Þingvellir National Park, just outside Reykjavík is a beautiful place in the fall. The yellowing leaves in the foreground are blueberry.
I want this room in my house right now.
Writing a book is like doing a huge jigsaw puzzle, unendurably slow at first, almost self-propelled at the end. Actually, it’s more like doing a puzzle from a box in which several puzzles have been mixed. Starting out, you can’t tell whether a piece belongs to the puzzle at hand, or one you’ve already done, or will do in ten years, or will never do.
Every so often I stumble across a picture of a place that makes me immediately want to pack up and move.
Asheville seems a magical land filled with beautiful mountains, fabulous original art deco architecture from golden age America, haunted mansions, and trolleys.
I want to go to there.
(First of all, see this in 2D. Asgard is breathtaking, and in 3D it seemed less sharp and colorful. I think the backgrounds were blurred to make the forefigures pop, and it really detracted from what was otherwise one of the most transportively beautiful settings ever rendered.)
I will admit that I was dubious about this movie at first. I am a fan of comics and mythology and Branagh’s Shakespearean films. But Branagh directing a film about a Nordic alien who flies around with a magical hammer? It seems like the product of some bizarre parallel dimension.
But on the other hand, his source material incorporates some of the world’s oldest myths and cultural icons. Blessedly, he presents us with a movie that knows when to take itself seriously, and when not. Branagh actually takes good advantage of the disparity between style and subject; it allowed him space for more racially diverse casting decisions, and to infuse the narrative with some ‘fish-out-of-water’ style humor as Thor’s upbringing as a privileged and legendary warrior/frat boy of Asgard clashes with new circumstances when he finds himself exiled to modern rural New Mexico.
The plot of the movie is a serviceable Hero’s Journey tale. Thor is rather unique among superheroes who have made the transition from the comic book page to the silver screen: he starts out a powerful and accomplished warrior. Save the world? He has been there, done that, and has the ego and biceps to show for it. His tale begins where others end.
Thor’s journey is to learn humanity, humility, and that compassion is the highest virtue. He has to grow past his childish need to be the strongest and best, to be the center of attention and always play the hero even if it means endangering his home, friends, and family. He has to learn to set aside ego and put others before himself. This is literally the oldest story ever told. It’s the epic of Gilgamesh, and the moral behind the Christ story. And it is a story we really need more of in these times of alien robot pirate monkey race-car box office fodder.
So yes, I liked this movie.
However, I have a few words to say about the film’s handling of Loki. Sure, he was an obvious choice as a villain because of the role he plays in his mythos as trickster and destroyer, but we get presented with a more nuanced and complicated character. In the Thor-verse, Loki is Odin’s second son and has to live in Thor’s shadow. The movie introduces him as a quiet, sidelined figure who occasionally gets to tag along on Thor’s amazing adventures. Branagh’s handling of the family dynamics this creates is superb.
The movie tries to present an ambiguous Loki- is his trickery because he wants the love and approval of his family and is protecting them the best that he can, given the nature of his powers, or is he out to get Thor because he is overcome with jealousy? Although we know that Loki can ultimately be none other than a villain, his tricks and manipulations, at least at first, seem done wholly out of altruistic concern. He foils his brother’s coronation and his half-cocked plan to invade the kingdom/planet of the ice giants because they would have been genuinely disastrous. Sif mentions at one point that Loki has always been jealous of Thor, but up until the point where he actually attempts to kill him- it is completely believable when he says that he loves Thor more than anyone.
The climactic battle between the two brothers has some hefty emotional weight behind it. By that point Loki has taken on the role of Thor’s metaphorical shadow self - he gets to enact the repressed desire to win the esteem of his father and kingdom by unrestrained conquest. Thor has to temper his response with love and compassion. I did not notice until a second viewing in 3D, but Loki is weeping throughout the fight. That touch is pure Branagh. (I recall his Iago crying through his ‘I hate the moore’ soliloquy.) And it was perfect here.
This emotional arc, however, got sorely undercut earlier in the film. Ultimately the movie tried to have it both ways in regards to Loki’s motives. For the most part he is a lost and tormented boy who just wants daddy to love him, but he also acts as a balls-out sociopath seemingly just for the sake of having a fight scene with cars exploding. Towards the climax of the movie he dispatches an assassin, which he magically controls, and proceeds to fight his brother with a detached and violent malevolence that completely betrays all the emotional depth Branagh grants him elsewhere in the movie. At that point, the only thing that could have salvaged his character would be if he was all “Yeah, Odin, I knew I was really a frost giant the whole time. I was just fucking with you. Lolerskates!” at the end.
The self-righteous absolutism of adolescence eventually softens its edges, as it must. But we never stop needing that idealism and energy, that courage to name things as political if they are political and unacceptable if they are unacceptable, that dedication to crafting our lives and our communities on our own terms. Telling stories is just the beginning.
—Sara Marcus, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution (via libraryland)