In just a few weeks, there’s a little movie coming out that you may have heard of called Avengers: Endgame. It is part 2 of the duology cap off to this era of Marvel films- part 1 was called Avengers: Infinity War. It is impressive- an incredible film- but no masterpiece. A beautiful spectacle, but problematic in the forced story elements.
Fortunately, perfect hosts are not a requirement for learning or experiencing moments of significance.
There is a moment where Mantis (an empath) is perched atop Thanos (the big bad), and she’s gripping his head as she taps into his emotional psyche. As she unearths the ham fisted psycho-emotional resonance meant to make him more human (and thus more relatable and less evil seeming? … I guess because humans are known for their lack of evil?) she says a few things can’t be overlooked.
She says that he is very strong.
Then she says that he is mourning.
Then she says he is in anguish.
This version of Thanos is neither the most interesting version, nor the one in the window ad post credit from Age of Ultron, but he is likely the only big screen Thanos we will get for the next hundred years. Like it or not, he is our Thanos. And this Thanos is very strong, mourning, and in anguish at the same time.
At the same time as he executes his purpose, his passion-
what he feels like he exists to do.
At the same time as he carries the burden of a sacrifice that no one understands.
At the same time as he seems like he has it all together- the LAST person compassion or empathy would be required for.
Strength and mourning and anguish.
birthed out of
Anger and hurt and betrayal.
He did what any of us would do.
Will do tomorrow.
What Shakespeare, and Kevin Hart, and Luke Skywalker all did. He clung to the first idea that seemed to both service the pain and make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Thanos’ grand plan wasn’t about galaxies or planets or shortages or helpfulness; Thanos’ plan (this Thanos anyway) was purely about himself. He himself had been brutally wounded unnecessarily and he found the power to make sure that couldn’t happen to him again… or anyone he attached himself to… which, at the end of the day, still counts as him.
Strength and mourning and anguish.
Some people are strong because they trained themselves to be. Others are strong because they have to be. And still others are simply strong… because that’s who they are.
I wonder if people understand the terrible burden it is to be strong against your will. To always have a brave face for those who need it. To always- even in your most broken down, crumbled state- have a faint piece of you ticking and grinding away at a solution. To be able to emphatically preach truths, spiritual nuances, and encouragements that you yourself are doubting and refraining from applying.
I wonder if people understand the cost of being the source for others. The toll of knowing what to say, but wanting someone to say it to you.
I believe this is a big place where suicide comes from. Without the cathartic outlet of weakness and being nourished by others, some people just grow weary of being strong. And the only way to stop being strong… is to stop.
Consider this for a minute. Issues with the film and character aside, let us look at Thanos as a being on his last leg. The end of his rope. The galaxy has spun out of control, suffering is everywhere, he has lost relationship with his only two daughters, his own people ignored him… he’s a being on the edge. Seemingly purposeless.
He wants to die.
But instead of giving in to that.
He permits himself the grace to make one, last strong choice.
To begin the process of universe wide healing.
Thanos is strong, because that’s who he is.
I was discussing this element of Thanos with a close friend of mine and he immediately pointed out that strength in this case would need to be defined. Almost like trying to explain good singing to someone who has only ever heard Metallica (which is not a dis to Metallica, but having heard the likes of Kenny Lattimore, H.E.R., and even Shawn Mendes, I am well equipped to discern the difference). Strong compared to what? We need some parameters.
The Finnish have a concept native to their culture, a philosophy expressed in a single word that doesn’t properly translate into English. That word is sisu.
According to Finnish university Finnlandia, it roughly translates as, strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character. It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost.
This then is the strength of which I speak. Strength of will. More than momentary courage. Costs notwithstanding. By no coincidence, there is a Finnish root word in sisu which means “inner.”
So all of these incredible,
indelible and undeniable,
are denizens of the internal world.
Some people work to unlock their sisu, their strength. Some people are forced into it, because there are no other acceptable options. And still others are just simply instinctively in tune with it. This is the Thanos category.
Do you see it now?
Here you have a powerful being who is naturally wired to be strong… to forge ahead courageously in spite of any personal cost to himself. This being is not only equipped with a genuinely better vision for the universe, he is undaunted at the prospect.
Let’s stop here for a minute.
How many worlds are there across the MCU intergalactic landscape?
Hundreds of thousands?
Each wrapped in their own little bubble of ragged compromise (where true justice is anarchy- anathema to the very system it emerged from) and content with the planetary process therein.
Hundreds of thousands of planets.
And Thanos steps up to the plate and in his heart says “You know what- I can fix this. For everybody.” Jackie Robinson dives into all the sports and says “I can be the anomaly.” George Lucas says “I can redefine cinema and the cinema business model forever in one fell swoop.” Ava Duvernay says “I’ve got what’s needed even if I don’t have their credentials.” Dwayne McDuffie says “I’ll bridge every gap with good stories and representation.” James Baldwin says “I will go where I will and say what I must.” Jesus says “If possible let this cup pass, but if not, then not my will, but Your will be done.” Kevin Feige says “Let’s make Black Panther and put it fully in the hands of black people.” Carrie Fisher says “I’ll own everything bad about me, because that’s the only way my freedom and true greatness can shine.”
Maya Angelou, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Audrey Lorde, Rob Bell, Dharious Daniels, Oprah, The Rock, Dave Chappelle, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lecrae, Lucille Ball, Stan Lee, Debbie Allen, Ashley Eckstein… we could go on and on and on. So many embodied this idea of strength, of sisu, in very different- yet distinct- ways, and many of them still do.
And upon that decision, the laws of intention manifested themselves and he worked out a way to do it.
This Thanos is much different than the one we were promised, but there’s still so much there if we’re willing to look past the cinema sins for a moment.
from the beginning,
what the cost would be.
That’s why he didn’t excessively kill or wipe out worlds on a mad rampage to his goal. That’s why he didn’t obliterate Tony and his team when he CLEARLY could have (he had the reality stone already remember)? He even showed mercy to Tony and said he had heard of him. Early on he sent his minions ahead, because he needed time to steel himself for the hardest part of the whole operation. Not because he wanted to.
Because he had to.
He is strong by nature.
His sisu could not be bridled.
If Thanos was not going to stop his own existence, then that meant he had to stop the problem itself from existing.
from the beginning,
what the cost would be.
and he did it anyway.
Consider the toll of that.
What might someone become under that sort of duress?
What might they be driven to do?
When the memes go around saying to “check on your strong friend,” take a moment to think how serious that really is. How vital community is, even for the ones upon whose shoulders the community rests.
And it is at this point of the journey where I invite you into the heart of, perhaps, one of the greatest questions you will ever ask yourself.
How do strong people cry out for help?
Strength, and mourning, and anguish.
All at the same time.
Thanos wasn’t just willing to reshape the universe into the mold of something good, and just, and positive… he was willing to allow himself to be remade in the process. To be dipped into the baptism of his own tears, shuttled through the womb of any parent’s worst nightmare, and emerge once more. New. Alive. Dealing with the conscience and consequence of his own actions.
The most painful birth possible.
My name is Joshua Evans.
I am The Geek Philosopher in residence.
And I would love to meet you over on twitter to keep the conversation going. 🙂