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the psychological side of avengers: endgame.

the psychological side of avengers: endgame.

I’ve seen Avengers: Endgame twice now. It’s a wonderful conclusion to twenty-two films and eleven years worth of storytelling. But there is something about this film that struck me beyond the ‘our heroes save the world’ narrative that exists. It’s more complex, more subtle, and I think it’s done so beautifully. What I’m talking about is the way this film deals with failure and depression.

And in case you haven’t already guessed it, this is full of Avengers: Endgame spoilers. So you’re warned.

They failed. Our heroes failed in Infinity War and then they had to live with that failure for five years. Each of them took different paths after dealing with this failure too. Cap’s still helping people in a support group because he has to help other people not feel the way he does. Natasha is trying to be on top of absolutely everything because she feels so helpless. Clint is out there dealing with loss more than failure, but he’s killing people that he doesn’t think are worthy of having survived in droves. Tony seems a little more stabilized than the rest of them because he has his life with his daughter and Pepper, but even Pepper knows that he can’t rest with the weight of everything that happened on his shoulders. Bruce is the one who has come out of all of this the best because he’s finally happy with himself and the Hulk and how he’s both of them. I loved the Bruce stuff because a lot of it is about accepting yourself for who you are instead of fighting against it. So, so relatable.

I also love how when we first revisit them after the five years later jump, they all seem stuck. Cap even says it when he tells Natasha that he’s always telling people to move on, some do, but not them. They want to fix things, they need to fix things, and they see no way to fix things. Also so relatable. I feel stuck all the time. When Scott shows up and gives them a little bit of hope, it’s almost like a breakthrough in therapy when you realize that not all is lost. It’s important, it’s needed, and it begins to drag them out of the state that they’re in.

Their visit to Tony’s house shows that Tony has clearly thought about time travel to fix things but that he hasn’t been able to crack it. I don’t believe that he just completely solved time travel that night. He knows enough to know that what they are talking about doesn’t seem possible, but it also gives him new thoughts and ideas on what to try. Then when he does solve it, he’s so taken aback by the thought that he might be able to fix things that he has to collapse down into a chair. The bit with his daughter after that is great, but it’s the part with Pepper that drives home my point about how Tony was carrying the weight of everything despite what I imagine were a lot of attempts to tell her otherwise. When he says that he could drop the research into the lake, she has to give him permission to go on and save the universe because he wouldn’t be able to rest otherwise. And that’s important too, because when you’re mired in a state that you can’t see a way out of, sometimes the permission of someone close to you to do something that you didn’t think you’d be able to do can do wonders.

But my favorite depiction in all of this is Thor. People are laughing about fat, drunk, Lebowski Thor, but it was so relatable. He is the one who could have stopped all this from happening if he’d just gone for the head in Infinity War, and the weight of not having done that is crushing him. When they go at the beginning of the film and find Thanos, the only thing he can do to try to alleviate the guilt that he is feeling is to chop his head off even though he knows that it won’t fix anything. But as time has passed and we rejoin him five years later, you can see how that didn’t help. And how many times in life do people do something to correct a so-called failure and then find it only makes things worse? A lot. So his failure and guilt lead to depression, and depression is all-consuming. Him putting on weight makes sense. Him constantly needing beer makes sense. He’s trying to self-medicate something that he thinks he can’t fix. His conversation with his mother is so necessary because he needs that intervention to tell him that it’s okay that he failed. Everyone fails. And no one in this film could have delivered that message but his mother. It makes perfect sense to have brought Rene Russo back for just that scene. I was so happy to see that because we all need a little motherly love now and then, no matter where we get it from. Him taking Mjolnir is important too because it shows him that despite everything he’s still worthy. It’s a metaphor for self-worth and I thought it was done perfectly. And towards the end, when they’ve got the stones and they’re assembled in the new gauntlet, he wants to do it even though it might kill him just to prove that he’s useful again. And that’s also so relatable. Trying to prove that you’re useful to people you think you’ve failed is another part of depression. I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to prove myself useful to my parents or my friends because of some thought in my head that didn’t actually exist outside of it. Thor also wants to do it because he feels like he should be the one to fix things since he believes everything is his fault. Everything is his fault and he has to fix it because the only way things are going to be right is if he is the one who makes up for his mistake.

Thor is just a perfect depiction of how someone can be consumed by failure and guilt and depression. And while lots of people are making fun of it or are angry that the Russos “ruined” his character, I think it’s perfect for the situation they’re in. I’m really happy that they didn’t make him all lean and buff as soon as he really takes up the mantle of Thor again. He’s got the hammer and the ax, and he has a purpose again. He can actually fix what he did before, but he has realized he needs the help of his friends to do it. He needs help, just like we all need help when we’re in a place like Thor is and can’t get out of it. He’s not thinking like he can fix things alone anymore like he was only a few minutes earlier when he wanted to do the snap himself. He’s finding another path to redemption. How many times in life do we end up finding another path than the one we thought we were on? It’s so relatable.

In the end, Tony has to sacrifice himself and the life he has with his family to win the war, and he does it. But before he lets go, before he can stop clinging to life and be at peace, he needs reassurance and permission from Pepper again. They’re going to be okay. He can rest now. And while I’ve never been in that position before or will be ever, the reassurance and permission aspect is again so relatable. Things are going to be okay. Rest your mind. Don’t worry. It’s all going to be okay. Find some peace. Personally, I don’t strive for happiness because I think that’s completely and totally unattainable. Because if all you have is happiness, you don’t have any sadness to balance it out, and you’re not whole because of it. Happiness and sadness in your life make you whole, and for me being whole means being at peace. I’m not overjoyed about absolutely everything and I’m not sad about absolutely everything. I’m at peace. And it’s not easy to obtain peace, and it’s not easy to keep the peace once I get it, but reassurance and permission to think things and feel things help me obtain it so much. So while that moment is incredibly sad because one of my favorite characters is going to die, it’s also absolutely beautiful because it’s a wonderful depiction of finding peace. And peace for Tony means something completely different than it does for me, but it’s something he’s been striving for since the first Iron Man movie. He’s seen what war can do, he’s seen what his part of it is, and ever since he’s been striving to end wars and save the world. And with his final act, he does it. He achieves his goal. I just think his character arc from the first moment we see him in Iron Man to the last moment we see him in Endgame is so wonderful and complex and flawed. And it’s beautiful because of it.

I could write so much more, like how Natasha’s death is also a perfect depiction of finding a purpose again and achieving peace, but I feel like I’d just be repeating myself so I’m not going to. But all of these things make for more fascinating characters than just your typical superheroes, and that’s one thing that makes this film great. They really took the time to put real character moments into a film about the aftermath of basically the apocalypse, and I find each one of them more beautiful the more I see it. I look forward to watching this film hundreds of times to pick up more of the themes that I know I’ve already missed. There is so much to take in with this film, and it’s not all about time travel and the end battle. It’s about overcoming failure, dealing with guilt and depression, finding a purpose again, and achieving peace.

mental health minute: on happiness and wholeness

mental health minute: on happiness and wholeness

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that – I don’t mind people being happy – but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep,” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position – it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is. — Hugh Mackay

I feel as though I’ve never been truly happy.  Sure, I often say things make me happy but do they really?  The feeling is so fleeting and never has much depth to it that I don’t believe it’s ever been genuine happiness.  It’s hard to calculate whether or not it truly has been, so to pivot away from happiness and onto something else like wholeness is a great relief, because if those fleeting, shallow moments are what I’m supposed to be striving for, then no thank you, I’ll stick to my depression.

Ever since I started seeing my current therapist, we started talking about peace, and one of the things that I’ve been trying to do is recognize when I feel at peace.  To be honest, it’s not often.  It’s hard for me to recognize that feeling as well.  I think the closest I come to it is when I’m writing something that I really like, even if that something is never going to see the light of day.  But still, peace is something that I don’t understand, mainly because to me peace is a calm, relaxed state and I’m never at that.  My mind is constantly going ten billion miles an hour.  I have more thoughts and ideas in a minute than some people I know probably have in an hour.  And it’s just the struggle of understanding peace that has been so frustrating, because how can I seek out something that I cannot seem to ever get a grip on?

But finding this quote has changed the shape of the narrative.  Maybe it’s not peace that I should be striving for but wholeness.  I feel like my life, since the day I was born, has never been whole.  I have always been the odd man out among my family and friends.  I think differently, I feel differently, I act differently, I am just different.  And to me, that’s always translated as damaged.  But maybe the damage hasn’t been a bad thing.  Maybe I wouldn’t be this person with this creative drive if I hadn’t been damaged.  I fell in love with books and writing because they were an escape from the world that I was living in.  If I hadn’t been living in that world, would I have done that?  It’s hard to say.

Writing is part of what makes me whole.  I wouldn’t know how to live without it.  My family also makes me feel whole.  They provide the love and support that I need.  I cannot imagine where I would be now if it weren’t for them.  But what else makes me whole?  I have no idea.  It’s hard for me to pick the things that make up who I am out in such a detailed way, but I’m going to figure it out someday.  I’m going to figure out what I need in order to be whole.

Maybe along the way I’ll figure out what it means to be happy too. I don’t know if that’s possible, but I’m going to try. But I know that’s not what I’m striving for. Happiness will come if wholeness comes first. Now if I can just figure this wholeness part out.