Infinity War: Thanos, the Avengers and Death. (3800 words)
As Avengers : Endgame slowly approaches release date and we prepare ourselves to be strongly entertained for 2 hours and a half only to immediately forget what the movie was about, I felt like reminding myself of what Infinity War was about. To be fair, I was surprised at the fact that this juggernaut didn’t feel as hollow as I expected, compared to Age of Ultron or Avengers.
Like for many others, one of the main appeals of Infinity War for me was Thanos’ character and his motivations. It’s rare to have a villain who wants to destroy worlds while still displaying somewhat believable motivations.
I was also very curious when it comes to how all the characters were dealt with on a narrative level as it was quite imaginable that their encounter with Thanos was truly an ending to a big narrative arc that had been developed in previous movies. And so, truly Infinity War would actually need you to watch most of the other Marvel in order to understand what’s going on.
Unsurprisingly, Thanos is a metaphor for death. More precisely, the characters’ relationship with him is a metaphor for their own intimate relationship with life and death.
It is while watching Age of Ultron that I realised that the Avengers were actually noxious to people. In order to explain how their impact on the world is problematic I will use a little comparison:
Imagine a farmer called George. He lives in the countryside near a forest and regularly witnesses rabbits getting attacked and killed by wolves. George loves rabbits and finds them cute and so he decides to protect them. He buys a big gun and starts shooting at wolves on sight. In George The Protector, he saves rabbits from wolves with a shotgun. In the sequel, wolves are less numerous but they have become bigger and more aggressive and they start attacking dogs and cows and humans, while the rabbit population flourishes and people are starting to become annoyed by them. This time George has to save a family of farmers from a monstrous wolf, the fight is fierce as the creature now resists shotgun shells. New traps and weapons have to be created. In George, The Protector 3, the overpopulation of rabbits attracts predators. The number of wolves increases not because they reproduce but because they actually migrate to the region, accompanied by foxes and bears. And all these animals, not only attack humans, but also bring diseases. George now needs a special homemade vehicle and a minigun to face the menace. Worst of all, the greatest predator of all time, man, has now turned towards the rabbits too. People are starting to kill the poor little creatures ! Noooo !
The final solution to all this is for that idiot George to realise that he should stop defending the rabbits and stop intervene in the normal course of nature.
It’s exactly the same thing with The Avengers. The problem isn’t that they try to protect people, but that their intervention goes against the laws of society and nature. The more they intervene the more they destroy both. Civil War is about the fact that they’re a threat to society. A minority of them will remain problematic while the other half will accept to be ruled. Infinity War is about the group of them who have a problem with nature’s ultimate law: mortality. And as a consequence, an incarnation of death comes to teach them a little lesson.
So, there are several points I’d like to make through the analysis of each character’s relationship with Death/Thanos. 1-As I said, it’s a metaphor for their relationship with life and death. 2-They cannot stop Thanos because of a psychological issue. 3-Thanos is wrong. 4-The narrative arc needs what was developed in previous movies to a certain extent. 5-The whole thing is nicely philosophical.
Thanos: While watching Infinity War, it’s quite easy to consider that Thanos is right. The random killing of half of the population of earth would solve a few serious problems: overpopulation (duh) and pollution. Plus, the man is quite convincing in his approach, he really doesn’t seem to look for any personal benefits, and we truly believe that his heart is broken when he has to sacrifice Gamora.
The trick comes from the fact that the problem of his idea isn’t in the killings. The problem is the same as with the Avengers. Thanos’ initiative puts him in the position of substituting nature with himself. If half of mankind has to die from a mysterious disease that appeared because of pollution, so be it; wiping out half of humanity as a measure of protection is different in essence. Even if the number of victims is the same, the resulting situation will not be.
By doing so, Thanos deprives humanity from the ownership of their destiny. By saving them against their will, by harshly imposing to them an extreme measure that will not fail to save them, he locks humanity in a state of childishness and immaturity forever. He describes Gamora’s planet after his passage as “a paradise.” But Paradise is the Garden of God, the Garden of Eden, the place where humans still lived under God’s ruling and surveillance before the biting of the Apple of Knowledge and The Fall, that is to say before humans became autonomous, adult and took responsibility for their acts.
Thanos’ action forces a mental regression upon the population his “saves.” How do the survivors feel after his passage ? Once they know that whatever they do, God will always come back and ruthlessly wipe out half of them if things take a problematic turn. Also, what about the guilt induced by a prosperity obtained through the sacrifice of loved ones ? How do you enjoy your life when it necessarily costed someone else’s ?
When he says that the choice would be entirely random -no difference between rich and poor- Thanos sounds reasonable. The problem with this idea is that, by making the selection random, he also asserts that there’s no such thing as worth in his eyes, and thus in the eyes of God because by wiping out half of humanity and at the same time saving it, he becomes its new God. If he selects randomly, he asserts that children’s lives aren’t more important than old people’s lives, that the lives of those who brought humanity to this dead end are as valuable as those who actually were in opposition. For example, if Thanos thinks that the problem is overpopulation, shouldn’t he spare the people who decided not to have children ? Anyway, you get the point: He uses the idea of randomness as a signifier for “non-ideoligical” when it is actually the assertion that nothing means anything, that nothing has any value. If everything has to be treated equally, then nothing has any real value.
Just like the Avengers, Thanos should just mind his own business. And actually, what he truly is, is the Final Avenger. He is not different from them, he is like them. He highjacks people’s destiny pretending that everything will be better off if he takes it from here.
So really, his positioning is a mistake as he does exactly the contrary of what he pretends to do. He compliments Peter Quill when he shows himself capable of killing Gamora for the greater good. He tells Tony Stark that he respects him when it becomes obvious that the man is ready to fight to the death. Thanos thinks of himself as a selfless man who spreads death but for the greater good, he therefore perceives a man ready to kill a loved one and a man ready lose his life as persons deserving of his respect and capable of secretly understanding the value of his undertaking. The problem is that, his approach is the opposite of one that would lead people to become more responsible and courageous. Saving humanity by wiping out half of the population would create a situation in which nobody dare undertake anything anymore. It would be the furthest from bringing people to be able to understand that sometimes blood has to be shed and lives have to be sacrificed. The type of personality that he praises (the one he pretends to have) is the one he is sure to eradicate through his success.
Thanos is the stupid mono-minded authoritative father who prevents his kids from growing-up by not giving them any room for mistakes or weaknesses and by extension not giving them any room to take any responsibility. The sole possibly they have to grow up is to rebel against him.
And last thing about him: the reason why his approach is contradictory is that he is an egomaniac. When he says “I’m the only one who has the will to act upon this knowledge” the “I’m the only one” part is very important to him. The Avengers have been breaking all the rules possible (physics, society, nature, logic etc) in order to save everybody all the time, and thus the last thing that’s left to prove that someone’s stronger than them is to save people by killing people. Thanos is just saying “Yeah, I’m even stronger than the Avengers because contrary to them, I understand that death is part of life.”
So, simply, Thanos is dishonest, he’s flatly showing off. He doesn’t care about improving people’s lives, he care about appearing as the superior one. He is some sort of guru who takes advantage of a situation in order to presents himself as a form of messiah.
If he was honest, Gamora would have agreed with him, but she knows he’s a fraud. That’s why she hates his throne, symbol of his inflated ego, of his desire to reign, not to humbly offer his help. If he was honest, he wouldn’t have been able to sacrifice his beloved daughter Gamora in order to save a planet, a population, who isn’t his. Why would he kill his “little one” in order to save earth’s inhabitants ? What does it matter to him ? His killing of Gamora hints at his hypocrisy. In reality, he derides an immense pleasure from eradicating populations while pretending it’s for the greater good.
The truth behind Thanos’ character is that he is an impotent being who is trying to compensate for his sterility. He has two daughters, one robotic, one adopted.
And so his addiction to perpetuating genocides is the expression of his urge to presents himself as an alpha male when he factually cannot be as he cannot reproduce. But the Avengers created this niche were he actually can have the feeling that he is spreading life when he actually is killing people. That’s why he goes as far as killing Gamora, wiping out half of humanity makes him feel more like a father than having an adoptive daughter. What he doesn’t realise though, is that his approach forces him to blind himself to love bonds (which is why he has to kill Gamora to reach his goal).
Iron Man: I haven’t seen Iron Man 3 and do not remember Iron Man 2. However, there’s one thing I remember for certain in Iron Man is that Tony Stark is suicidal. Tony Stark is constantly risking his life at moments when he could totally be more prudent. When he tests the suit for the first time, he nearly kills himself but pretends that great discoveries require to take great risks. In that context it’s completely false. Then, he seduces Pepper by putting his life in her hands when changing his artificial heart.
In Civil War we learn that Bucky murdered Tony’s parents. As an orphan he has a very specific relationship with death: death destroyed his world but also took place of his parents. Whenever he feels the need to be close to them, he actually feels like dying. (In Infinity War, he is supposed to marry Pepper, he needs his parents).
Also, his parents death also made him obsessed with protecting people and making everyone safe. That’s why he is a weapon creator, because of his weakness, protecting has become “attacking first” to him.
His fear of losing the ones he loves transformed him into a crazy perfectionist and also makes him reject life and mortality.
I know, all this looks a bit contradictory, but Tony Stark is complex.
To put things a bit more simply, Tony Star wants to make everything safe, he wants to eradicate the concept of threat. The problem is that threat is inherent to life and as a consequence, Tony Stark is actually a great threat to life itself. Example: he creates Ultron and Vision. He wants to create a perfect being, immortal, limitless, that would make the term “danger” obsolete.
Stark also has great difficulties when it comes to deal with love, as love is incompatible with perfection and safety. If you love, you have a weakness, an imperfection, you need something exterior to yourself, you’re not entirely self-suffiscient = Iron Man’s amour is self-sufficiency through technology, it’s a re-creation of his mother’s womb. It’s normal that Pepper should be jealous of Tony’s suit.
Anyway. Tony Stark’s desire for safety can make him desire death, because death is wholeness, absence of fear and absence of danger. Facing this enemy that incarnates the idea that death is useful, Tony Stark cannot but subconsciously agree and hope to be killed in the fight.
So yeah, the metaphorical reason why Tony Stark cannot stop Thanos is to be found in prior movies.
Dr. Strange: When Strange saves Tony Stark’s life by giving Thanos the time stone, the Avenger asks “why would you do that ?” Spectators blamed Star Lord for waking up Thanos but truly, all the heroes fail to stop Thanos for a very personal reason. Strange could have and should have sacrificed Stark. Giving Thanos the time stone is folly as it obviously will lead to more deaths.
The thing is Dr. Strange’s morbid relationship with death is that he is addicted to saving lives. This is also developed in his own movie. As a surgeon, Strange is accustomed to see his patients’ lives depend on his ability to heal them and he slowly becomes addicted to this gratifying feeling. He thinks that his hands make him a God/Are magic. The end of the movie shows him becoming masochistic as he stops Dormammu’s attack on earth by having the creature become bored of torturing him. Strange derides sexual pleasure from pain when it is for the sake of saving lives.
That’s why in Infinity War he finds himself incapable of escaping strangulation and is captured (because he enjoyed being strangulated) and then, again tortured. Aaaah, the delicious excruciating pain !
It is not obvious how Strange’s deviance could be harmful to humanity but it is already clearly said in his movie that the initiatives he takes in order to stop Dormammu is actually selfish and irresponsible. And so, beyond appearances he might have done something detrimental to humanity for the sake of his own masochistic pleasure.
It’s more visible in Infinity War when he simply gives Thanos the time stone as soon as it allows him to save someone’s life. He is a junky.
Thor: Thor is the cursed immortal man. Because he cannot die, he necessarily will witness the death of all his loved ones and his life will lose any meaning whatsoever until the sole thing that will matter to him is to find a way to die. And I understand that he would want to die after having met Valkyrie too.
Thor’s despair is more developed in Infinity War even though his three movies can help understand how huge his loss is. Still, the reason why he cannot kill Thanos is perceivable: the northern God wants to die and even taking the explosion of a star right in his face can’t kill him. Thanos’ plan actually represents a 50% chance of getting killed.
So, when Thor makes the mistake of “not going for the head” it’s actually because he cannot find the will to kill Thanos. He is angry at death, but not because people die, because he himself can’t seem to be able to do so.
Star Lord: Peter Quill’s origin story too is useful in understanding why he fails to stop Thanos.
Peter’s mother asked for his hand a few second before she died but he didn’t give it to her. Why ? Because he understood that as soon as he would hold her hand, she would welcome death and he didn’t want her to die. Star Lord perceives the desire to maintain the people you love alive if they want to die as selfish. That’s why he finds the strength to kill Gamora. He firmly believes that death isn’t scary or problematic if it is given by someone who loves you.
So, when he hears about Thanos killing Gamora, of course he is sad and disgusted, but what makes him stupidly hit Thanos in the face is that he prevented him from being the one to deliver the fatal blow only to kill her afterwards. Thanos thinks that he loves Gamora more than Peter does. It’s quite convoluted but that’s the dynamic that makes Peter slap Thanos. Otherwise, he would have been able to take the pain and keep in mind that he shouldn’t awaken his enemy. Jealousy VS Anger.
Spider man: Peter Parker is the true victim of Thanos. He is the boy who is 100% self-sacrificial. He doesn’t realise that his life is important and gets swallowed by his role as a superhero. It’s already the theme in Homecoming, but it’s visible in Infinity War too.
An important scene is when he saves Dr.Strange from being sucked into space without actually thinking of holding onto something in order to avoid being sucked into space himself => he is focussed on saving people and doesn’t realise he can die too.
Thanos will teach him that he was alive and didn’t want to die.
Wakanda: I wrote an article in French about the fact that Wakanda was a matriarchy in effect, the rule of the mother and of women and that Black Panther was Super Vagina. Black Panther, the movie, tells the story of how T’Challa finds a way to escape female influence and to give room to his masculinity (a bit).
Infinity War carries on with this topic as the attack of Thanos is a metaphore for a birth. Wakanda is treated like a uterus/ovary that is pierced/fecunded. There’s a small narrative arc about “opening the country.” And so, coming to life is also welcoming death, entering temporality.
The Hulk/Bruce Banner: Bruce’s narrative arc is about taking space, forcing others to acknowledge the fact that you exist. His climactic scene is when Banner decides that if he doesn’t transform in a second, he is going to die but still doesn’t transform and finds a way to survive. Bruce Banner’s relationship with death is that he doesn’t trust himself enough to think he might have any useful skill to actually protect his own life. And so, he is incapable of taking initiatives (like jumping on Black Widow), of existing as an individual. He's a scientist, science is the occupation that makes you take a step back and observe life as if you weren't part of it.
When facing Thanos, he simply becomes immaterial and then paralysed (in a rock). He is terrified.
Captain America: Steve Rogers, as a human being, cannot beat death. The problematic aspect of the relationship is that he thinks he might be able to. He thinks that death is unacceptable and he also thinks that he can escape it. We have to remember that he is chosen for the experiment that made him Captain America because he used himself as a protection in order to contain the explosion of a grenade.
A balanced human being wouldn’t perceive Thanos as death incarnate like they all do, but would identify the fraud that he is.
Vision. Scarlett Witch: It was somewhat surprising that characters like Vision and Scarlett Witch were given more room than Captain America in Infinity War, but truly they’re at the core of the question.
Scarlett is in love with a robot. Vision is not alive, he is a simulacra, an illusion. She is in love with an object, with something inanimate, with something dead. (Edit: and she has an orgasm when she dies, look at her).
This aspect of their relationship is far from being unimportant in the movie as in the end, half of humanity is killed because no one dared slap Scarlett in the face and tell her that Vision was unimportant.
Of course, the fact that he should be wearing the soul stone, makes him less of a machine. The thing is when they’re in London Vision starts a sentence with “I want to talk for myself” and finds himself incapable of continuing what he was saying. He is just a smart robot who gives Scarlett what she wants.
Scarlett’s relationship with death is thus that she is in love with something dead and cannot accept that it is… Quicksilver.
Thanos will teach her the truth of the matter. When she destroys the soul stone, Vision is destroyed in a beautiful transcendent explosion. When Thanos takes the stone from Vision’s forehead, it reveals the mechanic brain behind it, the immanent machine is exposed.
Nick Fury: Here, I have to repeat the idea that although Thanos represents death for all the characters because they deny the need for its existence and someone can thus take on the task to teach it to them, he is truly a fraud. Anybody who understands how life works and why death isn’t the enemy also understands that Thanos if just a fraud.
That guy is Nick Fury (I believe).
When he realises that he is dying, Nick goes “Mother*****.” He identifies his death as the result of an attack, of an act of war. What difference does it make ?
Nick Fury is ready to die on the job. Dying is natural and accepted. When he looks at his arm transforming into leaves, his reaction is to state the unnatural aspect of this phenomenon. It is the result of an artificial malevolent initiative. That’s what bothers him. There’s an enemy behind this death, and he insults this enemy.
The best part is that the insult that he chooses is meaningful.
First, he only has time to say “mother” and not “motherfucker.” His last word is thus directed towards the person who brought him to this world. By dying, he returns to the plenitude of the womb and his last word is the acknowledgment that life was worth it. He is thankful to his mother. Mother = nature = life. His last word is gratitude directed towards life for having been alive. Also, he is actually looking at his own death when uttering this word. He is calling his death, mother. And so Nick Fury is the character who understands that life is not opposed to death but the result of the dynamic between life and death. He is the character whom Thanos cannot fool.
Which is why, he is the one who can call him “motherfucker.” What is a motherfucker ? A man who tries to create life out of its own origin and thus puts an end to the normal cycle of life, a man who tries to be his own father, a man who plays God. Nick Fury isn’t fooled by Thanos’ persona, he knows the guy is just a megalomaniacal asshole and that his initiative is not a solution but will bring humanity into a cycle of self-destruction.
Nick Fury's mistake comes from the fact that he trusted the Avengers. He thought these guys could do something positive when truly they're a bunch of incompetent sociopaths.
That’s why I believe that the mysterious message that he sends will be the end of Thanos. But I don’t know. We’ll see.
Edit: OH BOY was I wrong on that one. I've just seen Captain Marvel and I thus understand that the message he is sending is just a extension of Fury's general mistake of trusting the Avengers. He is calling the worst of them all.
My problem with Fury is that I don't understand why he trusts The Avengers. He obviously has a weakness but I don't understand it.
Anyway. He's not the important one here.