Avengers Week - Thor: Ragnarok and the Hero's Journey
Welcome to Avengers Week here at Mirror Box! Each day, we’ll feature a piece from our incredible writers that highlights each original member of the iconic team and discuss the cultural impact and relevance these characters have on the big screen! Today, Violet Conner takes a deep dive into the God of Thunder, Thor!
Much has been spoken on the myth and lore of the hero’s journey. The archetypal protagonist navigating through miles of mud and mire to reach the pinnacle has been sought, written, and studied for centuries. Joseph Campbell once spoke about it in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder, fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Taika Waititi’s take on the Marvel character Thor completely embodies this narrative. Thor: Ragnarok meets us where our hero is captured. He’s woeful and musing on his past, but finds the humor in his almost gloomish situation. Which is how all great comedies start–from great tragedy. Throughout the film, Thor dredges through the comparative mythology, an adventure of sorts. Campbell describes these three stages of themes in his monomyth, a simple narratology:
1: Departure. This is where the hero is called on an adventure. He also has some sort of mentor in this calling.
2: Initiation. This component “begins with the hero then traversing the threshold to the unknown or "special world", where he faces tasks or trials, either alone or with the assistance of helpers.” He is pursued, challenged, and must overcome an obstacle that helps him reach his highest potential.
3: Return. This is the catalyst. The hero must stand on the bridge of two worlds. He takes his knowledge from the journey and alchemizes it into the zenith of wisdom and spiritual strength. The entire process is to strip the hero of everything that is held dear and close to the heart. The trials and struggles serve as a means to peel each layer, until the very essence of who the hero truly is remains. At the end, it is this naked, weary soul who triumphs in the story.
“The Departure” is at the beginning of Ragnarok. Thor shares how he has nightmares of his childhood home up in flames. A premonition, if you will. The evil devil that has him entrapped solidifies that this will in fact happen.Thor laughs in the face of danger. I want to pause here for a moment: a typical “hero’s journey” encapsulates a hero that starts at the lowest level with very little hope. The classic hero in this narrative generally has some sort of a tumultuous beginning. Yet, this isn’t the case with Thor. If we look at Thor, he had an almost idyllic start. Born with the power to wield thunder, he knew his strength from day one. His father, Odin, gave him a hammer called Mjolni to harness this force. It was when Thor was denied the right to become king over his realm of Asgard, that his journey truly began. In a sense, Thor’s story is almost the “inverse” hero’s journey, starting when he made the decision to fault from his roots.
When we meet our hero in Thor: Ragnarok, he still has a bit of his old ways traipsing around his persona. It’s almost as if Thor knows he can still laugh, charm, and call upon the trusty hammer daddy gifted to save himself from any sketchy situation. Which is true in a sense. Until the wildcard is thrown in.
Thor soon finds his father in exile. Odin is almost delirious, ready for the end of his days. Remember this: Thor views his father as the pinnacle of strength and wisdom. As Thor is almost overcome with grief, Odin shares that there is a long lost sister who is ready to take down Asgard. And, oh … she’s stronger than Thor and Odin combined. This is when “The Initiation” of the story occurs. The lost sister ends up destroying Thor’s beloved hammer and sends him into the abyss of cosmos, one of the nine realms of Asgard. Here, Thor is treated less than human, forced to watch Dharma Initiative-type propaganda videos and then sold as a slave. This is the complete antithesis of Thor’s entire life. He is told he can remain in chains or regain some sort of autonomy by participating in gladiator games. Thor chooses the latter.
As an homage to 1980’s sci-fi cinema synth score plays, Thor’s beloved hair is shaven right before he enters the arena. All seems at peace when he meets an old friend in battle, until the old friend beats him to the brink of death. The pain pushes Thor to the point of delirium, where he envisions his beloved father and remembers his strength. Ultimately who he is–The God of Thunder. This is the exact moment that Carl Jung describes in his idea of the “center of the field of consciousness”. It’s tapped when all ego is shredded from the psyche. It’s when feelings, intuition and memory collide, the precise moment when the internal meets the external world. The place that Jung calls “the interaction between the collective unconscious and one’s personal growth”. Thor captures this in the arena.
Until now, he thought his powers were only harnessed by the external. But in his deepest pain, he found the power was within the internal core of his being. Not in the hammer that was given to him. Not in his long, blond luscious locks of hair. But in the center of his consciousness. After this, Thor’s enlightened. He wants to help others become liberated like he is. He chooses to run towards his problems and not from them. But literally, he runs to the very thing that risks the livelihood of himself and his people. This is “The Return”, the catalyst where Thor stands on the bridge into his realm.
Armed with all of the wisdom and strength he’s gained, Thor confronts his sister, The Goddess of Death. She belittles him, pierces one of his eyes out and tells him he has no right to become king. In the final moments, just as Thor is about to give up, knowing Asgard will go up in flames, he enters the same hallucinogenic consciousness he was in before, envisioning himself at the feet of his father. Odin speaks: “Even when you had two eyes, you only saw half the picture. Are you “Thor, God of Hammers? That hammer was to help you control your power, to focus it. It was never your source of strength.” Thor concedes, saying he won’t ever be as strong as his father.
The next moment is the moment of all cinematic moments: Odin tells Thor, “No. You are STRONGER.” Thor embodies all of us as a collective. We all have or will embark on the hero’s journey. In the end, it’s that very realization when you’re on the journey of personal growth–when you realize you can see clearer when your body has been broken and that the strength has been inside of you all along. You are more conscious when you surrender the walls of the ego. To lose everything. To break open. To be brought to your knees. To remember the core of your strength ... this is the journey.