Birthers, Daddy Issues, and THOR


Last week I took my son to see THOR. He loved it, while I only liked it, but the most annoying thing about it was the way it reminded me that every big-time Hollywood movie nowadays has to feature a protagonist who’s all twisted up with Daddy Issues.

I’ll admit that I don’t see as many films as I used to, but I’m already sick and tired of watching movie stars struggle to win their Daddy’s approval. It was in SOURCE CODE, IRON MAN 2, STAR TREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, THE HULK (John Woo version) and so on and so on.

What the hell, Hollywood? When did someone decide that this was a solid story beat that had to go into every movie? Can’t we stick with a romantic subplot and GTFOI?

Which started me wondering how much of this was cultural. Are there vast swaths of the American public concerned with their masculinity and who need it to be validated? Well, clearly there is. Look at how readily we fire missiles at a foreign country and how hard we fight against any extension of the social safety net. The latter takes care of people, which is traditionally a maternal value. The former fights and imposes order, which is not.

And of course the birthers have finally been shunted out of the media spotlight, but they make me think of GW Bush as the “guy you’d want to have a beer with.” He was likeable and easygoing (supposedly) while Al Gore criticized us for our light bulbs and SUVs. A vote for Gore is a vote for Daddy Issues.

Then came 2008, when Mommy married America elected a black man. Shock! For a certain percentage of dim white Americans, that was unthinkable and they were going to grasp at any straw they could find to convince themselves it hadn’t happened.

And we have this string of movies, which I assume are only going to pass when a new generation of filmmakers comes in (or our current ones grow up). But let me as this: can you imagine a movie about a guy with a problematic relationship to his mother?

In a comedy, maybe, but not in an action movie about heroic dudes doing dude stuff. And why not? Because a father’s love and approval has to be earned, while a mother’s love and approval is treated like a birthright. A father who withholds his disapproval does so because the child isn’t worthy of it yet. A mother who withholds her disapproval does so because SHE’S A BAD PERSON.

Grrr. Can we have an action movie where the hero has a legitimate, problematic relationship with his mother, where it’s not about her withholding all her love or whatever?

Anyway, on to THOR. For once, the Daddy Issues stuff was less annoying than usual, (but still annoying). In this one, the hero and the villain both think they’re going to impress their father by killing their enemies, while what he wants is to preserve the peace–which is an improvement over the usual “I guess you can be your own person, son” crap we usually get, and is basically built in to the premise of a pantheon of pseudo-gods.

The movie thankfully does not try to keep us within the Marvel universe (by having Thor fight The Wrecking Crew or whatever) but using SHIELD to tie-in with the other movies is a deft touch. So was losing the winged helmet.

The real strength of the film comes from Chris Hemsworth, who brings charisma and good humor to the role. We need more action movies with heroes who smile–too many are all desperate and sweaty. The romantic elements with Natalie Portman didn’t work, I’m afraid–her character needed one, but the hero’s devotion to his brother, even after he’s revealed as the main villain, made for a powerful and unexpected ending.

So, a qualified success. I’m sure it means that, in a couple of weeks, my son and I will be watching Hal Jordan conjure a green iPhone out of his ring so he and his father can hash out How Much They Really Mean To Each Other over interstellar distances.

8 thoughts on “Birthers, Daddy Issues, and THOR

  1. Sara

    I started reading this blog only yesterday (and have been making my way through the older posts since), so please excuse my late reply.

    Might mommy issues come off as too oedipal? That was my first thought when you mentioned them–that they’re more a comment on the psychology of the protagonist than the mother. Then again, I’m not a parent so I suppose there’s a dimension of this that I’m missing.

  2. No, it’s actually pretty rare for a troubled mother-child relationship in films or TV to be the fault of the child. Even if it’s an adult chile. IME, anyway.

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