Also, I love icy-mischief’s meta here, except for the bit I bolded near the end. At the end of TDW, Thor, who earlier in this movie rubbed together both of the brain cells this movie allowed him to keep, finally figured out that his father is a mass murdering deranged tyrant. Now, about three days after Odin TRIED TO KILL LITERALLY EVERYONE IN ASGARD, Thor abandons Asgard to Odin’s tender mercies. (Fortunately, it’s not really Odin, but Thor doesn’t know that.) And why? BECAUSE HE HAS A HARD-ON FOR AN EARTH CHICK. Thor puts his own dick above the lives of millions of people, above his entire realm.
THANK YOU. I’ve been mentally ranting about this to myself for weeks now. Thor’s little speech declaring his choice at the end of TDW doesn’t indicate humility, genuine self-reflection or critical thinking. Quite the opposite. It’s a profound abdication of responsibility and a gesture of moral cowardice, repeating the same pattern of grasping a problem and then backing away from the realization that he already demonstrated in the first movie. Except it’s not even about his hard-on for an Earth chick. It’s about his unwillingness to be a responsible, thinking adult. He’s choosing to be a coward instead.
Here he realizes Odin is a bloodthirsty, egocentric tyrant, rightly calls him out on it, and, briefly but genuinely, literally risks death and exile to save Asgard (and the other realms) from him. Then he goes back to fucking kneel in front of the guy, tell him he’s a great king, and refuse to take the throne from him because he’d “rather be a good man than a great king.” Not only leaving Asgard to the mercies of a man he knows to be a bloodthirsty narcissist, but also leaving the realm without a clear successor to said narcissist when he finally does kick the bucket. That ALWAYS leads to good times in a monarchical warrior society, certainly.
Oh, it’s a great line, undoubtedly. It sounds wonderful from the perspective of a soundbite culture that doesn’t analyze anything, tapping into the ‘power corrupts’ mantra as it does. (And it allows for a very nice, subtle little backhanded compliment to Loki - he’d be a great king because he’s a bit evil like you, dad.) But it doesn’t actually hold up morally under scrutiny. What kind of a “good man” knowingly allows (someone he thinks to be) an egocentric, ruthless tyrant to remain in power when he has any shred of an option to more or less peacefully take over from him? If Thor doesn’t think he’d be a good king long-term, he could take the throne just long enough to find someone better for the job and hand it over to them in an orderly transition. Or find himself good advisors. Or at the very least try to work with Odin and reason with him and get him to see the destructive nature of his decisions, if he still has hope that Odin can do better. But to ignore everything he’s just realized about Odin, kneel in front of him and flatter him, throw in a meaningless (because not backed up with action) line that seems to acknowledge the danger of corruption, and then to simply walk away from the whole problem rather than take a risk and deal with it himself? Isn’t humility, or heroism, or a choice to take the moral road. No, Thor, you’re not up to being a great king right now. Nor, however, are you being a good man. You are running away.
Taking the ‘power tends to corrupt’ notion as a given for the moment (purely for the sake of argument), the nature of Thor’s position as heir to the throne puts a different, and inescapable, moral burden upon him than it does upon some ordinary schmuck who is contemplating whether or not s/he should make a bid for power. Ordinary Schmuck in any sort of representative system for example can choose to walk away rather than take power and let themselves be tempted by corruption, because power wasn’t already delegated to go to them. The heir to the throne, however, is already enmeshed within the system of power, because in a monarchy power can’t simply go to, or be peacefully taken by, just anyone. The people expect (and the system demands) an already-designated ruler, who carries power and the responsibility of using it as well as they can. The heir already carries that power and responsibility latently, and it blooms the moment the reigning monarch either ceases to rule or ceases to rule responsibly, because the heir is the only one who can take power from them without inherently involving the realm in vicious internal strife.
Thor already has the burden of responsibility on his shoulders, because power was already designated to go to him. Walking away from it without leaving someone he knows to be a responsible bearer of it in his place is not humility or moral uprightness; it’s negligence toward the welfare of the realm entrusted to him and an act of moral cowardice. He avoids the responsibilities of ruling, and also those of the critical witness, since he doesn’t note or analyze the inconsistencies within his own attitude toward Odin’s character and leaving him on the throne. He spins whatever picture he needs to in order to allow himself to escape responsibility and to still feel good about himself while doing it, the consequences to others be damned.
This, I’ve recently come to the conclusion, is Thor’s greatest flaw: like Remus Lupin, he is a moral coward. (Oh, I can see the pitchforks and torches coming.) Physically he’s quite brave, yes; he’s willing to fight and to lay down his life in battle for a person or people or cause he’s deemed worthy of his care, when they are in immediate danger. But when it comes to courage off the battlefield, his track record does him little credit. Being responsible for other people’s continued welfare beyond saving them from immediate physical harm; consciously weighing conflicting demands in order to make reasoned moral decisions; being willing to face ugly truths about himself, his father and other idols, or culture and to act on those realizations long-term; engaging in self-reflection in order to see where he really is and what he needs to do better? In short, taking responsibility? These aren’t things Thor is interested in doing. This is why he chooses going to Earth, even more than Jane, IMHO. Jane is a pleasant distraction and a place to be other than Asgard, where he’d be confronted daily with his responsibilities; I don’t see passion for her there in him. His real motivation is avoiding responsibility, for himself and for others. Dressing it up as humility is just an extension of this, since it lets him keep a protective cloak of ‘honor,’ moral feeling, and the like, to paint himself as still a (slightly different kind of) hero in order to shield himself from the painful knowledge of his cowardice.
Occasionally, in grave moments, he’ll show a glimmer of understanding, grasping the point long enough to make one bold, dramatic statement about it or attempting genuinely but briefly to act on it during the moment of crisis. Hence his apparent turnarounds in Thor and TDW. It’s not manipulation, he has made some sort of realization. But it never lasts. He never integrates his realization into any larger worldview - it’s there for the particular crisis and gone the next day. Integrating it would mean changing his behavior long-term and asking hard questions; taking responsibility. And that’s the point where Thor’s bravery fails him. He can’t work up the courage to do the real inner work, the kind that often comes with little to no external reward and even demands sacrificing things once held dear, like one’s ego, one’s idols, one’s unquestioned prestige and glory for being the ultimate expression of a profoundly problematic warrior culture ideal. It’s not his fault he was raised with that ideal; it IS his fault that he begins to see the problems with that ideal and backs away from doing anything about it. And he chooses to back away repeatedly.
His appalling treatment of Loki in TDW stems from the same flaw, I think. There is, deep in his heart, some kernel of fraternal love left - we see it come out, again, in moments of grave crisis (i.e. when Loki is on the verge of death). And his emotionally shut-down manner towards Loki, his refusal to visit him or engage with him in moments that ought to bring out that bond (their grief, for example), reads to me as an attempt to once again avoid acknowledging the issue, to avoid realizing he loves him, because that brings up a host of painful questions and choices that he doesn’t want to take responsibility for asking, making, or integrating. On some level he even trusts Loki, or else he’d never have dared go with that absurd plan in Svartalfheim - you know, the one that depended entirely on Loki’s sanity, trustworthiness, and honor or affection. But he can’t consciously acknowledge it to himself as anything more than a vague desire to trust, an indication of its residence in his heart that simultaneously (again) distances himself from its reality and therefore its consequences.
Likewise, he badgers Frigga about her bottom-rung gestures of care because they raise the specter of what Thor himself is failing to do, reminding him of what he is trying to run away from. Shutting them down as dangerous ‘indulgences’ is an attempt to emotionally distance himself from what they actually are, of the issue of Loki’s deservingness and the reality of Loki’s situation - the excruciating situation he himself has acted to put Loki in, without bothering to ascertain the actual facts of the matter (coercion or no? insanity or no?) or ask what justice would look like.
Acknowledging he loves and to some degree trusts Loki would force him to confront what that means in their current situation, to confront what it means to be a big brother. It would mean hearing Loki, facing Loki, recognizing Loki’s pain and trying to understand it. It would mean seeing Loki as an independent equal, not a mirror for his own glory or a foil. It would mean facing all of those hard questions that Loki, both because of his situation post-Avengers and by virtue of being who and what he is, is inescapably bound up with: questions about racism and Asgardian culture and war and genocide and Odin and being a ruler over others and justice and coercion and Thor’s ego and what Thor himself may have done wrong, to others and to Loki. It would mean asking what really happened during the traumatic series of events depicted in Thor and The Avengers. It would mean looking at his own responsibility toward someone in his care and under his influence: his little brother.
It would mean having to change, profoundly, in a system that teaches him to be one thing only and in the face of a living example of what happens to people who don’t fit that box. It could very well mean losing everything except - maybe - Loki himself; complex, difficult, prickly, painful, pained, angry, accusing, loving, needing, little-brother Loki.
Easier to simply cut Loki out as much as he can, to literally avoid facing him and what he represents, until it is literally life-and-death and he can’t avoid it anymore, because the emotion overwhelms his conscious control. And then backing away from that recognition’s moral consequences with the help of a pat redemption narrative and a suitably (not-too-)admiring backhanded line about Loki’s honor and kingly potential, delivered to the one person Thor knows - and has just been told again - Loki has no desire whatsoever to impress; a line that costs Thor nothing but paints him in a good light. Again, it’s cowardice.
He wants to think of himself as a hero, needs to in fact since he has no other box to put himself into that’s not labeled ‘villain’, but he’s unwilling to do the long-term inner work necessary to either live up to the moral demands of that role or to fashion himself a different, less glorious and more complex, role in life and in his own imagination.
This is the crux of my frustration with him as a putative hero; he clearly has the capacity from moral growth, but he refuses to follow through. It’s the same with Harry and James Potter, with Lupin, and with too many contemporary ‘heroes.’ They go through the motions of moral growth without ever having to actually bear the costs and do the real, lasting work of it; often they even regress. I attribute it in part to a sort of Gryffindorized notion of heroism in which physical bravery and athleticism is too-patly equated with and held to be a sign of lasting moral courage. That is, it stems I think from a tendency to confuse two types of hero, in terms of the argument put forward in DeScioli and Kurzban’s “Cracking the Superhero’s Moral Code:” it’s a confusion of the war hero (whose heroism rests on his prowess in battle - his kill count - and who defends the group from external invaders) with the crimefighter (who deals with intra-group conflict and serves as a third party rendering moral judgment).
And I could say more but this grew into a monster post, whoa. XD
Want to bold everything in this brilliant post. Thank you!