Avengers: Infinity War Botches What Love Means
Avengers: Infinity War is one of the highest-grossing films of all-time. It’s well done. It’s also very depressing. Warning: Massive Spoilers below.
In one scene, Thanos — who kills gods and becomes among the most powerful beings in the universe — is told he needs to sacrifice what he loves to get one of the Infinity Stones. His adopted daughter, Gamora, laughs and says that Thanos cannot get the stone because he does not love.
After a long silence, Thanos turns with tears in his eyes and says she is wrong. He throws her off a cliff to her death. At the end of the film, having killed half of the universe’s population in a twisted effort to help the other half, he speaks to Gamora as a figment of his imagination. The child version of Gamora asks Thanos what accomplishing his goal cost. He says, “Everything.”
After watching the film, my wife and I discussed Thanos’ distortion of what “love” means. As I was halfway done writing this piece, my wife noted a more disturbing distortion. Thanos’ sacrifice of Gamora to improve life for half of the universe’s sentient beings is an inversion of God’s sacrifice of Jesus to save humanity.
Sacrificing what you love to accomplish goals is a common theme in human storytelling. In the book series Star Wars: Legacy of the Force, Jacen Solo believes foregoing his family’s love is necessary for him to become the galaxy’s benevolent leader. (Lost on Jacen was that in burning a planet and committing murders, he was a bit less than benevolent.)
Even Superman, in an alternate universe, killed an innocent child whose powers were out of control. The child was putting millions of people in danger.
Like Thanos, Jacen and Superman commit evil acts to accomplish good ends. Each of these particular sacrifices is portrayed as being done out of love. And each one causes harm to the individual committing the evil — Thanos grieves, Jacen feels abandoned, and Superman regrets what he sees as a gruesome necessity
But none of these acts are loving. Contrast them to Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. This sacrifice came from love because Abraham knew God would take care of Isaac. Likewise, God selflessly gave Christ up for us — our sins killed Jesus, not God.
Confusing False Love and Real Love
An insightful reaction to Gamora’s death is this one. The author describes herself as having been raised by abusive parents. Gamora was raised likewise by Thanos:
Despite his narcissism, the whole genocide thing, and having all the personality of drywall, I still wanted Thanos to love Gamora. And the old me believed, for a second, that he did. Because being abused makes you believe that being loved at all is as good as being loved properly.
I know Thanos doesn’t love Gamora, and she does too. He thinks he loves her, though, and that’s why his scene with her in Voramir is so jarring. We already know this dude is evil. What we don’t expect is for him to be evil in one of the most terrifying, familiar ways imaginable. Thanos feels he knows best, understands more than anyone, and loves his child. So did our abusive parents.
This piece is right on. Loving parents don’t kill or beat their innocent children. They don’t torture them, as Thanos did to his other daughter in Avengers. Instead, like God, they do all they can to save and protect their children, while also allowing them the necessary freedom to grow and develop as individuals.
And, like Jesus, they often die for them. Unlike Thanos, they never murder their children.
False Love Degrades and Harms
According to Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That’s what He did for all of us. Thanos, Superman, Jacen — they don’t understand this. They may have some level of affection and care for those they sacrificed, but they don’t love them.
Perhaps most unfortunate is that these fictional characters are represented in real life. How many people are told it’s “loving” to endorse a child’s or friend’s same-sex attractions? It’s “loving” to abort a child so it won’t suffer a life of poverty, we are also told.
Society rightly condemns parents who abuse out of “love.” Why do we endorse it in other areas of fiction and reality? Given that the writers and producers of Avengers: Infinity War awarded Thanos the Soul Stone for killing Gamora, do they actually believe he loves her?
Killing Versus Murder
Thanos says he has a moral duty to kill half the universe to stop overpopulation. He believes this will help the other half thrive since they will have more resources available to them. He uses Gamora’s home planet as an example — since half of the planet’s population was slaughtered, the half that survived has flourished.
Thanos’ sin wasn’t killing half of the galaxy’s citizens, or half of the residents of Gamora’s home planet. Theoretically, almost any number of people could be killed if it was just. Self-defense is a human right for both individuals — defending those around you — and for governments — defending the innocent via the death penalty or just war.
But some actions are morally wrong — and for others, intentions matter. To quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” Thanos’ admirable goal to end starvation and other sufferings of sentient beings is cancelled out by his murders — killing the innocent with the guilty, like one of the indiscriminate gods of the Greek Pantheon. Contrast this with God, who separated the good from the guilty in Sodom and will do the same in the End Times.
Like God, Thanos believes he has the right to decide who lives and dies. Unlike God, he a) doesn’t, and b) doesn’t have the proper moral standard to guide such decisions. Again, these errors aren’t limited to fiction. New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman once (allegedly jokingly) said that faking an alien invasion would solve some of America’s economic growth problems. Supporters of the death penalty in First-World nations ignore that other, more moral methods of protecting society exist. America’s slave owners separated the strong, healthy, and intelligent slaves from the rest — much like advocates of abortion on the basis of fetal disability do now.
Perhaps most Thanos-like of all, population control advocates frequently promote one-child policies like China’s to stop alleged overpopulation. One extreme advocate said in 2006 that 90 percent of the world’s people should be killed through disease to sustain the planet.
The Christ-like thematic elements of Avengers: Infinity War were a shocking revelation. My wife’s insight is a valuable one upon which to reflect. How often do we as humans substitute our own judgment for that of God’s, putting our souls and those of others at risk? How many people have died unjustly because leaders like Hitler and Stalin believe some people have the right to live, and others don’t?
On an even more basic level, how often do we act as judge, jury, and executioner in our own minds? In rush-hour traffic, or during meetings with colleagues who are a touch less perfect than we prefer, or with our spouses on a bad day — do we remember that God is King?
Again, intentions matter. Thanos killed half the universe’s sentient population because he thought he is worthy of making such decisions. Our bad choices may not kill anyone’s physical self, but we would be wise to keep Thanos’ arrogance in mind when tempted to judge others.