Monday, May 7, 2012
The Avengers and Freedom
With the record-breaking opening weekend box office, and all the surrounding chatter and hype, I don't have much to say about The Avengers that hasn't been said already by others. In brief I will say that I think it is right near the pinnacle of the genre, alongside The Dark Knight, and that it succeeds quite well as the summer blockbuster entertainment that it aims to be. Although I also think it falters on some levels (I mostly concur with the 'cons' listed here on The Playlist), on the level of superhero spectacle, and sharp, witty character dialogue and interaction, it is at the peak of the genre. Although, aside from Nolan's Batman universe, it's not a genre I find particularly substantive or edifying, offering mostly transient pleasures, and so you should take the praise somewhat lightly.
With that out of the way, I will confine my comments to a couple narrow observations on small aspects of the film, and offer (perhaps) a somewhat unique focus so as not to trod well-worn areas of comment.
I found Loki -- Thor's brother, the central villain -- to be a a somewhat lackluster heel, but his philosophy did interest me somewhat. Loki says he wants to free humanity from freedom; that the rat race of modern life is degrading and dehumanizing; that humanity, at its core, craves subjugation. All this, according to him, is the reason we should accept his rule over us. Well, as totalitarian and demented as this thinking is, he is onto something.
Though Loki's conception of the solution to the problem is perverse, human beings were created with an orientation toward an ultimate end. Contra the modern model of freedom that focuses on unrestrained voluntarism, true freedom is the freedom to have our will transformed into God's will that we would be conformed to Christ's image. The modern, secular model of freedom has no real 'content' of its own, it is just the absence of coercive or oppressive forces operating on the will. While true human freedom has a purpose and a goal. As David Bentley Hart says, "We are free not because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well." Choosing to do other than what God desires for our lives is, in fact, enslaving. So Loki's seemingly demented ravings actually have a significant kernel of truth in them (the devil's lies always do).
One other thing I wanted to briefly comment on is when, in response to someone saying that Thor and Loki are "practically gods", Captain America retorts "there's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure He doesn't dress like that." It's a good line, and it's refreshing to hear in the context of a major blockbuster, as God becomes more and more taboo in our culture. However, even this line can only believably come from the 'old-fashioned' guy who has been frozen in ice for 70 years. Thor, being from the pagan pantheon of gods, would never say such a thing; Tony Stark's worldly solipsism would never permit him to make such an utterance; Hulk.. well, Hulk smash. You get the idea. On one hand it can be seen as a tip of the hat to the Creator of the universe, but on the other hand it could have been cynically placed in the mouth of a hopelessly benighted, 'old-fashioned' guy who literally is from another time, as he's the only one who would ever think such a primitive thought. Let's be charitable and assume it was the former.