Guardians of the Galaxy
In one of the initial scenes of "Guardians of the Galaxy," when “Ronan the Accuser” has a badly tortured Xandarian before him, do we think the audience is in any way identifying themselves with him? Not at all, of course. If audience sympathy goes towards the Xandarian culture, it won’t have anything to do with it first being represented by this guy. And when Yondu Udonta and his collection of bullies arrives to ask another Xandarian, “the Broker” — the elderly merchant — about the location of the infinity stone, looking very much like they’re just going to kill him after throughly confounding and terrifying him, is the audience in any way just wishing the bullies would leave the poor guy alone? Again, not likely. In fact, maybe they too would be looking at this quaking, isolated, precious and mannered man as deserving being confused with child babble before being dispatched — Who does this pretentious bag of bones think he is, anyway? And when “the Collector” instructs his slave assistant, Carina, on her knees scrubbing the walls, to work harder lest she suffer her sister’s fate — living her life despondent in a cage — does the audience in any way hope the “Guardians of the Galaxy” will help her revenge herself against this slaver? Again, not at all. They’re probably hoping the guardians do nothing in their meeting with him to show they too are possessed of a bullyable side that might have the Collector thinking they, pretenders to being street-wise bounty-hunters, co-equals, might actually be managed into becoming specimens — and not when deceased, as he proposes with Groot, but humiliatingly, tellingly, while still alive.
The film is not about bonding together to defend the weak, but about defending oneself against feeling weak. Indeed, even Peter Quill’s obsession with his mother’s soundtrack, with his mother — normally something that would make an adult endlessly shamed by his friends — is ultimately about that.
The mother in the film — the cancer victim — is a fantasy. Or perhaps more accurately: camouflage. Boys at adolescence, the age age Peter Quill is when his mother passes of cancer, often find themselves more or less permanently removed from their mothers, gone off to a culture "that’ll make a man out of them" — which basically means instructing them on how to keep a tight lid on expressing their emotional needs; bullying, aggressively teasing those who do express them; and showing their many scars as evidence of how much violence they’ve “manly” been able to sustain through life. They sometimes, however, are allowed to express their neediness — like when they’re badly sick, for example, and get to stay at home with mom. Or if something horribly tragic happens to them — like their mother passing of cancer, which, if it happened early enough, can actually be tested as permitting one to obsess over her lifelong.
But being distanced from your mother at adolescence isn’t really the source of trying to absolve yourself of ever having your experiences as a needy person claim conscious acknowledgement. The need, the requirement, that you not ever be reminded that this is who you still are, comes about from associating feeling vulnerable to becoming easy monster bait, to being viciously murdered, which arrives pretty much at infancy. Freud of course noted how many children were concerned with death, and decided that we must all therefore be born with a death instinct. But his associate, Sandor Ferenczi, as well as other psychoanalysts like Dorothy Block and Joseph Rheingold, observed that this fear owed not to “instinct” but to the rational, the acute and accurate assessment of the child that their caregivers actually had murderous inclinations towards them. Mothers, still in most families the foremost “caregivers” of children, revisit the punitive experiences they suffered as children upon their own children. Historically, they have tended to do the like of hallucinating their children as adult accusers — as their own parents, who in their screams once again express disappointment and anger. They have tended to see them as requiring bullying, threats and realizations of overt abandonment, so that they actual fulfill what they were born for — in so many cases, to satisfy their parents’ own unmet needs. To the infant, the absolutely vital mother, the primary “object,” is also quickly realized as a terrorizing titan, which s/he later learns to displace onto “monsters” to absolve her/himself the guilt, the fear, of consciously realizing what s/he suspects her/his mother would kill it for having an inkling of. All of this applies, by the way, not just to children who’ve descended from one of the sadder generational chains, but to many, many genuinely more hopeful ones, where mothers from generation to generation were progressively given more resources so to be able to lend more love to their children than they themselves received … to the children in playgrounds in more liberal parts of New York, for example.
Expected to fulfill their parents’ — again, mostly their mother’s — needs for love, and to serve as poison container and/or as a fetish object — the provisioning breast, denied to them in their own childhoods — their own development was seen as a threat, a threat met by maternal distancing and fury: to the child, by apocalypse! This happens early, so early that the ostensibly inherent superego, which is actually created by the child’s brain to save the child from individuating too much and thereby find itself outside maternal favour for life, can understandably be mistaken as something born out of genes and DNA rather than defensively out of experience. When the child becomes an adult, when it realizes the individuation and self-determining freedom available as an adult, it re-experiences the terror of being abandoned as a child for its initial attempts at individuation. It expects a revisit of all the tortures and punishments, something warded off for awhile by pursuing the trauma itself, initiating it or chasing it down, and thereby showing some confidence-inspiring control (herein, an explanation for this ice bucket trend?), but which eventually demands full capitulation and retreat. The adult finds some way to shorn him/herself of the new freedoms and bond back to some group he fills with injections of his mother — which is in his own mind becomes essentially her corporeal self, a home country, a “Mutterland.” He or she experiences and succumbs to “growth panic.”
A hero is someone who is suffering from growth panic. Out of retreat, he has fused with the inner Terrifying Mother (i.e. the super-ego) that’s been installed in his brain’s right hemisphere, home of the amygdala, our brain’s alarm system, and distances himself from past allowances, freedoms, pleasures, that are making him/her feel terribly anxious, so to feel more pure again — forgiven. Our “guardians” in this film, we note, are prepared to do exactly that: putting their lives at the service of “the galaxy,” which though it means no longer being freewheeling rascals — i.e., individuated pursuers of their own self-determined pleasures — means having all their sins expunged and counted by even the most selfless as those properly to count oneself indebted to.
The group is not infused with properties of the person the film has delineated to serve as Peter Quill’s mother, however. That bald, ghostly white young woman looked nearly a child herself, and probably served as a child representation of Peter Quill at threat of infanticide — all the converging, insistently demanding grandparents — he could later imagine saving by hallucinating Gamora — an abandoned, farmed-out child herself — as his lost self perishing in amniotic space. Given the ethos of the film, the mother had to have been powerful, not evaporating; and part of powerful her is found in Glenn Close’s “Nova Prime,” the supreme leader of the Xandarians —the part believed all-provisioning, fair, decent and good. But the rest, with all the terrifying aspects, which at the moment are most meaningful to the child, are out into other powerful beings.
So, yes, “Ronan the Accuser” does at times represent this terrifying, infanticidal mother. Especially when he’s about to crush innocent victims, like that hapless Xandarian soldier, who’s blood will quickly be collected into some drain Ronan is part of; especially when he represents a source from the conservative past who is furious at all the guilty modernisms being entertained. But when he is someone feeling furiously betrayed by the titan Thanos, when he means to rival, strike back and humiliate him, then he represents part of ourselves we are in urgent need to disown — the part, of course, that has solid justification for being furious at our mothers for their treatment of us. Otherwise Thanos, who farmed his children out to a perpetuator, who sits on a grand maternal throne, casually expecting everyone — in order to do something about the terrible possibility of him springing a surprise visit upon “us” — to of course stage our coming to him; who’s visage is twice in the film represented at a scale that dwarfs even great Ronan into an infant; serves in the movie as the imperious “object” the Terrible Mother is mostly interjected into.
But Ronan possesses the hammer, the stick, used historically by mothers to beat their children, and when he absorbs the power of the infinity stone and is about to kill a world of Xandarian innocents, he is just the Terrible Mother with infanticidal thoughts towards forsaken people. The exultation he demonstrates just before he is about to annihilate all life on Xander, with his back bent and arms outstretched in a big body laugh, is like that captured mother representatives were made to do at periods of growth panic in Aztec culture, where as Lloyd DeMause says, “female victims first made a prodigious show of their female power … [before being] laid down on their backs and [having] their breasts cut open and their bodies torn apart.” And Ronan afterwards too is slain, by the power of the infinity stone.
The stone, like the swords used upon subsequent victims, after first being used to rip apart Aztec mother-representatives, is empowered by the destructive power of the Terrifying Mother. When Peter Quill absorbs the power into himself, he is like a Javaro, who after the maternal fusion, who after “sucking at [his] mother’s breasts, [having taken] n/um, [having drank] n/um, [which even though it] would [make him] cry, and cry, and cry, [and even though he] was afraid of the n/um, [though it was] hot and [it] hurt,” experiences something akin to a “temporal lobe epileptic seizure. [Which] like these seizures, provides convulsive tremors and feelings of powerful violence, as the master of [the] n/um continues his energetic dance, [and] the n/um heats up and rises up the spine, to a point approximately at the base of the skull, at which time !kia results, [an] explosion [which] throws [one] in the air … bursting open, like a ripe pod,” as he “then they go[es] out to kill anyone [he] encounters, believing [he is] superhuman.” As he beams a climactic red glow, he becomes like the “warriors [who] became the symbolic equivalent of menstruating women [,] [since] both bloody warriors and menstruating women were charged with powerful destructive energy.” He is bathed in the equivalent of “red hematite [as if he’d] expropriated the destructive power of menstruating women [by] ritual nose bleeding or sub incision [of their penises].”
So the infinity stone’s power is the destructive power of the mother to murder infants because every anthropological tribe — all insanely sacrificial and war-prone — borrow the power of the menstruating woman so to feel superhuman before they go off into war? Yes. The infinity stone’s power is the destructive power of the mother because psychoanalysts who don’t just assume a death instinct find for children everywhere “the fear of infanticide could already be their central occupation,” “that [for them] the world ‘abounded in beasts of terrifying mien, in cruel witches and monsters who pursued their victims with unrelenting savagery,’” and that “the identities behind these imaginary, terrifying figures [were] the child’s own parents”? Especially, yes. But also because the infinity stone is twinned with another object in the film overtly associated with maternal prowess — Jack Quill’s precious cassette tape.
Rohan the Accuser exults when he’s in possession of the stone; arriving on Xander, he casually kicks aside vermin — the raccoon, Rocket — accosting him. But Jack Quill, singing his mother’s favourite tunes, is still brazen enough to approach and challenge him to a dance-off. He says he’s just distracting him, still a marginal figure, despite the attention temporarily put to him, but there’s a strange sense already of appropriate direct rivalry — my power against yours, dude: the songs he’s singing were those he was listening to when he broached the lair containing the infinity stone, where he too felt immune to everything that’d accost him, casually kicking aside all the lizards that approached to threaten and ostensibly devour him. It’s like with his long possession of the cassette — a fetish object, coveted, by him at least, as eagerly as the infinity stone throughout the movie — he’s already in possession of an aspect of the power of the stone: the good aspect heroes are allowed to know of the mothers they’ve fused with, one that still knows of some levity, permitted because all freedom has been sundered to her. Jack has coveted every song his mother wanted him to at the cost of listening to what others might have introduced to him, at the cost of developing his own life “soundtrack”; he has installed her as a saint he would sacrifice his own life to recover; and for already in this sense being such a good boy before becoming an overt hero, he already feels in possession of some of mommy’s terrible power. He’s like Bilbo, knowing the ring’s — an object primarily about mass genocide — powers of invisibility, as well as the jokes and riddles … the good fun, associated with his use of it, and so actually not so odd a creature to take on directly the destructive power of a dragon, whom he could not just trick and distract but obliterate if ever the ring took full control of him.
Peter Quill is the right possessor of the infinity stone because he’ll use it to destroy the split-off terrifying aspects of our mothers, while fused completely with the good. And that it doesn’t destroy him, that he contains it for as long as he did, is because he’d already been imbibing maternal power, through devout loyalty, his whole life, not really because of his father’s DNA. (Question: Was Bilbo able to handle the power of the ring for as long as he did because before going on adventures, he’d long been someone loyal “to his mother’s doilies,” rather than to the gallivanting about Gandalf would like rather to have seen him on? And is this why Gandalf is more or less kept out of the crucial relationship between the ring and Bilbo — a subtle but substantial humiliation of him — until “LOTR”?) He’ll use it destroy the part of himself that would dare accuse a perpetrator for Her past abuse. And he’ll use it to destroy “two” more: legions of the vulnerable, as well as his now even-fully-mother-loyal own self.
He’ll use it to kill the vulnerable? Yes. He is fused with his Terrifying Mother alter, and that mother was seen by the child as fully correct to abuse him, to punish the weak, a life-saving conclusion, as it keeps the absolutely essential primary caregiver benign and loving. The child concludes that it must have been “his worthlessness that made them hate and even want to destroy him. After the child is convinced he is bad and deserving to be destroyed, every incident in his life becomes proof of his responsibility for unhappy events: Is there a death in the family? — he’s a murder. An accident? — he’s the secret perpetrator. His ‘badness’ causes his mother to leave him for a job … and drives his father to absent himself on business trips … he is the subject of every quarrel and the author of every disaster [even of] divorce.” I’ve suggested that the exact person chosen to represent the dying mother doesn’t adequately reflect the type of maternal influence that infuses every creation within this film world — weak and dissipating, vs. surreally powerful and scary — but Quill’s feeling guilty over her death for, by appearances, just showing some sanity in not letting himself get sucked into his mother’s own extinguishment, does gets the relationship between mother and child right. He is fundamentally a neglectful, guilty child, and fused with his Terrifying Mother alter his task is to punish and destroy the same.
He and his guardians to some extent are doing this when they start obliterating Ronan’s forces. Drax mocks them as “paper people,” and Groot takes delight in dramatizing their weakness, in humiliating them, by thrashing columns of them about with his two arms, and this — mocking their weakness — is what occurs when mother-fused soldiers attack their “enemies.” Seeing them primarily as their own “guilty,” weak childhood selves, they call them the exact names they were called by their parents as children — Germans in World War Two, for example, called their captives “shit babies,” and “useless eaters.” And we’ll find in most films where “good” forces are up against the “bad,” the bad, whatever their initial scary show, end up seeming strangely, humiliatingly, impotent … they’ve become, rather, our own weak selves that deserved to be destroyed and so pile up readily into accumulations of the dead while the good lose maybe one or two for their (sometimes) several hundred. But as initially noted, it’s not just soldiers but civilians that are being set up as deserving death. If you’re adding vitality to the group, as John C. Reilly’s Corpsman Dey and his glowingly healthy family are made to seem, you’re cherished. But if you look like you might be contributing weakness, are single, solitary, or sick, you’ll come to be hated. Bad and despicable, for the crime of weakening the glory of the maternal whole.
Killing worlds of vulnerable people is what the infinity stone is all about, and it’s what war is all about too. After people do the initial fusing with their maternal alters, they enter wars which end up killing far more civilians than soldiers. This fact is incredibly obvious today, where in Gaza all we seem to hear about are this group of youth or that one being targeted and slaughtered. Are we likely to see something along these lines in the sequel to this film, where not soldiers but evident “evil” civilians and their families are “justifiably" killed? Not guaranteed: some things our conscious minds will not permit. No one overtly gloated over the number of civilian deaths in the Iraq war, for example. But it’s the fact that the Iraq war ended up killing over 300 000 people, mostly children, that enabled Americans at the time to feel so good about it (ninety percent approval rates for Bush). At some level we know the extent of the carnage, who exactly got killed … and when it’s legions of civilians, we feel empowered, as the vitality of these extinguished lives get sucked into us … sacrificed Xandarian blood, into Ronan, and boy doesn’t it feel great!
And finally, heroes seek to sacrifice themselves. Being shorn of freedoms and completely fused to their mother alters, the glory of once again being good boys and girls again still has one better: namely, being permanently fused to her, through death. The guardians agree to try and take down Ronan, even after acknowledging it’s sure suicide … and are in this like the Japanese leaders in World War 2, who when “deciding whether to attack Pearl Harbor and begin their war with the United States, [realized after several ministers gave their assessments that] it was obvious that an attack would be suicidal for Japan. Whereupon Tojo told those present, ‘There are times when we must have the courage to do extraordinary things — like jumping, with eyes closed, off the veranda of the Kiyomizu Temple!'” They are like Hitler, who too “spoke in suicidal, not economic, imagery, promising Germans glorious death on the battlefield and calling himself a ‘sleepwalker’ as he lead the German people over the suicidal cliff,” to war against the whole rest of the world.
The raccoon, Rocket, is the one who offers an alternative — “You know, we could just make our way to the far ends of the universe and, like, enjoy our lives” — but of course is ignored because it doesn’t satisfy their need for mommy-and-me fusion, as they'd lie as blooded corpses on the consoling battlefield, with their mother imagined as coming down to collect them, or shrouded in white swaddling cloth in caskets, back permanently home with their mother's sorrow, appreciation and sympathy. And we shouldn’t expect any film about heroes to allow the dissenter’s — i.e., someone less switched into a suicidal mental state — opinion any weight. We do see such occasionally, though. Though Peter Jackson doesn’t lend too much credit to Balin’s —Dwarf prince Thorin’s chief advisor’s — insistence that there was another way, that “you don’t have to do this [— i.e., attempt to destroy a city-destroying dragon without any real plan as to how to actually defeat him —] [for] you have built a new life for us in the Blue Mountains,” there is some … Balin’s going to remain sane and good-humoured throughout, while we know Thorin will lose his sanity. And we remember Jackson gave enormous credit to Gandalf’s insistence to Faramir, in “Return of the King,” that he shouldn’t “throw away [his] life so rashly” just to please his clearly insane father, however sadly little he gave to Saruman’s intriguing claim that Gandalf himself possessed a suspect tendency “to sacrifice those closest to him, those he professes to love,” which, well, if we aren’t looking at him all rose-coloured, maybe we’ll acknowledge he kinda did.
I’ve heard many people say they found “Guardians of the Galaxy” novel. I couldn’t relate, because the film felt like I’d entered a child’s rumpus room, a “Chucky Cheese” full of rides, “swooshes,” and banal melodies you’ll remember your eight-year-old self was completely lost to. Perhaps the differing experience is explained because when people don’t get sick of but cherish listened-to-over-and-over-again songs, it’s because what they want is the simple, protective, and repetitive — something completely isolated from anything adult and new that’d threaten by maybe drawing you into considerations that’d lead to an undiscovered and independent self, as even superhero movies like “the Avengers” — with its wild, cantankerous, family-squabble scene, where a lot of valid opinions get thrillingly expressed in a very compressed few moments — and “Iron Man 3” offer. What they want are fetishes … objects barnished and handled so many times — each time deposited with accrued power rather than depleted of interest. What they want is a film which isn’t so much inspired by a catalog of films we’ve all loved, but which recalls them in a sense that if they somehow appeared on scene — the originals, the actual creators and creations, on stage, suddenly, before someone merely “covering” — “you’d” shut yourself down without complaint and just let the original role: weren’t you just trying to summon, anyway? So this film takes you into “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Footloose” … films you’ve seen a million, bazillion times, because like the creators you want to be back polishing them like a genie bottle, hoping for a Great Visitation, ever grateful for your devotion and complicity to the fully-bordered-up infantile.
The movie feels like it took pleasure from building itself up from a restricted “alphabet,” well aware it was gloriously shunning a larger one available. Watching it, you don’t take in a lot, but take pleasure in how securely it only offers repetitive, unsurprising things … hammer on the nail (or actually, in this film, usually over the head), over and over again. Like a politicians’ repetitive, simple-words baby talk, it probably is helping us trance into agreeing to a future horrible societal direction, by accessing the normally hidden, less conscious parts of our brains — the parts hypnotists play to. It helps us anticipate a time when like autistic soldiers, we isolate ourselves into repetitive motions, march to drums — become more overtly, “infants fearing death." But also participating in doing something (horrible) about it — becoming guardians, to our “galaxies.”
— finis —
Ápres: all quotes from Lloyd DeMause’s works, especially “Origins of War in Child Abuse.”