So I finally saw the movie on Saturday. I managed to avoid spoilers for ten days. Ate a big breakfast to get through the three-hour epic and found a parking place at the Lynnwood Mall on a busy Saturday afternoon to get into the Alderwood Mall AMC theater for the show. Let me share a few Mormonish thoughts that came to me as I reflected on this whole Movie of the Decade experience.
Three Hours. That ought to ring a bell. The movie didn’t really seem too long, but that’s only because there was a lot of exciting content (at least after the first slow 30 or 40 minutes). I don’t recall a set of LDS three-hour meetings that ever qualified as “exciting content.” I can’t believe we had three-hour church for four decades. It’s nice to have that one in the rearview mirror.
Grave Mistakes. Okay, I’m borrowing this from Thor: Ragnarok, which I re-watched during Preparation Week. Accused by a big bad guy of making a grave mistake, Thor replied: “I make grave mistakes all the time. Everything seems to work out.” That’s a strange mix of hubris and humility, but his willingness to admit to grave mistakes is striking. Somehow, LDS folk theology has developed an implicit theory of leader infallibility that resists acknowledging any error, whether grave or slight. This persists despite, for example, dropping First Sunday Councils (in Priesthood and RS) after one unimpressive year, flip-flopping on 18-month missions a generation or two ago, reversing the November Policy after less than four years, etc. There is nothing wrong with these policy changes. That’s what effective pragmatic leaders do in the face of adverse experience or new developments. But what’s wrong with saying, “Sometimes we make mistakes,” rather than continuing to push implicit infallibility, which requires mental backflips and bad reasoning to square with how policies and doctrines change over time? Take a hint from Thor. We make grave mistakes all the time.
Past, Present, and Future. Time travel opens up helpful possibilities for plot twists, but it complicates techno-thriller timelines and consistency. If you are a detail-oriented INTJ, you probably spent the two hours after the movie critiquing a few temporal inconsistencies. Every techno-thriller with time travel announces an imperative “don’t mess with past events, it will screw up the timeline” order, then breaks that imperative before the end of the movie. LDS doctrine and historiography tends to screw up the timeline, with Christian doctrines showing up in the pre-Christian Book of Mormon, old Israelite doctrines like temples popping up in 19th-century LDS practice, and modern developments like Freemasonry being given spurious ancient origins. Somehow the average Mormon just feels no need to respect chronology, to respect the timeline. It’s also bedevils LDS biblical exegesis.
Thor’s Hammer. I want one. Who doesn’t? But you have to be worthy to use it. There’s that word. Here is the enchantment that Odin apparently placed on Thor’s Hammer, which as you recall caused Thor some problems in the original Thor movie: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if (s)he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” Who judges Thorean worthiness: the Hammer? Odin? The Spirit of Asgard? All the characters struggle with conscience and doing the right thing at one time or another in the various Avenger movies, but only with Thor and his Hammer does “worthiness” enter the discussion explicitly. He engaged in a wide variety of killings, feuded with his brother, lied regularly, and drinks a lot of beer. Yet Thor was found worthy to wield the Hammer. Plainly we are dealing with a different conception of worthiness than the Mormon one. Perhaps a comparison between the Mormon conception of worthiness and the Thorean conception of worthiness deserves a post of its own. Maybe we could work this into the whole armor of God passage in Ephesians: “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, and the hammer of the God of Thunder …”
The Tragic Worldview. Here’s a quote from the strangely insightful Thanos upon the death of a character who I will not name: “No resurrection this time.” Superheroes have a habit of not staying dead, but it appears some of the dead in this movie are gone for good. As is said in biology, “Extinction is forever.” (Or at least until genetic technology makes some further advances.) This view that extinction is forever (at the cosmic scale) and that death is final (at the personal scale) are part of the tragic worldview, in contrast to the Christian worldview where resurrection cures death and grace eventually heals all wounds (if you’re a Universalist) or at least some wounds (if you are a sectarian).
The Avengers, it seems, accept the tragic worldview. Thanos embraces it with a vengeance. It certainly lends narrative depth and gravitas to the story arc. It’s the temporary nature of death, particularly the death of Jesus, who in the Christian worldview resurrected in just two or three days and wasn’t really dead even for that short period, that calls depth narrative gravitas into question in Christian accounts. If you think about it, it’s also why true mourning is sort of frowned on in Mormonism and why LDS funerals are characterized by preaching, not mourning. I’m sure some of you will be upset if I suggest Avengers: Endgame has more narrative depth and gravitas than the Christian narrative, but there you go. Ragnarok (in historical Norse myth) has more finality and pathos than Revelation, which features a happy ending.
So plainly I’m having a little fun here, but popular media culture is increasingly the lens through which we understand and think about the world. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn some worthwhile things from the Avengers.