SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ UNTIL AFTER WATCHING AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
At first, I considered writing a review of the movie Avengers: Infinity War. If you really want to know, I liked it. My plan was to break it down and do some comparing to the Infinity War or Infinity Gauntlet comic runs, but turns out I will soon be talking about that on Graded 0.5 – a comic podcast I am shamelessly plugging my induction as a co-host on right now. Anyway, I happened to notice a media trend concerning the role of Thanos in the movie. Many articles and comments have been popping up claiming that having any empathy for Thanos’ character was equivalent to being a “villain” of sorts yourself. I, however, firmly disagree and thus this post was born.
Ah, Thanos – one of the universes biggest emo kids endowed with Godlike power and knowledge of sciences far beyond humanitys reach. On the surface he appears to be a warmonger obsessed with power and control, but follow his storylines in depth and it becomes clear he’s terrified of death and the idea of being completely alone. I was very interested in how Disney planned to develop him in the movies…turns out they went with…both depictions?
With each movie he was referenced in, it appeared that Thanos became a bit less…Thanos -like. It seemed like they were including his cybernetic enhancements but by the time he appeared in the movie they have been building up to, those details were missing. Still, the stripped down pink Thanos proved just as powerful and ruthless as we had come to expect, despite appearing less menacing.
Alright, so, that whole empathy thing! I’m sticking to movie Thanos and not bringing in comic knowledge for this because most of the folk making the strange empathy comments are only familiar with the movie, if at all. In the movie, Thanos makes his reasoning very clear to anyone he can get to listen. To put simply: his planet and every living thing on it died due to overpopulation draining it of all resources, and being the sole survivor he feels it is his duty to ensure the same thing does not happen to all the other planets. If you thought anything along the lines of “Well, I get WHY he would feel that way but…” guess what? You empathize with Thanos. I could also argue that you empathize with Thanos if you got a case of the feels when he sacrificed Gamora, however there are many reasons to get the feels here. Yes, you may be empathizing with Thanos who feels he just had to sacrifice the one thing he loved for the greater good. Maybe you hate him for that, though. Maybe you empathize with Gamora here, who just found out the hard way that she actually was loved. There is a good bet you empathize with Star Lord, who was powerless to stop his romantic interest from dying. My point being…
Empathy is the ability to mentally put yourself in someone elses shoes. Empathy is the reason that mere fiction can make you react emotionally, despite not having an actual effect on your life. In the movie, when you are upset at things Thanos did it is because you empathize with the characters negatively affected by his actions. Let me tell you why I have empathy for Thanos, and you can decide if that makes me a villain myself.
First of all, the guy is the last of his species. That in itself is a very lonely existence but he tried to stop it from happening! Can you not imagine trying to warn your entire race that you are facing a possibly avoidable extinction and have absolutely no one listen to you? Granted, telling them they needed to murder half the population met with expected results but maybe if they heeded the warnings they could have figured out something? Putting myself in his boots, that was probably the most powerless Thanos had ever felt in his life. There is no wonder in my mind as to why he would become so obsessed with power afterwards. While the hunt for the infinity stones was gruesome, even his reasoning for wanting them was rather noble. He had already long began his quest to “save” the universe, but his methods where crude. Sending in soldiers to conquer and then divide up the inhabitants of planets for execution is not a good look if you are claiming to be a hero. The infinity gauntlet provided a much more efficient and vastly more “humane” way of doing things. I can understand that line of thinking, just like I can understand preferring to put a beloved pet to sleep rather than have them suffer to the end.
I empathize with his desire to save the universe. I understand why he thinks what he is doing needs to be done. Even he knows killing is wrong, and feels he is playing the bad guy for the greater good of all (which paints a very different picture than the one I got from the grinning, glowing eyed Thanos seen in prior movies). Some people were comparing Thanos and his reasoning to Hitler and the holocaust. I get it, I suppose. They both killed a lot of people, claiming righteous reasons. The problem with the comparison is Hitler targeted a specific group of people and imprisoned, tortured, demonized them. He used propaganda to rally people to his cause and intended to rule over them. While he does think himself superior to all other beings, he does not share enough parallels to Hitler.
Thanos is essentially “culling the herd” on a massive scale. Why is it that we humans can justify doing the same to animals that we deem lesser beings than ourselves but when Thanos has the same idea, he is evil? I’m not backing him, of course. Ultimately I think he is in the wrong specifically for making the choice on his own. He sees all life as inferior to him, and thus thinks he has the right to cull the herds. We, and Thanos, both justify the killing by saying it is to protect the environment/resources. If we let the numbers get out of control, all the plant life will be eaten and then all the animals will slowly starve to death. Are humans evil for combating this with hunting seasons? I mean, we are the entire reason the animal herds need culled in the first place by eliminating natural predators. Thanos did not create the problem he is trying to “fix’ so…
There are two types of villains I like in my fiction. The first kind are ones that have compelling reasons for their actions, truly believing themselves the hero – tragic backstories a bonus. These types force us to question our own morals and humanity. The other is the kind that are just plain scary and evil. They know they are sick and twisted and they love it – tragic backstories still a bonus. The key is, they lack any empathy at all! The inability to emphasize, be it with an enemy or friend, is what actually makes an “evil” villain. Thanos is the former, obviously. In the movie he still feels empathy himself and it hurts him to have to push the feelings down. He forced me to compare humans culling animals to him culling humans and all the other races. He forced me to admit to myself that using the gauntlet to do it is actually a compassionate gesture. I put myself in Thanos’ place, and realize that he makes sense from his standpoint. Again, he is the villain to me because he is making the choice against the will of those affected. Let the people figure out their own overpopulation problems! I have to admit, however, that humans are no better than Thanos. We play with the lives of all other animals because we view ourselves as more advanced creatures.
What do you think? Did you empathize with Thanos at all? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!
Also don’t forget to check out Graded 0.5 where I will soon be discussing Infinity Gauntlet with the pals!