What Avengers: Infinity War Is Really About [SPOILERS]

Warning: this is a very spoiler-heavy analysis. Do not read this unless you’ve seen the movie. (I’ve already seen it twice!)

Avengers_Infinity_War_poster

Consider these key details from the film:

  • Vision tells Wanda to run when they’re attacked and he’s badly hurt, but she refuses, joking that in a romantic moment before the fight started, he had asked her to stay.
  • Vision later says that the stone in his head must be destroyed, even if it kills him, so that he can ensure the safety of others. Steve Rogers declines that plan, saying that “We don’t trade lives.” Later, when Steve tells Vision to run so he can save him from death, Vision stays and kills the attacker, saving Steve instead. Vision then tells Steve, “We don’t trade lives.”
  • In a twist on this theme, Gamora asks Quill to kill her if she’s taken by Thanos, so he won’t be able to use her to hurt anyone else.
  • In fact, both Quill and Wanda are forced by people they love to kill them in order to save others. In each case, they hesitate and only do so with extreme pain to themselves evident on their faces.

All of these are examples of self-sacrifice, motivated by love and honor, but there’s a third instance of someone killing a loved one in the film.

Thanos, of course, kills Gamora, but not to save others, and not at her request. Where all the acts listed above were voluntary and selfless, Thanos acts against the will of others, for his own selfish wants.

But this isn’t a generic theme of loving sacrifice here. Consider three other moments:

  • Loki, in a singularly unusual act, attempts to kill Thanos after noting his relationship to Odin in an aside to Thor, to stop Thanos from torturing Thor to get what he wants. Loki dies as a result. The only motivation the generally selfish Loki could have had for this is to save others, probably a result of character growth in Thor: Ragnarok.
  • In a parallel scene of saving a sibling from torture, Gamora gives up secret information to Thanos to stop him from torturing her sister Nebula, with whom she had reconciled in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
  • We first see Tony Stark in this movie as he enthusiastically tells Pepper about a dream where he would become a father. Though there’s no baby, Pepper says, Tony spends the rest of the movie becoming an ever closer mentor to Peter Parker, even holding the younger man as he dies in Tony’s arms, which devastates him. That’s why there’s no Uncle Ben in the MCU: Tony is Peter’s surrogate dad here. [This is another missed opportunity by DC, who created their current franchise with an aging, grizzled Batman and a young, inexperienced Superman. A lot could have been gained by having Bruce Wayne become a father figure to Clark Kent. Alas.]
  • Thor and Quill share some darkly humorous banter about the stresses of having family members kill other family members, obligating you to kill them in return. In fact, with Gamora’s situation as the focal point there, they bond over it.

All of these details emphasize family, especially the power of love in a family. Thanos is the villain here because he is the one character who perverts that power and twists it backward for his own good. Everyone else sacrifices for family love. Thanos abuses it for his own glory. In the moral universe of Infinity War, that’s what makes him evil. And sacrificing yourself out of love for family is what makes the heroes truly heroic.

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Two Examples of Cultural Whitewashing In Recent Movies

hfNot long ago, I saw this essay pointing out a huge hole in the otherwise excellent Jackie Robinson biopic 42: the total absence of his faith, which was ubiquitous in his real life.

Such changes to how we tell stories about history say more about our time than they do about times in the past.

Two small examples I noticed in movies I’ve recently seen:

Hidden Figures was a fantastic movie. I loved everything about it. Except one tiny detail kept nagging at me.

Not a single person is ever seen smoking.

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Learning to Read Literature the Way Critics Watch Movies

When I’m trying to teach rhetorical analysis or any kind of analytical reading, I find this metaphor to be useful: we need to learn to read literature the way that critics watch movies. Everybody can picture that and relate to it immediately. All students have seen movies and have seen and heard others pick apart the various aspects of films.

The two processes–literary analysis and film criticism–are remarkably similar: they’re both exercises in identifying the basic building blocks of a work, and then scrutinizing them through lenses like comparison, connection, and evaluation. They’re both means of interpreting the content of messages while appreciating the modes of communication themselves.

I find that having students examine examples of great film criticism, such as essays found from Roger Ebert or the Criterion Collection, is a productive foundation for then extending the tools those writers used to their own approaches to literature in our classes.

And–bonus!–students also get exposed to quality films!

 

Great Student Film From My School

I recently went to an evening awards show for the film department at the fantastic arts schools where I teach. Student films were shown on a big screen and awards were given, Oscar style.

All of them were at least good, and some were great–not just as “student films,” but as films, period. My favorite was this very impressive piece called “Only One.” Really, though, the whole catalog is worth checking out. Here’s their YouTube page:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAV42CYHo6Gd7KyYN6rod1w

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1989: Hollywood’s Best Year?

I’ve said before that 1939 was Hollywood’s best year, but I think there’s also a strong case to be made for 1989, at least for blockbusters.

All of the following great movies came out in 1989:

  • Batman
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Back to the Future Part II
  • Dead Poets Society
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Abyss
  • License to Kill
  • Born on the Fourth of July
  • Field of Dreams
  • Glory
  • Lean On Me
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Lethal Weapon 2
  • Say Anything
  • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

 

It was an especially good year for comedy:

  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  • Turner and Hooch
  • Parenthood
  • Major League
  • UHF

And even the bad movies from that year are the very WORST bad movies:

  • The Karate Kid Part III
  • Ghostbusters II
  • She-Devil
  • Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Clever Short Horror Films

I recently discovered the popular short films of David F. Sandberg and Lotta Losten. These are terrifically inventive little no-budget slices of dark fantasy, only 2-3 minutes each. Rich micro-storytelling with clean content, folks. I think “Attic Panic” is my favorite.

 

 

Patrick Stewart Performs Shakespeare’s “This Sceptered Isle” Speech

I like each of the four versions in this video, but the final one–starting at 5:35 and delivered by Patrick Stewart, from the Richard II segment of The Hollow Crown–really gives me chills.

CineFix

I’m a bit of a film nerd, and as much as I love YouTube channels like CinemaSins and WatchMojo, those are just fluff. However, I get a much deeper enjoyment out of the CineFix channel. I’ve really learned quite a bit about film from them. Here are a few of their more recent videos that I think are especially valuable for the critical film fan:

 

Steps Scene from The Hidden Fortress (1958)

 

This brilliant scene showcases the physical vitality of much classic film (especially in the work of director Akira Kurosawa), as opposed to the relatively unrealistic style of film today.

This scene is also an homage to the Odessa Steps scene in the even older Russian classic Battleship Potemkin (1925).

The film itself–particularly the two bumbling low-class men from whose vantage point the story is shown–heavily influenced George Lucas in the making of Star Wars (in which those characters become R2D2 and C-3PO).

4 Bits of Recent Media

Recent for me, at least. Here are some things I’ve seen lately that have stuck with me:

 

 

I came across this film while researching a unit on international media for a class. It’s short, simple, and says something true about humanity, with a bit of a twist at the end.

 

 

I heard this one while listening to the wonderful Thitsleradio.com. Again, short and beautiful, but I love the harmonizing and the folksly chant of it.

 

 

I’ve watched a few short films like this lately, and this one really impressed me: not at all historically accurate, but believable enough for a fantasy, and seriously well made.

 

 

Great old blues song I heard as a kid, and it just popped back into my head. Man, this is catchy.

 

D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916): Complete Babylon

This video has the Babylon segments of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 silent film epic Intolerance. The entire 3-hour film rotates between four stories in different historical periods, and while each of the four has its charms, the Babylonian story is by far the best. As this classic of cinema celebrates its 100th anniversary, here is that story, complete and by itself.

 

Ode to Catch-22, from Stone Reader

My favorite scene from the 2002 documentary Stone Reader. The combination here of the elemental score, the slow and colorful visuals, and the simultaneously awakening and valedictory narration make this a truly beautiful bit of the filmmaking art.

I copied and posted this clip online because nobody has much from this great movie anywhere, and I want to spread awareness of it. I encourage anyone seeing this to appreciate this celebration of literacy and to purchase the complete documentary–it’s really a wonderful film.

 

The New Star Wars Trailer–A Cinematic Appreciation

The best thing about the new Star Wars teaser trailer is how thoroughly cinematic it is.  Most trailers, especially teaser trailers, are just a lazy mess of spotlighted clips.  This one, though, was clearly constructed with a specific narrative arc in mind.

It naturally falls into three acts:

Act I: Establishing character and setting

First we see Tatooine, then we see a hero.  The hero is tired, sweaty, and scared.  And alone.  That’s how we know he’s a hero, despite the Stormtrooper uniform–villains never appear so beleaguered in Act I.

The soccer ball droid reassures us that two big mainstays of the series are still present: innovation and whimsy.

The next shot reaffirms the first: a panicked, lone hero in a hurry.  No coincidence here: clearly, we’re meant to know that this film will show our new protagonists in a fractured, oppressed state, desperate to escape a threatening presence.  This, of course, is highlighted by the gravelly voiceover.

The fourth “scene” reaffirms the second: a reassurance here, not of innovation and whimsy, but of action and equipment.  Few series are so rooted in their weapons and vehicles as Star Wars, and this part of the trailer shows us J.J. Abrams doing what he did with Star Trek: preserving the bets of the old while updating its peripheral elements.

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