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Thanos the Nihilist in love with Death has been replaced by Thanos the Calculator, who provides a good symbol for those who calculate the film (how many actors, who must be included and excluded, how many special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

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4 thoughts on “AVENGERS INFINITY WAR: Calculation, Manipulation, Montage, Nihilism

  1. I think some major themes of the movie were sacrifice and willpower. Thanos displayed the greatest willpower and was the most ready to sacrifice what he loved for his goals, while the heroes couldn’t measure up in the same way. They hesitated too much to sacrifice and so lost to him.

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  2. Yes, sacrifice and the resoluteness to carry it out are major themes, but I don’t think all the heroes failed to measure up to Thanos’s resolve. Quill couldn’t kill Gamora nor did he stick to Dr Strange’s plan (who may well have been gambling on his irresoluteness). Strange however was resolute enough to sacrifice the Time Stone and his own life, and Wanda did find the resolve to kill Vision, so these two were at least as ready to sacrifice what they loved as Thanos (and Vision sacrificed himself). Thor risked death from the energy blast of a star to forge Stormbreaker. I think all these sacrifices will bear their fruit in Avengers 4. Thanos’s sacrifice of Gamora was selfish in comparison, and so it seems to me he was out-sacrificed.

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  3. Quill did pull the trigger on Gamora. Thanos turned the kill shot into bubbles. The heroes all were enthusiastic to sacrifice in one way or another. What they often don’t do well is work together. The background of the film is the events of “Captain America:Civil War” where they are fighting each other. In Infinity War, Stark makes them go to Titan rather than join the others on Earth, which would have given them a united front(probably to avoid having to team up with Rogers ). Hell why not team up with the U.S. arm forces? They didn’t want to deal with their bad blood with the military either. I am sure the next movie will revolve around healing all that character conflict (and the inner conflict in the Hulk), before they can save the day. Hopefully there will be something more than team-work cliches, but in any case I am sure it will be entertaining. I agree with the feeling of manipulation. Hard not to be seduced by 300 million dollars worth of mythological engineering.

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  4. Yes, thanks for the correction. I agree that other major themes were division, character conflict and self-conflict, when the Avengers are all about assembling. Healing the conflicts (both outer and inner) is a better idea of “balance” than Thanos’s Final Solution. On the mythological level, such healing and assembling would amount to the forces of Eros re-asserting themselves against the forces of Thanatos.

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