Avengers Endgame and the Failure to Grieve

fronds, death, dying, wetlands
Death.

It is a fundamental part of our existence. This is one of my many human truths that we must realize and surrender to. In surrender, it is very natural to grieve.

However, acceptance of death and grief are not things that I've found many people to be good at. In fact, many people whole-heartedly hope that they can avoid them and find magical solutions to escape these realities. Hence, today's in-depth look at the movie Avengers: Endgame.

This is a movie that is fundamentally about death and humanity's deepest desire to escape the inevitability of it and reverse it. The movie clearly hit enough of the right notes for people to become the highest grossest film of all time for a while (at least until they re-released Avatar in China). That means people agree with a lot of it, and they strongly identify with the characters to go along with the story.

So today, I wanted to dive into 5 main characters to illuminate 5 main responses people have to death. These common responses, however, are not healthy, and the failure to grieve death creates profound suffering.

One last interesting comment: at one point, one of the characters says this:

"The only thing permanent in life is impermanence."

Yeah.

Someone said that in a Marvel movie.

Seriously. Can you guess who it is?

With that said, let's get into it, and of course, spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers.


Captain America: The Wounded Healer

After a big kerfuffle in a previous film, half of existence has been erased, and all the characters are in various states of denial and avoidance of their grief. For Captain America, he becomes the wounded healer. We find him avoiding his sense of failure and loss by trying to find purpose and always looking on the bright side. One of the other characters threatens to punch him if he tries it with her, which suggests he's done this positivity stuff a lot. 

Furthermore, he even has a support group.

Does this sound like some people that you know of?

Captain America embodies this idea of trying to move on through helping others with things that he cannot resolve for himself. This is one of the central elements of the wounded healer.

And no, he doesn't heal his wounds. Instead, Avengers: Endgame comes up with a half-assed way to time travel and avoid all this grief and pain. It even allows him to go back in time and stay in the past to be with a loved with that he lost long before this movie.

None of this resolves any grief or issues, and unfortunately movies like this suggest that we can find a way to avoid death and grief.

7 Signs You're a Wounded Healer


Black Widow: Workaholism and Suicide 

When someone is in too much pain, suicide becomes the only option they can perceive. The movie tries to portray Black Widow's death as a martyrdom, but martyrdom and suicide are pretty much the same thing. Generally speaking, it's the context that is different, not the actual act of doing something that kills you.

At the start of the movie, we see her burying herself in work.

Does this sound familiar to you?

She uses her work to try and hide from her pain, and when given an opportunity to end her life, she literally runs towards it along with one of the other characters, who also is looking for a way escape his pain. 

This is where I pause to encourage those of you suffering with so much pain that you feel suicidal to remind you that there is help. I encourage you to reach out to a local suicide hotline immediately. There are healthy ways to deal with pain, death, and grief, and there are plenty of trained professionals who can support you.

Clearly, Black Widow needed this support, and while we're supposed to see her sacrifice as heroic, really it is just tragic.

Suicide and Spiritual Emergencies


Hawkeye: Rage and Violence

Hawkeye loses his whole family (wife and kids) because of the events of a prior movie, and he becomes outwardly destructive. He decides to kill a lot of mafia members around the world because killing "bad" people is okay--this is a false belief, but one that is deeply accepted by far too many people. His actions only create more grief and suffering. 

This shows the immense destructive power of unresolved grief. When people don't grieve, some of them direct their pain at others. Most don't go on a killing rampage in modern society, but there are plenty of ways that people pick all kinds of verbal and physical fights when they don't know how to deal with their grief.

Hawkeye is the other character competing with Black Widow to commit suicide. Instead, he has to watch his friend kill herself, compounding his grief further. He never learns to resolve this grief in any meaningful way in the movie, and because of the time travel hoo-ha, he gets his family back.


Ironman: A Lost Child and Martyrdom

Ironman also attempts to move on like Captain America, but ultimately, he doesn't. He can't forgive himself for losing Peter Parker, who clearly had become a kind of son for him. We get a sense of this when he takes out a picture of Peter and him that he keeps in the kitchen.

Losing a child is one of the things that many people find hardest to accept. We are taught that everyone is supposed to live a long time and die old and that elders and parents die before children, but that's not how life is. Since so many people don't know how to grieve death in general, the loss of a child tends to hit people even harder.

In Ironman's case, he has a child since the events of the last movie, and she kind of becomes a replacement child for the one he lost. No, the movie doesn't delve into how some parents might try to replace a lost child with another, and suggesting that parents do such things is a really difficult topic to even bring up. But it happens as a mechanism to fill a hole.

This of course doesn't work, and that's why Ironman after initially declining to come up with a super ridiculous time travel heist eventually goes along with it. He wants to bring back the child he lost.

In so doing, he ends up martyring himself at the end of the movie. Of four of the characters who really wants to die for a cause, he succeeds and stops "death," aka Thanos--the big bad guy. For Ironman, the movie has a funeral, which tends to be the best Western Society can offer in terms of grieving. There are problems with this that I'll touch on shortly. 

In essence, Ironman finds a way to bring back the child he lost and martyrs himself to protect that child as well as everyone else.

Lost in a Savior Complex


Thor: Depression, PTSD, and Self-destruction

Thor is a mess at this point after a series of adventures/movies because of not being able to grieve the loss of his mother, father, brother, home world, and half of his people.

That's A LOT of grief!

It's not surprising that he follows the path of self-destruction. At the start of the movie, he's lost trying to self-medicate himself with alcohol, video games, and over-eating.

This also should sound very familiar to all of you.

Sadly, his character becomes the recipient of all kinds of jokes. He's made fun of again and again. When he has a panic attack, one of the other characters slaps him and tells him to "get it together."

Because that's how you get someone out of a panic attack, depression, or PTSD--you slap them. (I'm speaking sarcastically).

He even says at one point, "The only thing permanent in life is impermanence."

Yep, this was said by a magical Norse god-like character. Unfortunately it is offered only as a joke, not as any kind of truth or avenue to deeper acceptance and healing. And the movie certainly didn't explore this reality at all. Because this movie is playing on one of our deepest fantasies that we won't have to deal with letting go of things, situations, and people.

Eventually, Thor gets to have a talk with his mom by going to the past, and he gets a little, a very little amount of actual solace that way. So here's to talking to your mom if you have a loving and supportive one when you are processing grief.

Overall, this character's experiences and the other characters reactions to him show just how immature our culture is. When faced with someone legitimately and obviously struggling, our culture tells them to shut up, grow up, and move on instead of actually helping them grieve and heal.

The Multiple Layers of Healing


Actual Grieving

So the heroes bring most everyone back. They defeat the "inevitable death" that Thanos represented, and avoid most of their grieving. A couple characters do die, and Ironman gets a funeral. But ultimately, this movie gives us the profound fantasy that we can avoid death and grieving.

On the path to freedom, we are here to accept reality, and people will die--every one of us. If we are going to be emotionally healthy throughout our lives, we have to learn to grieve.

I should say that grief is different for everyone of us, and you can't just grieve on-demand. The way society forces us to have a funeral for many, but not necessarily all, deaths is a kind of on-demand grieving process. We may not be ready on May 12th to grieve grandma's passing. Maybe that won't come until June.

But when we surrender, grief does come. It comes with all kinds of emotions--not just sadness, and we learn to make space for those emotions to work their way through us. We make space for our memories to come through us, and we make space for many kinds of rituals of letting go. The funeral process in Western Society is only one type of ritual. There are others, and sometimes, we need to make up our own.

And when we do grieve properly, we are renewed. We are knit back together so that we are whole and can live and love fully again no longer burdened by our loss and attachments to someone who is now part of our past.

For more thoughts on grieving, you can check out these posts:

Grieving a Lost Loved One

Accepting Your Body's Mortality and Frailty

Dealing with Death


For more of my thoughts on pop culture, you can check out these posts:

Adding Wisdom to Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Mindful Movies: Thoughts on What Is Bubbling up in Popular Culture


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Comments

  1. This is why I find most movies and TV shows pretty much unwatchable these days, I usually just sit there thinking how avoidable all this drama would be if people simply learnt how to healthily process their emotions!

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