A Difficult Year
by Eleanor Arnason
This has been a really difficult year. I should have coped by reading and writing, as I have done in the past. Instead, I have paid way too much attention to the crazy and horrible news that comes out of Washington.
What have I enjoyed? The two Marvel movies I saw this year were both sequels. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was not as good as the first Guardians movie, and I guess I don’t have much to say about it. It’s light. It’s funny. It’s very much a space opera.
Thor 3 (Ragnarok) can be talked about. I didn’t especially like it, but I had seen posts arguing that it is a movie that challenges racism and imperialism – and also a movie that treats Maori themes.
One reviewer says:
“I will freely admit that I am tired of seeing powerful white men wielding power they do not deserve and earned through violence. That narrative is played out, yet it is the crux of the Marvel cinematic universe. In Thor: Ragnorak, this trope is challenged by Hela — the first-born of Odin and sister of Thor and Loki — when she returns from exile to reclaim her spot atop the throne, and calls out Asgard’s ill-gained riches and powers in the process. As Hela points out in one particularly stunning scene, the spectacular gold of the Asgardian Palace was bought through brutal conquest and war. Before becoming ostensibly “peaceful,” Odin used his own daughter as his executioner, mercilessly taking lives to achieve his place in the kingdom. Then he stashed the murdered bodies in an underground vault, never to be spoken of again.
“If that sounds familiar, perhaps you know the history of colonialism, including in the United States, where we tout our exceptionalism while ignoring the violence it was built upon. All of which makes the film’s ending — Asgard and Hela are completely destroyed by the fire-demon Surtur, the lies of perceived superiority left in ashes — particularly satisfying.”
The above quote is from https://theestablishment.co/is-thor-ragnarok-a-subversive-takedown-of-white-supremacy-aec729cf0f40
For an analysis of Thor 3 as a Maori movie, check https://thespinoff.co.nz/atea/31-10-2017/thor-and-his-magic-patu-notes-on-a-very-maori-marvel-movie/
For Thor 3 as an anti-imperialist movie, check https://multiframe.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/thor-ragnarok/
What do I think of these analyses? I don’t know. They remind me of myself in the 1960s, desperately looking for revolutionary messages in Hollywood movies. There is a lot of ambiguity in Thor 3, material that can be read in different ways. This is typical of Hollywood popular movies. They send messages that can make all kinds of different people happy. But the director of Thor 3 is a New Zealander and identifies as Maori, so the anti-imperialist, anti-racist political subtexts may be there. And if those subtexts really are there, then Thor 3 becomes a far more interesting movie.
I keep wondering about the appeal of the Marvel movies. Maybe, in this dark era, people need movies that are goofy and funny and where the good guys win. Yes, there is darkness in these movies, but it’s a manageable darkness, and the good guys do win – or at least hold their own and keep fighting. A message for our time: don’t give up.
A movie that did give me pleasure was a French animation: The Triplets of Belleville. It’s funny and charming. The protagonists are four old ladies: a grandmother fiercely determined to rescue her grandson and the Triplets of Belleville, a trio of very odd elderly women, who used to be a singing group in the 20s or 30s. Not a new movie, but well worth seeing.
As far as books go, I enjoyed Beth Plutchak’s collection of short stories, Liminal Spaces [forthcoming from Aqueduct Press in early 2018]. Like The Triplets of Belleville, Plutchak’s fiction is very much about women and their struggles. I have to admit – as much as I love Marvel superhero movies – I like art about women even more.