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What happens when the gods refuse to answer your prayers? What if you’re a god yourself, and the time comes to take the role seriously? Thor: Love and Thunder asks these questions while doing a whole lot more.
The latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, directed by Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) and written by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, is a space Viking movie and it's wacky as hell. For all of the madness on display, there are serious themes being explored. They aren’t subtle, and you’ve likely picked up on them already. Nevertheless, we’re going to explore what it is about this particular MCU entry that has stayed with us since watching it. It’s not the perpetually screaming goats — although we have been thinking about them a lot, too.
When pleas and prayers go unanswered, people tend to scream like those goats. More aptly, they scream like children. In the MCU, they may proceed to go on a killing spree. The gods take a big risk when they ignore all of those sweet children o' theirs.
**WARNING: Spoilers follow for Thor: Love and Thunder. If you have not watched it yet, hop into the Bifrost and get outta here.**
For all of the action and jokes, the movie asks some simple yet vital questions about the nature of gods and faith. It does this, for the most part, using three characters: Gorr (Christian Bale), Thor himself (Chris Hemsworth), and Dr. Jane Foster/Mighty Thor (Natalie Portman). In the first scene of the movie, a desperate Gorr seeks help from his gods. His beloved daughter is dead. His prayers are not answered.
Gorr’s faith is tested because the gods he meets are ridiculous. They’re not in the prayer-answering business; they abuse whatever power they have. They are not interested in helping anybody but themselves. It’s enough to shatter the faith of anyone, and such is the case with Gorr. His prayers and pleas are ignored, and any faith that he has left goes out the window. His gods are unworthy. He becomes ruled by resentment, anger, and powerlessness. His gods laughed at him. What is the purpose of them?
For anyone who has lived through the last few years in the real world, becoming resentful at higher powers may be relatable. It gets you nowhere, but things are different in the MCU. In this world of space fantasy, Gorr is given an opportunity to overcome his powerless state. He takes power (evil power, but power nonetheless) and proceeds to kill his unworthy gods. He adopts the mantle of “god butcher” and goes on a rampage. He is out to get revenge on every god who laughs rather than listens. If these silly beings are not going to take anything seriously, then they will be destroyed.
Most of the gods that we meet in the movie prove to be just as self-obsessed and unworthy as Gorr’s gods. They are parodies of themselves. The most powerful of them is Zeus (Russell Crowe), and he only cares about planning orgies and his own weird accent. His assembly of gods are not in the business of answering prayers either, nor do they show any intention of actually helping anyone. They’re all unworthy. Perhaps Gorr has a point.
Gods can change, however, which brings us to Thor. He is a silly and self-obsessed character who has gone back and forth on the meter of service throughout his time in the MCU. He grew significantly in Thor: Ragnarok, but grief and loss soon plunged him back into a degree of self-centeredness. In this movie, he’s back on a healthy road. He's ready to step up, not as an Avenger or a Guardian, and not necessarily as a god. He becomes less silly as the movie goes on, and he eventually becomes a highly powerful being of service. He becomes a father figure to the captive children of New Asgard before becoming a father himself.
He proves to be worthy in the role. He does not turn away from responsibility.
The children of New Asgard look at him like he’s a god, which he is. He has the suit, the powers, and the magical axe that gets jealous of a hammer. Those things don’t matter in his scenes with the children, because he’s more of a parental figure to them. They need comfort and inspiration and he provides it. All parents are gods to their children, for a brief time anyway.
What brings about this change? He already has the thunder, it was always inside of him. He learned that in Ragnarok. He needed the other half of this movie’s title. He needed — and we cannot believe that we are writing this — love. That’s where Dr. Jane Foster comes in.
Jane is a woman of science, but not necessarily a woman of faith. She has Stage 4 cancer, and she’s exhausted the abilities of modern human medicine. She finds no answers in science, so with nowhere else to look, she takes a blind leap in the other direction. She’s had experience with gods and magic, so maybe a solution lies there. She gives herself over to it, ready to accept whatever happens.
She makes no prayer. She makes no demand. She walks up to the broken pieces of Mjolnir, and she gets chosen. She doesn’t know that Thor once asked his mighty hammer to protect her. Mjolnir doesn’t forget, so it follows through and makes Jane a goddess. Dr. Jane Foster becomes the Mighty Thor.
The Mighty Thor is what we’d all want a god to be. She’s selfless, even to her own detriment. Her cancer progresses every time that she becomes the Mighty Thor, but that doesn’t stop her from going to help the children of New Asgard. You’re never going to stop a determined mother from anything. This selflessness is who Jane Foster is, it is who she always has been. Thor benefits from her example in a mighty way.
These three characters come together as Gorr is about to make his wish with Eternity. Thor isn’t played for laughs in this scene. He doesn’t play the god, the Avenger, or anything else from a “classic Thor adventure.” He doesn’t strike Gorr down, because Gorr has already won. Maybe he even has a point, who cares? The children of New Asgard have been saved, and that was the more important issue. .
If Thor is going to go out, then he’s going to go out spending time with the woman/scientist/goddess that he loves. Gorr is past prayer, he has received a wish. This is far more dangerous. To quote Stephen Sondheim, “wishes come true, not free.”
And so a god turns their back on Gorr once more, but the result is different. Gorr realizes what is most important to him, and wouldn’t you know? It is love. Literally and figuratively, because the daughter that he lost is named "Love." He uses his wish to bring her back before perishing himself. At the end of the movie, it is revealed that Thor is taking care of the child. She just so happens to be played by Hemsworth’s real-life daughter.
In a very roundabout way, Gorr’s prayers were answered. Not in the way that he expected, but what truly mattered to him was saved. A god helped him in the end, and that god will now raise his child. Thunder will care for love, because thunder has learned what love truly is. He has learned to take his mantle seriously; to care for the children who look up to him. He is not concerned with orgies.
Gorr’s prior faith is thus rewarded. Jane succumbs to her illness, but she ends up in Valhalla. She proved herself worthy, even if it was only for a short time. Her power of example will continue to shine for Dad Thor. It’s no accident that “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is so present in the movie. Gods are the ultimate parents, and as we already said, parents can be like gods to their children. Sometimes a child is made of love and thunder; other times, they are made because two rock creatures hold hands in a pool of lava.
New parents are often scared out of their minds, yet they choose the path anyway. They take giant leaps of faith every day; sometimes with themselves. They must cling to the belief that they are worthy enough to care for another person. Welcome to the jungle.
Faith is a very hard thing for anyone to have at the moment. You can scream like a goat at whatever gods/sciences/hammers you believe in, but you won’t get anywhere. You’re nothing more than a child throwing a tantrum in a gift shop. What happens if you ignore the pleas of your own child? Their resentment might not prove as deadly as that of Gorr, but it's not going to be a picnic in the park.
In the very first Thor movie, it is explained that magic and science are the same in Asgard. That still holds true in this movie. You don’t have to choose between science and faith. Like Dr. Jane Foster, you can choose both. If you choose to hold hands in a lava pool, you'll need love and thunder.
\Whether you’re a god, a parent, or both, you’re going to need all of the help you can get.
Thor: Love and Thunder is in theaters now.