One of the hardest questions that Christianity explores is the question of suffering — how can a good God allow bad things to happen? How can God allow his people to suffer at the hands of the Babylonians, the Romans, and its long list of oppressors? It is a question most succinctly explored in the Book of Job, one of the oldest books of the Bible and one of its most profound and paradoxical.
The suffering Job, who has lost his wealth and family to tragedy, challenges Yahweh to reveal the purpose behind his suffering and is met with his creator in the form of a whirlwind who flips the questions against him. As G.K. Chesterton notes, he answers the question with more questions. He rebukes all of Job’s questions indirectly. He creates meaning in the inversion and even still honors Job for his loyalty and unwillingness to curse his Creator for his suffering.
It is a resolution I thought of while viewing the prologue for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” where a man named Gorr is seen surviving a wasteland with his daughter when she dies in his arms. He’s presented as a pious man, who finds hope in the joys of a better eternal life.
Eventually, Gorr finds himself in a hidden oasis in the desert, which turns out to be the home to his patron demigod. He begs the god for mercy, only to be laughed off at the idea that a mere peasant would deserve eternal life. Gods are meant to be worshipped; they owe nothing.
Gorr wants the same thing Job wants: to know to what end he has been made to suffer, and he is met with condescension and cruelty. This confrontation sets him off on a bloody path of destruction when he gets his hands on a weapon called the necrosword, which can kill gods. He has become Gorr, “the God Butcher,” a vengeful figure raging against the concept of godhood itself.
Gorr is a bleak villain for a Marvel superhero film. These movies don’t take themselves very seriously, writing jokes into the dialog to actively undo the pathos, tension, or seriousness of a scene for the sake of a joke. “Thor: Love and Thunder” is similarly a farce, but writer/director Taika Waititi is fresh off of his incredible and career defining and controversial work on “Jojo Rabbit.” One might expect that he’s feeling somewhat brave to put a more radical, if sympathetic, villain into his film.
In doing so, he’s created a very strange moral statement about the nature of godhood and the ultimate purpose of life in the face of that reality.
As the title would suggest, this fourth Thor film is a love story and a continuation of the love story plot from the older Thor films between Odinson and Dr. Jane Foster, but with the whimsical aesthetics that Waititi brought into his work on “Thor Ragnarok” — brighter colors, lighter tone, pop-rock soundtrack, etc. It is very much a conventional love story — though about a broken couple trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild their relationship — albeit with a quirky upbeat tone and snarky dialog.
These elements though stand in contrast with the God Butcher storyline. Christian Bale plays the character as a horrific nightmare, a cursed dying man whose final act of life is to seek hateful vengeance against innocent beings. The film’s imagery shows him as a demonic shadow person who casually plays with snakes and kidnaps children, implying his Luciferian and Boogeyman-esque fall.
Gorr is not meant to be emulated, he is a villain whose humanity has been destroyed by hatred. His motivation, though, turns out to be somewhat justified. When Thor seeks help from Zeus, he’s also met with derision and cowardice. The mythical gods have fled to their realm of golden halls where they can indulge their hedonism. Gorr is ultimately right in his estimation that gods are cruel and don’t care for their worshippers.
Historically speaking, the pagan worshippers of Zeus and Odin would have viewed their gods this way. They were forces of nature, detached egos beyond the comprehension of man, but who could be bribed with sacrifices and adoration. They didn’t love Zeus as we can love Christ. Ancient philosophies like Stoicism and Aristotelianism were ultimately reactions to a universe where the gods had nothing to say about the morality of men.
Waititi here presents godhood itself as derisive, a tool for the decadent and cruel. These gods almost deserve Gorr’s hatred.
This moral quandary creates a fascinating tension within the film. Because the Marvel films never affirm the existence of an omnipotent creator god, the mortals in this realm exist as mortals do in the ancient myths. This is very much unlike the god of the Old Testament, whom Job appeals to with sorrow and pain. Yahweh is at least willing to address Job and answer his questions, to justify his ways to man.
Without that ultimate appeal of goodness, truth, and justice, “Thor: Love and Thunder” has no clear answers as to why Gorr shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing. He may suffer himself and make others suffer, but why shouldn’t he kill his oppressors? So what if he’s corrupted? He’s already a dead man. He has no eternity to fear.
The movie’s only answer is that love is the only thing in life that’s truly meaningful and worth living — as opposed to nihilism or hedonism. Thor finally breaks his funk by embracing love in the face of total annihilation, fully becoming whole in himself and healing from his previous traumas.
One can definitely read latent atheism into the film’s prejudices. “Thor: Love and Thunder” is a relic of the Epicureanism of our times — that there is no ultimate hope, only the minimizing of suffering and the maximizing of personal pleasure.
As Zeus says in “The Odyssey,” “Ah how shameless — the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share.”