The newest Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (GOTG3), delves into what has been an often addressed theme in Phases 4 & 5 of the MCU: grief. Upon my first viewing of the movie I sat between two friends who have, over the last few years, often joined me to watch the release of Marvel movies. I’m usually full of excitement upon the conclusion of these films, ready to give my analysis and initial thoughts. However, as this movie ended I leaned over to each of them and said, “That movie hit me so hard and in so many different ways. I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now”. Over the next week I pondered themes, quotes, and character arcs that made the movie so impactful. Each day I would mention something of it to my wife, feeling as if I needed to read an article, listen to a podcast, or talk to another person who feels as deeply about this movie as I do. After my second viewing (this time with my wife) I was able to unload many of the thoughts and reflections that had swirled around my head since my first viewing of the movie. My loving and patient wife listened as I, through teary eyes, explained why this movie hit me so hard. When we pulled into the driveway I was resolved to get all these thoughts out on paper.
This article is Part 1 of a 3-part series of articles that articulate the impact of this film on my life and how Christians can apply the themes and ideas to our lives. Each section will be loosely tied to others with some overlap amongst them. My intended audience is primarily Christian readers, who will have more familiarity than non-Christian readers. However, the themes addressed are universal themes of suffering and identity, pain and purpose, and understanding the mystery of life’s circumstances. In part 1 of the series I intend to show you the crippling effects of grief and trauma on how we understand ourselves and to provide some hope for finding a way through grief.
The primary figure in this movie is Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper). In all previous movies attention has been drawn to the deep pain about how he was made, of how he came to be who (or what) he is. A running gag line in previous movies has been the identity of what Rocket is: rabbit, raccoon, squirrel, rodent, etc. The movie gruesomely shows the experimentation and genetic augmentation Rocket and other animals endured at the hands of the villain, the High Evolutionary.
Rocket is not the only character in this movie dealing with past trauma and its ongoing effects. Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt) is still grieving his mom’s death and his abduction at the age of 8, as well as the death of his father-figure, Yondu, and his love interest, Gamora. The opening scene shows a drunken Quill carried back to his bed saying to Nebula (Gamora’s sister), “I love you Gamora.” He is stuck in the grief of losing the woman he loved. Later in the movie he is confronted by Mantis about how Quill has never returned to see if his grandpa is alive. He recalls how at his mother’s death his grandfather yelled at him and pushed him out of the room. What’s intriguing is that this memory is wrong. In the first movie the grandfather is tender and loving towards Peter in the moments leading up to and following his mother’s death. Quill’s grief (and age) villainized a man who loved him.
Drax, Nebula, Mantis, and Adam Warlock all face their own traumas and past hurts as each character is given his or her own story arc. Reconciling past trauma and pain with fear and uncertainty of the future is a key theme interwoven throughout this movie. Questions posed by the movie are: Am I irreparably flawed due to my pain and suffering? Does my past trauma, pain, and abuse at the hands of others make me irreparably damaged? Can I be of any real good to others if my flaws and pain are so apparent and so loud?
These are questions I’ve asked in my pain as I’ve felt stuck in memories of past abuse and loss, struggles with sin and temptation and a painfully keen sense that I am deeply flawed at my core. Christians can acknowledge the resounding pain of trauma that comes with life in a fallen world. Grief is often overlooked and quickly passed-over concept within the Christian contexts I’ve found myself. Christians can testify to a grief-filled world of the compassion of Christ. For He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). What would it look like for churches to grieve with those who are grieving? This would be a church of much patience, grace, love, and Christ.“What would it look like for churches to grieve with those who are grieving? This would be a church of much patience, grace, love, and Christ.” -Jake Thomas
But what message of hope can we give to those engulfed in self-hatred, despair, and unrelenting grief? The hopeful message of a High Priest who can sympathize with every pain, temptation, and sorrow is a good start. The promise of a new identity, based not on what we’ve done or what others have done to us, but based solely on what God has done for us. Though you may have been abused, your primary identity isn’t the abused one; though you’ve lost a parent or loved one, your primary identity is not the grieved one; though you may have caused pain to others, your primary identity is not the abuser. We are all victims and victimizers, sinners and sinned against. But for the Christian, we take hope that none of these things supersede our primary identity as beloved children of God, fully forgiven and fully loved. Just as it is the love of friends in the Guardians movies that becomes the source of healing in the characters’ grief, so does the love of Christ bring healing in ours. Let us remind ourselves, and a grieving world, of God’s deep, deep love.