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Thanos Offered Fake Love in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Thanos could not have truly loved Gamora, because love is not just affection—it’s self-sacrifice.
| Aug 21, 2018 | 17 comments |

It’s been months since I sat down to watch Thanos wield Infinity Stones in Avengers: Infinity War.

[Editor’s note: Beware spoilers, starting in the very next sentence.]

And it’s taken me nearly as long to fully wrap my brain around Gamora’s death. It was meant to be disturbing and heartbreaking, yet there was something much deeper at work than the evil of Thanos.

In true Isaac and Abraham fashion, Gamora followed her adopted father, Thanos, the film’s antagonist, to the top of a mountain to serve as a human sacrifice. Yet unlike Isaac, Gamora’s life was not spared. In order to obtain the infinity stone and fulfill his plan to rid the universe of half its population, Thanos had to sacrifice someone he loved.

Before the plan is revealed, Gamora has a few stinging words for the man who raised her:

“The universe has judged you. You asked it for a prize and it told you, ‘No.’ You failed. And do you wanna know why? Because you love nothing. No one!”

When Gamora finally realized Thanos meant to kill her to obtain the infinity stone, she said, “No. This isn’t love.” She then attempted suicide to keep her father from the stone that will kill billions of people. Yet, her dagger turned to bubbles in her hand. Thanos proceeded to throw Gamora off a cliff, and the stone became his.

Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos

Thanos experiences grief over his pending “sacrifice” in Avengers: Infinity War.

At first I thought this was a plot hole. How can one kill someone they love for their own selfish gain? It’s impossible, and the infinity stone should have been impossible to obtain at all—a trick for those selfish enough to seek it.

Instead, it’s a deep misunderstanding of what love is. Love is not affection, it’s self-sacrifice for the good of another. This is the gospel of Christ who laid down his life for undeserving sinners. We also see this in the famous love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13:5: “[love] does not insist on its own way.” Affection is what I feel for my dog. It was affection, not love, is what Thanos felt for his “favorite” daughter.

And yet, one could argue that what he felt for her was even less than affection. It was a kind of twisted parental pride that uses a child for their own gain—to shape them into image bearers of the parent rather than God.

Only Gamora exhibits real love when she attempted to take her own life. She was doing everything she could to keep Thanos from murdering so many. The “love” Thanos thought he had for Gamora wasn’t real love. Gamora says this repeatedly. The audience knows it isn’t love. The filmmakers know it isn’t love. Yet, Thanos ended up with the stone nonetheless. Why? Besides the fact that the ending was dependant on his collecting all the stones, why make it possible to obtain one like this?

This summer, Timothy Keller spoke at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in the Houses of Parliament in London. The topic of his speech was, “What Can Christianity Offer Our Society in the 21st Century?” Keller explains how Christianity has been the historical meat of moral goodness, and that without a divine source of virtue and self-sacrificial love, society will not be able to bear up under the weight of its moral ideals.

“Can we form people anymore in our society who can support those ideals because those ideals take self-sacrifice…. We tell people, especially our young people, we say, ‘You’ve gotta be true to yourself. You’ve gotta follow your own inner light. You can’t let anybody tell you what is right or wrong for you. And not only do you have to be true to yourself, you have to be true to yourself no matter what your family says, no matter what your community says, no matter what your society says. You don’t sacrifice for them. You make them adjust to you.’ But then we say to them, ‘But then you actually have to work for justice. You have to work to alleviate hunger.’ Which of course takes sacrifice. … So how are they gonna do that?”

The people who made Avengers: Infinity War have these same high ideals that Keller is talking about. They know killing your daughter isn’t love, but they don’t understand it deeply enough. Had they understood what Christianity does, Thanos would have left the mountaintop either without the stone or with Gamora alive. Without that divine source of virtue, their ideals are shaky at best. They appear like plot holes in our lives and in our stories.

Keller goes on to read an atheist review of the book, Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor:

“Perseverance and virtue will require self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice seems to require some transcendental justification or motivation in which the most common, perhaps the most logical, is belief in God…. Since modern freedom entails the rejection of all transcendence, modern virtue is wholly contingent. Can we be good for long without God?”

But despite the moral relativism that is overtaking our culture, people continue to tell stories in which the hero does value others before themselves. And why is that when the modern mantra to be true to yourself regardless of others is so prolific? It’s due only to common grace: the blessings and knowledge that God bestows on all mankind. On a deep, innate level, we understand that there is something truly beautiful about a hero laying down their life for others. Like Christ on the cross, self-sacrifice is the very best kind of story.

Without Christ, our stories are full of holes. They are warped images of half-truths. With Christ, we have the capability to love others like he loved us: sacrificially.

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notleia
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notleia

Welp, this could start another Individual vs Community megathread.

But what I think people (old white men in particular) tend to be blind to is how that rhetoric of self-sacrifice can be harmful to the least privileged. The story about self-sacrifice ends up hollow if it’s women and lower-class individuals who in practice do all the sacrificing while high-status people like successful old white preacher-men like themselves rarely get called upon to make a sacrifice much more drastic than mowing the lawn.
Women get burned out doing the vast majority of the physical and emotional labor of raising kids and keeping a household, and when they need a break, want some slack, they’re most often told how selfish they’re being for needing that break. It’s that meme about how even if you make yourself a doormat, people will still complain you’re too lumpy.
Or the prosperity-flavored gospel about how poor people should never be allowed nice things (like SNAP or Medicaid), and about how entitled and selfish they are for wanting to raise minimum wage to something liveable, when hypercapitalism has definite benefit in keeping a population desperate enough to work for crap wages.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

This post kinda condemns the toxic sense of ‘self sacrifice’ that you talk about. In the scenario discussed in the article, Thanos could represent the selfish men in your argument, and Gamora could represent the women. The article basically condemns the kind of behavior you mentioned.

But the more liberal or socialist side can have toxic self sacrifice as well. Depending on the circumstances, everyone can be expected to sacrifice for the good of the community, but then end up giving up some of their own rights in the process. Capitalism itself is ok, there’s just some behavioral things that need to be adjusted in our society. Socialism isn’t automatically kill greed and all that jazz.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Eh, I think Thanos’s case is more about abusive people than specifically a toxic idea of self-sacrifice. The whole of love isn’t encapsulated in the idea of self-sacrifice, that’s just the angle taken by this particular post on it.

But back to my Marxist fantasyland, it IS possible for the community to exert pressure on the individual disadvantage themselves in favor of the community (that ties back into the “women do all the work” factor in American [Southern] culture)(or heck, the reaction to 9/11 that resulted in the Patriot Act), but we are such an individualist society that we move quite a bit over to the communalist side without even being in earshot of Stalinism (there is more than one school of thought on Marxism, we don’t have to go full Stalinism).

That’s deffo a thing in environmentalism, where we’re guilted for not recycling a can or taking 15-minute showers rather than 5-minute ones, but realistically, corporations pollute literal metric tons more than people. It’s just in the corporate interest to finance campaigns that emphasize personal, individual recycling and backhandedly shift the blame there rather than accept responsibility for tighter EPA regulations (somewhere Harold Hamm just felt a disturbance in the Force). It’s an enlightening practice to compare and contrast the stated goals vs the results that actually happen and whether or not the course is adjusted to meet the stated goals.

But since we can’t legislate morality, greed prolly won’t disappear anytime soon, but we can realistically compel corporations to be less crappy by raising the minimum wage, doing away with tons of behaviors prompted by the corporate idea that employees are a cost to be minimized rather than an asset to cultivate.

TL;DR: Eat the rich (corporations)

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I think a lot of what we need to do involves teaching the next generation. Also, some corporate stuff is changing now that people are learning to profit from mutually beneficial things. Tapas seems to be an example of that. They are helping artists make money, and are providing ways for people to read comics for cheap/free, but they still make money. I’m not going to say that they will always be good, or that they’re perfectly good now, but there’s a lot of things Tapas tries to do, like work around author’s schedules, that seems to be a step in the right direction.

With the environmental thing, part of that is showing how being more environmentally friendly would help the companies make more money. If companies could run their shipping trucks off solar and thus not have to pay fuel costs, they would probably eventually move over to that once it actually becomes efficient enough. As for minimum wage…that depends. When people were talking about wanting to raise it all the way up to 15 per hr in every state, I kind of cringed because that sounded like a bad idea.

Because, although it sounds nice, it really doesn’t keep in mind the fact that the cost of living varies per area. 15 per hr might be more reasonable in a major metropolis, but where I’m from that’s kind of a lot for a simple job like flipping burgers or running a cash register. Some smaller businesses may not be able to afford such a sudden jump for all their minimum wage employees, or at least not full time. Either that or people will raise prices on things to compensate, which could leave us right back where we started.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I’d certainly like to see the numbers on raising prices. The example I’ve seen of increasing prices for paying a living wage to a Mickey D’s worker would be an extra 50 cents per Big Mac, tho it might have only been to $12 per hour.
I’m willing to cut smaller businesses some slack, but at a certain point, if you can’t pay a decent wage, can you, in fact, afford to be in business?

I’ve worked both ends of the scale, at a teeny family-run dairy business (where I actually got a better wage than I did at other local jobs), and currently I work for a big-box retail store which barely keeps me in rent money. Where maybe only half a dozen people, tops, in our store actually get full-time hours and benefits. Yet corporate has dropped a buttload of money on an ineffective new security system that we’ll prolly still get the blame for when it fails.

[eatthericheatthericheattherich]

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Not sure what I think the numbers would be. It probably kind of depends on the area being discussed, as well as the industry. Seems like society is a never ending battle between inflation, rising wages and rising prices. I’ve heard people say Europe is extremely expensive, at least in some areas.

And yeah, to a great extent people can afford to be in business even if they can’t afford to pay as high a wage as you want. Or they may actually NEED to be in business so they can make a living. If you expect a business to close down just because they can’t afford to suddenly raise their minimum wage to 12, 15, or whatever(which, again, is rather unnecessary depending on the area of the country), then that eliminates a job that would have at least been able to give someone SOME money. And that’s a bad thing considering there are also areas of the country that need as many jobs as they get regardless of how much they pay.

Sometimes I like smaller businesses from the standpoint that the people in charge may be more likely to know what’s going on and what might actually help the business. Obviously that’s not always the case, but at my current job I get a chance to kind of notice things that happen at various companies, and they seem to run better when the people that own them(or at least manage them) are involved enough to know what’s going on and have an actual understanding of what’s needed. Some of the people that do that reasonably successful are rich, though, so it’s not like being rich automatically means that people will have the same problems you mentioned.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I actually like the ones who are actually involved in their businesses, provided they know where their towels are at, but they very often don’t make as much money as the scummy rich (but they still need to pay their fair share). Jeff Bezos, the Amazon guy, made his money in part by shafting his warehouse workers on crap wages and crap/no healthcare. Jimmy John’s seems to regularly engage in wage theft and overtime buggery while whatshisface goes big-game hunting in Africa (good chances for canned hunts, if he’s such a douche already). The DeVos family who made their money on the Amway scam dodges taxes on at least 1 of their 10 yachts by registering it in the Cayman Islands (foreign nationals don’t pay the same docking taxes).

[eattherich, etc]

Autumn Grayson
Guest

People say ‘fair share’ all the time, but tend not to define what that means. If everyone paid a tax of 10%, for instance, rich people would still be paying more than poor people would. 10% of a thousand dollars is less than 10% of a million, after all. Even in that instance, it would be ‘fair’ since not only is everyone paying the same percentage, but the rich people are still giving more money than the poor. Sometimes it just sounds like people are bitter that rich people have more money than they do, so ‘fair’ in their book means giving most of their money, or giving so much that they’re poor as everyone else.

It kind of sounds like the rhetoric should be ‘get rid of the corruption’ instead of ‘make them pay their fair share.’ Because, as you pointed out, there’s problems, but it sounds more like greed and corruption than a matter of needing to redistribute wealth.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Oh, look, another racist and sexist comment from Notleia.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I’d say there are different types of love. One is emotional love, where someone can feel love for a family member, friend, etc. But emotional love is just that, the emotion. It doesn’t always translate into healthy behavior and can even fuel unhealthy behaviors, like over possessiveness. But then there’s other types that are more healthy, like agape.

Agape love doesn’t mean letting people run all over us no matter what. But it does mean caring about someone no matter what, and now and then that means choosing self sacrifice in order to help someone, if we truly see that would be for the best.

Rachel Nichols
Guest

Agape does not mean enabling abuse. If someone wants to murder you standing around to let them do it is not good for either of you. It’s helping them to commit murder.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Yeah, people don’t seem to get that right at all. I remember some college course I took, and the topic discussed different kinds of love/which one each student thought was best and worst. One person basically said that they didn’t think agape was best/realistic because they basically thought that someone showing agape love wouldn’t criticize someone for bad behavior, etc. I think I replied to them and told them why that wasn’t the case, but eh. People just don’t get what true agape love is.

Travis Perry
Editor

I have my own take on understanding of agape, which isn’t standard. Note I do read Greek and have studied this word more than a little bit.

Without creating a list of verses to prove my point, let me assure you that the ordinary word in Greek for “love” is “philos”–which Christians sometimes downgrade to “brotherly affection” or even “like.” But in fact, this word is associated with friendship, with both the actions and feelings people have not for a casual friend, but for someone who truly matters to us. A sibling. A spouse. It is in fact quite a strong word, much more than “affection” or “liking.” But there is one limitation to the word–it requires an object of its love who is deemed worthy for love.

Agape embraces the same variety of feelings and actions that philos does. But it doesn’t require someone who is a worthy object–a close friend, relative, or spouse. This kind of love is quite rare in Greek literature outside the Bible and is in fact quite rare among human beings. How often do people deeply love someone when the person offers us nothing in return? When the person isn’t a friend or family member?

But other than being available for everyone, no matter if they have merit or not, agape really isn’t a different kind of love than philos. It’s rather applying love reserved for close friends to everyone, even enemies. (Which, without God, is actually impossible.)

Autumn Grayson
Guest

That’s interesting and makes sense.

Toklaham Veruzia
Guest

I agree with the article’s point, but the creators of Infinity War most likely aren’t done with the consequences of this scene. Red Skull implicitly says that Thanos will regret his choice. When he says “a soul for a soul”, could he mean that Thanos’s soul will be lost when he sacrifices his daughter? We see some regret in the scene at the end when Thanos says the snap cost ‘everything’. I expect to see a little more discussion of what love is in the sequel, although it will probably only amount to a few lines sandwiched between punches. So it’s possible that ‘Infinity War’ as a whole could have a slightly less wrong understanding of love, although we won’t know for sure until the second film.

Rachel Nichols
Guest

Haven’t seen the movie. Was Thanos one of those “depopulation” idealogues?

Love today is too much about “muh feelings.” Bad for parenthood, friendships, marriages, and about every human relationship and interaction.

I need to reread The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.

Princesselwen
Guest
Princesselwen

The problem with Infinity War is that its structure. A two-part story would have been fine, but it would need to be set up differently. Infinity War was just one really long story, split at the most depressing point. Its story flaws come from the fact that it’s half a movie.
The story seemed to have the recurring theme of love being a weakness, though (Vision and Wanda, Gamora and Peter, Gamora and Nebula, etc.). And I really didn’t care for that. I don’t want to walk out of a movie thinking that the only person who could save the world was someone who didn’t love anyone. Yet that’s what the scene with Gamora seemed to imply.
(The film also seemed to miss the point with Vision. It was his choice to sacrifice himself, and none of the other characters seemed to get that until it was too late. It was choice–whether by an individual themselves, or their acceptance of another’s sacrifice–born out of their love, which was the true moral opposite to Thanos’ soulless mass murder. But the movie didn’t really explore that. Maybe the sequel will.)
The other problem with the ‘half a movie’ structure, is that it lacks the ‘refutation scene,’ that many of the best superhero movies tend to have, where the hero or other characters prove the villain wrong (Examples include Coulsons and Iron Man’s words to Loki in The Avengers, and the scene with the boats in The Dark Knight.) Without a clear refutation of it’s villain’s ideas, Infinity War comes off as kind of morally muddled. Hopefully such a refutation will come in the sequel.