Iron Tongue of midnight is a blog by chris diggins, a writer and critic living in new jersey. it's a place for him to put his errant thoughts and deeper analysis about media pop culture.

What is Love? Thanos Don't Hurt Me

In the middle of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos stands on the precipice of a cliff, his long-awaited dream within his grasp. But there's a terrible price to be paid. In order to get his hands on the Soul Stone, one of the last Infinity Gems he has yet to obtain, he must sacrifice something he loves. Slowly, sadly, tears filling his eyes, he turns to face the one who lead him here: his adopted daughter Gamora. Mournful yet determined, he hurls her over the cliff. With a sickening crunch, her life abruptly ends, and within a blink of an eye Thanos has claimed his prize. But at what cost?

That, to my best approximation, is how Infinity War frames this climactic scene. The swell of the music, the close-ups on Thanos and Gamora, the tiniest cracks in their voices as the realization hits, all of it is working to make this as powerful and affecting a moment as it can. There's only one problem with this: it sucks. It sucks a lot. And it doesn't suck because it's executed poorly or because it's working against the narrative or anything like that. The problem is much more fundamental than that. The whole idea is rotten to the core, a poisoned fruit that suggests something deeply ugly: that no matter how horrible, cruel, and abusive Thanos has been, his relationship with Gamora is still one based on love.

Think of everything we know about Thanos and Gamora's relationship. In Guardians of the Galaxy, we learn that he relentlessly trained and tortured her since she was a child to turn her into the perfect assassin, using her as a tool to enforce his will. In Guardians of the Galaxy 2, we find out how he would pit Gamora and her adopted sister Nebula against each other, savagely punishing whoever lost and driving a wedge between the only two people who could possibly understand what the other was going through. In Infinity War itself, in the last scene Thanos is in before the one described above, he brutally tortures Nebula in front of Gamora until she tells him where he can find the Soul Stone.

Is any of this the action of a loving father? In what world would we describe a relationship we have seen literally nothing of besides the horrific abuse described above as one based on love? It's true that in this movie he speaks gently to her a couple times and expresses hope he had for her future, but given what we know and the fact that, at the time, he wants something from her, these are more the textbook tactics of a committed abuser than a genuine show of affection. There is simply zero evidence across nineteen separate movies to support the idea that Thanos feels anything remotely resembling love for Gamora.

To be clear, it would be fine if Thanos merely believed that he truly loved Gamora. Many abusers believe that what they do is an expression of love. But it is not just his own perception of their relationship. A mysterious, otherworldly power tells him he must sacrifice something he loves, and when he offers Gamora, it accepts. The very universe of the movie validates his belief and tells us directly, incontrovertibly, that yes, Thanos loved his adopted daughter. Gamora herself even attempts to refute this notion, saying “This isn't love” when she realizes what is happening, but the Soul Stone clutched in his hand is all the rebuttal Thanos needs. For all his abuse, his cruelty, the unrelenting misery he inflicted on her life for decades, he still gets to call the bond they shared love. It's a sick joke.

All of this is the inevitable endpoint of valuing the pain of men over the suffering of women. It's what happens when the abuse and torture a woman endures is less important to us than the fact that the perpetrator feels bad about it. Thanos can commit unspeakable crimes and then murder the daughter he supposedly loves in pursuit of the means to commit even more monstrous atrocities, and because he's sad he can still earn our sympathy. And Gamora, the victim of one last act of cruelty from the man who has ruined her life, earns nothing but a cold grave on a distant planet, unknown to anyone who actually cared about her. It is the most poignantly realistic image of our modern world that Infinity War manages to capture, in precisely the opposite way it intended.

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