self reliance, which they have complacently come to accept as being natural.
After Ash and his companions trudged Mewtwo’s storm, they arrive miraculously at Mewtwo’s island. There, they meet three other Pokémon trainers. After briefly introducing themselves to one another, Mewtwo makes a theatrical entrance, levitating himself down a spiral slide. This is important because the downward spiral that Mewtwo was descending down the middle of is a very clear foreshadowing of his eventual downward spiral into complacency. After making his grandiose entrance, Mewtwo declares himself to be the greatest Pokémon trainer in the world. He does this despite clearly being a Pokémon. This defiant act of standalone counter-culture clearly demonstrates Mewtwo’s will to break away from the complacent codes of conduct imposed upon him in the world of Pokémon. The perceived audacity of such an assertion incites not only anger, but indignation from the complacent Pokémon trainers. One such Pokémon trainer even states outright that “A Pokémon can’t be a Pokémon master!” Mewtwo responds to this philistine’s outburst with a vulgar display of power, and tosses him aside. But before he does so, he states that he is now the one that makes the rules. This demonstrates Mewtwo’s lack of patience with the complacent humans of the Pokémon world, as well as his newfound desire to replace their institution with one of his own. The trainer responds in the only way that he knows best: He sends his most powerful Pokémon to fight for his damaged pride. Mewtwo also tosses this contender aside. In doing so, he asserts his lack of hesitation or compromise against any opposition which may serve as an obstacle to free himself from the binds of complacency.
Mewtwo declares that humans are a dangerous species and that they created him as a slave. He then goes on to state that he has found his own purpose in destroying their world to create his own. Mewtwo’s desire to destroy, and break free from the complacent and oppressive reality that he sees as dangerous, and yet is forced to live in, has motivated him to liberate himself with extreme aggression. In contrast to Mewtwo’s view of the complacent human world as oppressive and dangerous, Pikachu steps forth to defend the traditional way of life by stating that Pokémon are not the slaves of humanity, but friends. Mewtwo promptly rejects this complacent and credulous notion and states that believing such naïve concepts makes him “as pathetic as the rest” right before telekinetically throwing him into his “friend,” Ash.
After Mewtwo tosses aside Pikachu, another trainer states, “If you are Pokémon, there’s no reason I can’t capture you.” Here we see another attempt to control, undermine, and suppress Mewtwo’s philosophical will using the ways of the pre-established institutions which he is complacently accustomed to. Mewtwo effortlessly tosses the Pokémon aside and says, “Fools, your Pokémon attacks won’t weaken me, my power too great! No trainer can conquer me.” This statement reflects how Mewtwo has broken free of the traditional ways of the Pokémon world. He cannot be bound by the establishment set in place by the static and underdeveloped inhabitants within the current Pokémon universe. Ash, who has witnessed Mewtwo’s power, comes to the arrogant resolve that if challenged to a traditional Pokémon battle, he might have a chance at defeating Mewtwo. Mewtwo whole-heartedly accepts Ash’s cocksure challenge.
Mewtwo then uses his psychic power to wake the clones he has artificially created. The clones become clearly observable in a clone machine that Mewtwo rebuilt. This clone machine represents Mewtwo’s own doctrine being formed from his philosophical drive, and is an indication of the seemingly inevitable transition that takes place from philosophical inspection to new rhetoric and doctrines. From this revised version of the previous devices of the complacent, we see new creations being formed: cloned Pokémon. And in their spawning from Mewtwo’s poison god machine, we see the enemies of reality; the reality that the Pokémon trainers and their Pokémon have all complacently grown accustomed to. These are the Pokémon Mewtwo has chosen as his answer to the complacent doctrines of what he sees as an antiquated world. From this answer, he has developed a new level of confidence and power. When introducing this newly developed war party to the Pokémon trainers, Mewtwo makes note of how he has fashioned an improved version of the traditional starter Pokémon. This clearly illustrates Mewtwo’s intention to realize the potential of philosophical thought by replacing the complacent Pokémon with “superior versions” that are strong enough to handle change and conflict. In comparison to Mewtwo’s self-assured sense of new found power, the trainers view the clones as nothing more than fake; they are certain of what has already been established.
They begin a traditional Pokémon tournament, choosing to fight fire with fire by pitting their starter Pokémon against Mewtwo’s clone equivalents. No matter their choice of tactics, the Pokémon trainers’ starter Pokémon are easily overwhelmed, further validating Mewtwo’s disdain for the complacent rhetoric as being a confining hindrance to personal development.
Once the original starter Pokémon and their trainers have been effortlessly dealt with, Mewtwo decides to claim their Pokémon as a prize, in order to clone them into “superior” versions, which he plans to repopulate the Pokémon world with. With a stubbornness to match Mewtwo’s tenacity, Ash defiantly tells Mewtwo they won’t “let” him do it; adamantly refusing to discard his obsolete system of hierarchy between trainer and Pokémon. His futile attempt at asserting authority over such an aggressive perfector is answered with an imposing declaration: “Do not defy me. This is my world now.” Domination has now consumed Mewtwo and calls him a friend. Despite what the Pokémon trainers do, they cannot prevent Mewtwo from enacting this edict.
In the scene where Ash blindly throws himself into the cloning machine to save his Pikachu, he once again displays the false sense of security that has been instilled in him from years of complacent acceptance of the traditional arrangement. The cloning machine is then broken. This shows how unquestioning adherence to traditional rule can eventually destroy philosophical potential, if it is unyielding and tenacious enough. In the destruction of this cloning machine, the original Pokémon are free to persevere and challenge the newly developed clones that embody Mewtwo’s vision of philosophical enhancement.
In comparison to how humans use Pokémon, Mewtwo used humans as pawns to build his new world, by possessing Nurse Joy and by stealing their Pokémon. This foreshadows Mewtwo’s eventual decline from being a dissident aggressor towards enacting his own inevitable form of complacent design, because he is beginning to undermine his philosophical drive towards freedom with the same oppressive methods used by those that preceded him.
As Mewtwo prepares for total war, intending to take no prisoners, Ash once again continuously asserts that he will not “let” Mewtwo enact his plans. As Mewtwo responds with an expected blast of homicidal force, Mew interjects with a defensive bubble to protect Ash from damage. Mew acts as an embodiment of the old methodology, cushioning Ash from the harsh impact of Mewtwo’s revolutionary intent. In contrast to Mewtwo, Mew starts off as rather passive, fleeing from Mewtwo’s adversarial onslaught and trying to avoid the conflict, as is the typical initial reaction from those that would rather be complacent. Mew does not want to have to deal with the conflict of opposition. Mewtwo, however, is unafraid of this conflict. Mewtwo is driven to prove the superiority of his radical new paradigm changing vision to the antiquated arrangements of the past.
After enough confrontation, Mewtwo finally provokes Mew into facing him. When this happens, Mewtwo finally faces a challenging opposition which he can use as a decisive symbol of his dominance and superiority. Believing himself to be a sort of indestructible master of war, Mewtwo makes note before the final confrontation that Mew’s Pokémon are weak and spineless, perfectly capturing the main fault that Mewtwo finds in complacency. When Mew argues that special abilities mean nothing, and that a Pokémon’s true strength comes from the heart, what Mew really means is that what one already knows is what is truly right and valuable. Mew believes that all the power and potential that Mewtwo has harnessed with his philosophical introspection is pointless and cheap. In a defensive rage, Mewtwo obliges to play at Mew’s game and win by blocking his Pokémon’s special abilities, failing to realize that in playing Mew’s game of self imposed constraint, he undermines his aim to unleash the true potential of philosophical pursuit. This is his true beginning down the path of complacency. We can see this being demonstrated in how he and all his “super Pokémon” begin to mirror their opposition after suppressing their own potential. At one point, original and clone become practically indistinguishable from one another.
Now staring into the reflection of their own complacent ideals, the trainers begin to lament the conflict between both sides, commenting that nobody can truly win this fight. This indicates the complacent nature of those who refuse to weather the turmoil of philosophical pursuit under the pretense that nothing can possibly be gained in the end. Their constant lamentation of “fighting” is a stunning display of their adamant aversion to conflict and the cost it takes to endure such conflict. Their inability to recognize the hypocrisy of condemning Mewtwo’s coercion of other Pokémon into violence is a clear demonstration of their refusal to explore the conflicting turmoil of introspective pursuits. Their initial statements of distrust at the Pokémon who are “made differently” from themselves is an indication of their refusal to accept things that are different from what they’ve complacently come to accept as part of their world scheme. With the will to fight slowly draining from the clones as they begin to mirror their original counterparts, one of the clones begins to point out the many similarities which are now apparent between the two, and his original begins to note that since the two are so similar, they should end their hostilities. This depicts the willingness of those who are medicated with the intellectual numbness of blind complacency to co-exist with others, only once those begin to parallel what they themselves are accustomed to.
Ash watches the hostility and conflict between these two forces that are becoming more and more like each other and finally decides that he needs to end their fighting. Ash realizes that their mutually assured destruction could cause a rift in the idyllic reality he has grown accustomed to, now that the opposite side has reached a state of familiarity. True to his complacent nature, he does not question his impulse to “sacrifice” himself in order to preserve the status quo. This marks his adamant and total unacceptance of any possible change, and once he becomes petrified from the blast, this refusal to accept change becomes symbolically set in stone.
If Ash had taken even a slight moment to question his course of action, he may have come to the realization to his own death would result in a drastic and unacceptable change in the reality of those around him, which in turn, would also spark emotional and intellectual turmoil in the world of Pokémon. Because of this, Pikachu first tries to resuscitate Ash with thunderbolts, but to no avail. It is at this stunning realization that something has drastically changed in the reality of the Pokémon world, and seemingly for the permanent, that all the Pokémon begin to weep. This weeping is their expression of longing for comfort, safety, and familiarity in a world where the status quo is more important than anything else. With the ideal of safety and familiarity no longer merely threatened, but destroyed outright, and their aversion to change now symbolically set in stone, their tears become a cohesive agent to help heal and repair the shattered existence they once knew. In the outpouring mass of healing tears, the Pokémon express their sense of longing for the comfortable, safe and familiar. With this, their adherence to the complacent doctrine is firmly unified and Ash is resurrected, symbolically representing the return of complacent lifestyle in the world of Pokémon.
Mewtwo now realizes that these frail beings cannot truly endure or withstand the harsh reality of change when he sees them weeping. With his newfound sense of pity for them, Mewtwo comes to realize that it is for the best to set aside his differences and allow them to live in their delusional certainty. Upon this realization, he comes to the conclusion that it is not only for the best that he leave, and take his superior Pokémon with him, but erase their memories in order to fully restore the status quo as it originally existed before he got involved with their world. He mentions that he still intends to exist in a way where he and his stronger Pokémon can continue to live as they originally intended, but separately from the others so that the others can continue living life in their persistent vegetative state. However, in his acceptance of their inability to cope with a change in their fantasy state of reality, Mewtwo has unknowingly become something he once despised: complacent.
The Pokémon trainers are now warped back to the Pokémon center they had taken shelter in to escape Mewtwo’s storm. Having no memory of how they arrived at the Pokémon center in the first place, Ash displays a glimmer of hope for philosophical potential by asking, “Hey, how did we get here in the first place?” This almost compares to what Mewtwo very first asked about: his existence in the Pokémon world. His question is shut down by Misty’s complacently sophist answer, “Well I… guess we’re just here because we’re here” Such is the manner of answering every million dollar question, in the world of Pokémon. Hope for Ash and the others ever achieving any sort of philosophical potential seems lost as Ash promptly shrugs it off and says: “Yeah, let’s eat” returning their full attention to mundane and practical matters such as simple hunger. On cue for this denial of intellectual growth, some random person calls out to look outside, which they do unquestioningly. As they go outside to see what was so important, they see that a “miracle” has happened. The tides have subsided and are replaced by static tranquility. The philosophical tide in the Pokémon world is dead, and this is the final product. The inhabitants of the world of Pokémon are free to continue living life in the same manner they always had, with no sign of change, for better or for worse, anywhere in sight.