The theology of “The Avengers”

Those who enjoyed this movie (count me in!) might also enjoy Fr. Michael Denk’s theological ruminations on it in Crisis:

The Hulk, as compellingly played by Mark Ruffalo, is a man at war with himself.  In one scene where mass destruction is evident Captain America says to Bruce Banner (Hulk’s alter-ego): “Doc… I think now is the perfect time for you to get angry.”  Bruce replies: “That’s my secret Cap, I’m always angry.”  Isn’t this true for all of us?  Our core sins are always present lurking in the background.  He alludes more and more to this throughout the movie of what he describes as his “other self.”  This phrase is actually used!  It’s straight out of Saint Paul and so often referenced by the mystics.

St. Francis de Sales once gave the following advice to an aspiring nun: “My dear daughter, stir up your courage, arm yourself with the patience we should have toward ourselves. Often rouse your heart so that it may be rather on guard against a surprise attack; watch out for this other self; wherever you go, you’d do well to be aware of her, for this mean girl goes with you everywhere, and if you aren’t thinking about her she will think up something against you. But when she happens to attack you suddenly, even if she causes you to totter and stumble, don’t be upset; instead, call out to our Lord and our Lady. They will reach out a blessed helping hand to you, and if they allow you to go on suffering for a while, it will only be in order to have you cry out again more loudly for their help. Don’t be ashamed of all this, my dear daughter, any more than St. Paul who confesses that there were two men in him—one rebellious toward God, and the other obedient” (Romans 7:15-23).   As with St. Paul, the aspirant, the Hulk and ourselves, we all have this “other self.”

Bruce Banner begins to come to terms with his other self when he and Thor are in the middle of melee “Seeing who is better” and they are interrupted by a fighter jet.  Hulk was beginning to lose it and endanger everyone around him when Thor says to him: “We are not enemies… try to think.”

Thor is giving the same advice that St. Francis gave to the young postulant.  “Try to think… be aware.”  This is a moment of spiritual direction that brings about conversion.  Hulk who has been so ashamed and tormented by his other self is now learning, not simply to bury it, but to allow it to be redeemed and transformed.  In his own personal moment of salvation, it leads to not only the salvation of those around him, but to the salvation of the world.

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