Switching to a more useful topic than MFAs in Creative Writing, I want to write about the move Thor. I just saw it for the fifth or sixth time. I really like it. Why? It’s just another silly Marvel superhero movie.
I am going to talk about the entire movie. So this is a spoiler alert. Though of course you know how the movie will end already. Myths and comic books tend to come to the obvious ending.
I like the three realms that we see: Asgard, which is a science fiction city of the future combined with a Renaissance court; Jotenheim, which is cold and dark and bare, even spookier than the Old Norse realm of the frost giants as I imagined it from reading the myths; and Midgard, the realm of humans, which is an early 21st century American small town, set in the middle of the New Mexico desert.
I like the combination of superhero comic conventions and Norse myth. I think there’s a touch of Shakespeare in the movie, courtesy of Kenneth Branagh, Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston, who are all Shakespearean actors. Tom Hiddleston, who is Loki, certainly lurks around like Iago.
I don’t know the Marvel comic book well. So I go back to the myths and to Shakespeare: like Othello, Thor is the story of a strong, simple man tricked by devious and malicious man. In the myths, Thor ia a strong, simple, decent, not-too-bright god partnered with a trickster, who (like most tricksters) is sometimes good and sometimes evil. I think, in the movie, we are watching Loki descend into evil.
I like the story, which is mostly simple, though Loki — trickster and plotter that he is — makes everything a bit more complex.
Thor is young, strong, simple, arrogant and foolish. Like the mythic Thor, he is the monster slayer and (as it turns out) the friend of humanity. His good traits, which take a while to show up, are loyalty and decency.
Odin is the Allfather, the god who understands consequence and plans deeply.
Loki is the trickster, who by the end of the movie has betrayed everyone, even himself. He’s an Iago with a motivation. He loves his father Odin and is jealous of Thor, who is — Loki believes — the favored son. Is this correct? That isn’t certain.
The movie is a test of both Thor and Loki. Thor disobeys his father and attacks the realm of the frost giants, when his father had told him he wants peace. As punishment, he is sent to Earth in mortal form to learn what it’s like to live without the hammer Mjolnir and the strength of Thor.
Soon after, Loki has a blazing row with Odin, because he has discovered he is actually a giant, adopted as an infant by the gods. In the middle of the quarrel, Odin collapses and falls into the Odinsleep, a deep sleep from which he cannot be awakened. Loki is left free to do what he’d do without his father around.
My theory is, Odin has discovered there are problems with both sons; and so he decides to test them: Thor by sending him into exile and Loki by going to sleep and leaving the stage free.
Thor must learn how to live without power, and Loki must learn to live with the power of a king.
Loki seizes the throne of Asgard and invites the king of frost giants into Asgard to kill Odin. But before the murder can be accomplished, Loki kills the giant king. As I say, he betrays everyone. He then attempts to destroy the frost giants’ realm and kill an entire people — having first lured their king into a direct attack on Odin, a more or less manufactured act of war. The giants are tall and green and unpleasant; none the less it’s genocide.
Like Thor at the beginning to the movie, Loki is trying to win the approval of his father by saving Asgard from their enemy. Odin, who has known war, wants peace. It really is an anti-war movie.
On Earth Thor gets his arrogance beaten out of him. He now has to deal with people as an equal, instead of a god. He is still a formidable warrior, but he no longer has Mjolnir’s power, and he learns that violence does not solve everything — or even most things. (He could have learned the same lesson with Mjolnir, but it would have been far messier. Odin sends him to a place where he can learn the limits of power without destroying the universe.)
Loki visits him on Earth and tells him Odin is dead — killed by Thor’s disobedience and exile — and their mother Frigga will not allow Thor back to Asgard. So now he has lost his divinity, his strength, his family and his home, and it all seems to be his fault.
Unlike Loki, he can learn from experience, and he can accept consequences. He accepts his exile on Earth in very ordinary ways — by getting drunk with a human man and falling in love with a woman. Maybe, if he had more time, he would have mourned more. But he is young and strong and simple, and the movie is an action movie.
He has learned the limits of power, and he has learned to be human. The final lesson comes when Loki sends a robot to Earth to kill Thor. By this time Thor’s buddies have shown up: the Warriors Three and the warrior maiden Sif. They still have their divine powers, but they can’t stop the robot, which is destroying the small New Mexico town. So Thor learns the last lesson of being a king. If necessary, you sacrifice yourself.
He goes up to the robot and says, “This is between you and me, Loki. Leave these other people out. Kill me, if you find that’s necessary.”
The robot kills him.
And the hammer Mjolnir, which is conveniently nearby, returns to Thor, who comes back to life and defeats the robot. He really is a terrific killer of monsters; and the movie does a good job of reminding us that Thor is the god of storms. Earlier in the movie, he tries to get Mjolnir back from the US government in the middle of a thunderstorm, which arrives as if summoned; and he defeats the robot inside a tornado.
Then they all go back to Asgard, and Thor stops Loki from destroying the realm of the frost giants. To do this, he has to destroy Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, which isolates Asgard from the other realms. So Thor has lost Earth and the woman he now loves, and he has lost Loki, who is apparently killed in their epic fight.
He still loves Loki. One of Thor’s virtues is loyalty. Like the Thor of the Old Norse myths, he is a very simple god.
Patrick points out that I have written a synopsis, not an analysis. I am a story teller, not a critic. And strangely enough, the movie is complex enough to require description in some detail.
I use the word simple a lot in my synopsis. Myths are simple, and so are most comics, though comics can be complex. I used to think that one of things I liked about science fiction, including my own work, was a certain brightness and flatness, a lack of nuance. Compare a 1960s Abstract Expressionist painting to a 17th century Dutch painting. The abstract painting is big and bright and flat. The Dutch painting is small and has depth and detail, light and shadow, nuance. Both can be good, but they touch us differently.
The other thing to remember is — the abstract paintings were done after the Dutch realistic paintings by artists fully trained in realism, light and shadow, plasticity, nuance and detail.
Simplicity can be a choice, not a failing; and there can be complexity within simplicity.
Getting back to the movie, I think Loki is the person who drives the plot step by step, through his tricks and plots. Odin is the over-arching consciousness: the person who understands what is going on. A key line is the movie is Frigga talking to Loki: “Your father always has a purpose.” So Odin is the movie’s Prospero, who moves the plot through a very limited number of key interventions: Thor’s exile and his own retreat into the Odinsleep.
Thor as Othello and Loki as Iago, or Odin as Propero and Loki as — what? Caliban the monster? Am I nuts? Tom Hiddleston says that he and Branagh and Hopkins would get together during the filming of the movie and talk “Shakepearean babble” to one another about how play scenes.
Ah, what the heck. It’s a good action movie.