Early in the film, Thor loses his father and his hammer in the same five-ish minutes. These are two integral aspects of his life, around which he’s built his identity. The whirlwind of divine masculine identity crises doesn’t end there…
From Order to Chaos
Thor enters the Ragnarok fray seeking to restore order. In his recent dreams, he’s seen the eventuality of Ragnarok. He believes he successfully prevented this apocalypse in the first scene with Surtur. At home, he finds that chaos has been ruling over the nine realms (Loki). So, next he seeks restoration. Thor is prepared to return Asgard to its previous and presumably rightful state – under the rule of Odin.
Then, Odin dies (or rather, ascends). Thor isn’t quite ready to accept this change in cosmic order. He’s definitely not ready to take on the mantle of male role model for himself, much less an entire planet. At first, he blames this all on Loki. But, he quickly lets go of his anger at chaos and regime change. (Symbolized by his beloved-yet-troublesome brother.) That’s when the obviously greater evil of Hela shows her face.
Thor discovers that these skeletons live within him, within his family, and in the hidden history beneath the glory of his home-world. Secrets hidden behind the ideal of his father, are irrevocably rooted in his inner sense of home. This realization (embodied in Hela) destroys the outward projection of his masculinity, god status, and power – his hammer.
Identity Loss Tailspin
So, when he’s faced with both the symbolic and literal loss of his father and his own identity, Thor is sent into a tailspin as he loses his notion of what is solid – his individual structure of sovereignty and his sense of purposeful direction.
Thor ends up where lost things go – in the hands of the Grandmaster, a gladiatorial slave driver.
This landing is a potent reminder that the divine masculine can become the weapon of the corrupt and tyrannical. Easily so, when left without direction or an available path to pursue his direction. Of course, our hero Thor is not one to remain in this position for long.
Thor has seen this darkness (which is very much alive in the social structure under the Grandmaster), and he’s ready to own it. He makes it his responsibility to face and take on. Lost in space, in his own grief and identity dis-empowerment, in a world that’s entirely chaotic and ridiculous to him. Immediately, we see that the journey is not only about summoning the power and organizing others in pursuit of overcoming Hela. The quest is also to find his way back home. Thor must define his new idea of home, to define his place in it. He seeks re-empowerment after existential grief. This leads Thor to reconstruct his identity as a leader, god and man.
Moving Through Chaos (w/ Humor)
As usual, Loki is more prepared for the chaos. We all know Loki is adverse to Thor’s goals at times, occasionally enjoying his losses. In the end, he’s on Thor’s side when it comes to life or death. The implication is to acknowledge this in our own lives and in our politics. Chaos itself isn’t the enemy, and it is through chaos that we learn the truth, have a chance to change and grow.
At one point, Thor says exactly that to Loki. Whose mischief was the necessary catalyst for Thor’s own growth. He wins out by outsmarting Loki, learning from him. He began his mischief with his escape from Hulk tower. Even if we have cause for animosity, we can move on to realize our shared existential correlation. We (any given two humans, or Asgardians) are essentially family on this planet…
In this case, Asgard was prospering under Loki. He hadn’t realized the ancient shadow of Hela, or the status quo outside of Asgard. Loki failed to take responsibility for the nine realms – to whom Odin owed protection. This point is obvious – as long as the people are safe, the change is probably for the better, and inevitable regardless. However, we see later in Infinity War that there are consequences for the Dwarves. When their supposed protection is missing in action, all but one are killed at Nidavellir. The dangers and darkness of imperialism are clearly indicated in several Marvel films. Yet, we are also asked to recognize the need to fill the vacuum of power with something better.
Anyway, this essential point of transcending chaos and inner growth holds true. It has not (yet) been undone by Marvel Studios. (Eitri made perfect sense. Until he said, “he needs the ax”.)
Beyond Battling Darkness
Thor’s story has always been about darkness and light, shadow and lightning. He is in touch with his dreams and his feelings. With compassion for less powerful beings, he helps the seemingly weaker Terrans (Earthlings). He has praised empowered womanhood (such as the Valkyries and his previous lover Jane). Thor has become a true man and a true hero by fighting off the darkness in various forms and within himself. He’s done this all without forsaking or losing his own shining electricity in the process. He just needed to remember it.
What is left, in his development, is for Thor to process and come to terms with that darkness; to accept the mantle of awareness.
In order for Thor to embody his ultimate individual sovereignty and inherent magical might in its pure form, he must move beyond that battle with darkness. Part and parcel with this task are his ability to find clarity, see things in a new way – beyond his initial perspective. Beyond this dichotomy.
This divine masculinity which he previously projected, through transference, onto both his father Odin and his beloved hammer, has always been a mere expression of his true essence. In realizing, actualizing and invoking himself, he achieves true empowerment and embodiment of his heroic light.
Who-What-Where Is The Fire?
Hulk is brought into this philosophical-conversation-between-the-lines through dialogue. They have a conversation about their relativity hotheadedness, and fire status.
At a certain point, the thematic elements of the Hulk personality become an important contrast in flushing out Thor’s development. The Hulk is subsumed in his rage and physical primacy (a force feared), because he can’t control it. The longer he remains The Hulk, the more dissociated Banner becomes – losing awareness and memory entirely. As a result, Banner fears becoming Hulk again. He has difficulty powering up because he fears losing himself and working against his own ethics. He has not integrated, come to terms with, or even seen the whole truth of his own varying internal aspects.
Skurge? (= Scourge, ≠ Scorch)
Meanwhile, Skurge reminded us that Valhalla is not an afterlife reward for the most gruesome, nor the blind followers – it is a path of honor for those who wish to give, make themselves sacred, by protecting the people and being courageous when needed. Thus, becoming glorified in making light by using their own darkness, not disdaining it nor succumbing to fear. But maybe that’s a story for another time…
Thor, on the other hand, is well integrated in this regard. His trouble in summoning his power is not about lacking or having too much confidence in a physical fight for better or worse – it’s about confidence in who he really is, in redefining himself as a god in light of his family history, his origins. Thor’s issue is believing in himself.
All three of these men are attracted to women who are equally as powerful and capable as they are, but Hulk is still afraid of his own power, his fire. Skurge just doesn’t know what to do with it. Thor knows what to do with it, he’s not afraid of himself. He is re-learning how to wield it based on deeper existential questions. (Of which he’s newly aware.) Basically, Thor is learning to define himself without the scaffolding of Odin, Asgard, the Hammer and the surrounding reality they symbolize. He is finding a truer sense of his empowerment.
In Relation to the Feminine
The dichotomy of Hela and the Valkyrie reminds us of how the perception and framing of the feminine is always a reflection of the type of masculinity involved. On the one hand, we have previously misguided Odin creating an heir; and Skurge blindly following an alpha female for elevation above other men. On the other, currently enlightened Thor who is reminded of his own godliness in partnership with the soul-guiding warrior woman he admires. In tandem, Thor finds harmony with his re-owned adversarial-ally of a brother. In turn, Thor reignited Valkyrie’s divine identity by proving he’s not a lost cause – he can escape both the endless battle pit and the golden falsehood.
Of course, her re-ignition also included the catharsis of chaos and a re-connection with her own divine-identity…
His Own True God
In one scene, Thor reminds us that he’s never been afraid of snakes (or the mythical Snake). This is a nod to the Nordic myth, and to an aspect feared by humans in association with Chaos. The Snake is also a human symbol of inherent sexual power, or fire, which can be divine or deadly. Thor is hesitant to be tricked by a false snake – a false sense of power or a false path which is counterproductive to his heroic goals. On some level, he fears that Odin’s and Asgard’s weaknesses are his own, and that he cannot otherwise define himself and his power, but by its demons.
In the MCU, Thor has always lived in the safety of self-definition as Odin’s most highly regarded son, as the champion for a rock-solid benevolent construct (Asgard under Odin). Odin’s death brings on entirely new challenges and pressured opportunities to prove his ability to be a king – a divinely masculine hero on a whole new level.
Odin is the only king he’s ever known; and offered much wisdom. Thor must find a way to learn from him, find closure after Hela and ‘be his own kind of
Authenticity + Responsibility
It’s no accident that Thor must keep asserting himself as God of Thunder. Others mistake him for a Lord, a dominating ruler over others. This decision, refusing kingship, first proved him to be our hero six years/two movies ago. Although he previously saw through this facade, he hadn’t yet dealt with the harsher truths and inevitable identity deconstruction.
What he wants to remind himself of, and anyone who will listen, is his inherent divinity.
Thor has always known this, deep down. He’s also dealing with the implication that the alternative to Hela or Loki ruling Asgard is himself. Leadership is a position of responsibility he’s not ready to take on, and he doesn’t want. Still, the alternative is worse. He cares enough about the people, and has a sense of ethics all his own, to take it on.
Once he has regained his direction, gleaned his true godliness when he needed it most, partnered with the Valkyrie, witnessed his brother Chaos come to his aid, and returned to a darkened home, he still has to face that darkness and come to terms with the truth.
In Thor’s moment of despair, it’s ghost/head Odin who reminds him of this. He knows that he is not the material reality he has projected (his hammer). Nor is he defined by the place/reality where he calls home. Nor even is he defined by the ideal of Odin (which is still a source of honor even if it held hidden darkness). Thor is thunder and lightning – a divine essence entirely his own and defined by his own choices. He is who and what he chooses to fight for. Thor finds his inherent self-ignition – not based on what or where he has invested that power.
Finally, the win is in allowing what seems to be the greater evil (Surtur), to destroy itself and Hela, and all they both symbolize in the process. He allows them to destroy Asgard as the material reality construct which empowers that fear, for the sake of the people. Thor achieves his true divinity and sovereignty. Hela and Surtur, his great fears reflected from within, are only powerful because he allows them to take power from the same source he once defined his own power to be born from – Asgard. When he redefines and reconstructs his power as something beyond and above Asgard the kingdom, Thor truly overcomes those fears.
This process from reluctance to authentic responsibility is the kind of leadership that philosophers daydream about.
From the first scene, Thor fears his dreams and the destruction of his home. By the end, he realizes the greater evil is to allow an organized and corrupt product of his own family’s shadow (Hela) to rule from this place of power. By allowing chaos (Loki) to ignite the essence of destruction (Surtur), he and they can be reborn. Thor is redefined, reborn and rewritten through something much deeper: his true divine self.
And he’s still majestic af about it.
Feel free to download this audio file.
Basically it’s my notes for the movie. You could play it at the same time you watch, like a very unofficial commentary track. If you like talking with your friends during movies, you might like it.