Thor (2011) seems to be not that well remembered. It was the second film to come out after Disney had purchased Marvel. The Disney corporate shine is all over this film. While I wouldn’t say the other two films I have analyzed are masterpieces; they at the very least had a specific artistic vision and told pretty cohesive stories. This movie was a slog to watch. I’m guessing someone must have liked it because it grossed $449.3 million at the box office and has had two sequels, with a third on the way. Why might I choose to write about this movie that I thought wasn’t very special? It’s actually an interesting film to analyze once you step back and take a look at the individual aspects of this film. Thor (2011) touches the psyche of the cult of masculinity that is rampant in authoritarianism. The subject of masculinity can not be separated from authoritarianism. In my past blogs I had started writing about the subject, but the other films didn’t provide as much to talk about as this one, so I saved it. Thor, however, is filled with themes of masculinity. Boiled down, the film is all about what it means to be a man. Now when I say “what it means to be a man”, I mean it in the traditional sense. I by no means believe what this film sells about manhood, or womanhood. Throughout this blog I will talk about traditional gender roles. However, I do not subscribe to the idea that these roles are to be followed. I am just talking about them in a historical sense.
The Emasculation of Thor
Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, is a rather obvious phallic symbol. It has a long handle for gripping, and a large tip for pounding. All of Thor’s power is contained within this hammer. His identity is wrapped up in this hammer. Mjolnir is his manhood. Loosing this hammer would mean a loss of his manhood. Which is what happens at the end of the first act of this film. Thor’s father, Odin, strips him of his hammer and casts him off to Earth. All of Thor’s powers are gone as soon as he loses his hammer. No longer being “worthy” of strength.
We see a different Thor after he loses his hammer. He is no longer the confident mans man he once was. In the scene above he has a rather emotional breakdown that seems uncharacteristic for him. This is the Thor the film wants you to pity. Not a hero to be looked up to. Thor doesn’t even seem sexually interested in the films love interest, Jane foster, until his manhood is regained at the end of act two. Its not a particularly subtle change in their relationship. As soon as Thor has his hammer back, he embraces her for the first time. She lets out a sexually charged “oh”. They fly away together with Thor’s hammer; which metaphorically can be read as sex. In the same vain as the tunnel scene from North by Northwest. Their brief flight ends and Thor is ready to return to his father.
Masculinity vs Femininity
Thor‘s main conflict is between the titular character and his brother Loki. Thor is everything a man is supposed to be. He’s strong, charismatic, and traditionally handsome. Loki meanwhile is emotional, sensitive, and timid. He isn’t big and strong like Thor. Loki is slender, and narrow faced. Worst of all, he is effeminate. In our culture the worst thing a man can be, is a women. Men shouldn’t “be a little girl”, men shouldn’t “throw like a girl”, and men should definitely not “cry like a woman”. The manly man vs the feminine man trope is common in story telling. The hero is the ideal man, while the villain is a feminine man. Perhaps my favorite observation of this dynamic comes from Mythologies. Roland Barthes observes that in wrestling the villainous characters are often effeminate. While the heroes are macho.
Loki is just one of many examples of this trope in film. He joins the likes of Scar (Lion King), Joel Cairo (The Maltese Falcon), and almost every depiction of the devil. Hollywood can’t seem to stop pitting masculine vs feminine. At this point I’m not really sure why they keep reusing this trope. My fear is that they do so because it is easy to use this trope that is almost as old as story telling. It doesn’t really matter that they perpetuate this trope unknowingly, because the damage is done either way. There is literally a scene in this film where Thor, the “hero”, starts a war because he is called a princess. Thor signals to its mostly male audience that anything considered feminine is to be feared.
Loki is ascribed every negative trait that films, myth, and society associate with women. His power is literally deception. Men are conditioned to fear women as agents of deception. The concept of the deceptive women goes back as far as ancient Greece, and even the Bible. Think of the sirens from Homer’s Odyssey. They lure men to their deaths with a deceptive song. Or perhaps think of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. It is Eve who deceives Adam and commits the original sin. Loki is a manifestation of this trope. Thor is deceived by Loki into believing his father is dead, and that Loki has ascended to the throne. While Loki is briefly in charge his authority is not respected. Almost as if he is not man enough to command respect; like is brother commands.
Thor has a troubled relationship with his father in his film. The aforementioned emasculation is just one of those troubles. Thor wants to be respected by his father, and seeks to be worthy of his fathers throne. Oden is portrayed as an ideal dad, literally being called the “allfather”. Thor’s journey throughout the film is to gain his fathers respect. He attempts to destroy his fathers enemies, which fails and leads to Thor being banished and emasculated. His exile is spent trying to become a man that can be respected by his father. Thor is not worthy of his father until he has completed his sexual conquest, and defeated femininity.