AVENGERS INFINITY WAR: Calculation, Manipulation, Montage, Nihilism

I really enjoyed the new Avengers film, although I couldn’t understand why I did. I felt manipulated by the technical perfection of the movie despite its absolute lack of ideas and of real stakes.

I used to like the comic book version because Thanos was unique among super-villains in having an explicit philosophical position: Nihilism. Further, he was no cold calculating rationalist psychopath: he was passionately in love with Death. This gave a craziness to the comic book saga that is missing in the film.

The hubris in the comic is in the desire to win Death’s love, not in the means to do this by gaining Infinite power and killing off half the universe. With the film, the passion, the craziness and the hubris are all flattened out into the film-makers’ calculative desire to make such a film featuring as many super-heroes and escalating powers as possible.

Thanos the Nihilist in love with Death has been replaced by Thanos the Calculator, who provides a good symbol for those who calculate the film (how many actors, who must be included and excluded, how many special effects, space and time limitations, budgetary considerations).

This replacement of the passionate lover of Death by the cold Calculator is a movement that takes place inside nihilism, from nihilism as content (comic book Thanos) to nihilism as form (film-makers of Thanos). Many thinkers (Heidegger and after) have argued that the hegemony of calculation is the fulfilment of nihilism, its ultimate form.

My attention was effectively captured by a continual, and calculated, series of breaks in space and time, in setting and characters, in tone and mood, in demonstrations of power.

Hence my feeling of being manipulated. Not so much by the pathos of Gamora’s tears at the prospect of killing her adoptive father or by the Scarlet Witch’s despair at having to kill the love of her life to destroy the Mind Stone (plot points in which the characters are as manipulated as we are) as by the calculated cinematic montage.