Thanos’s Core Grief
From the very beginning, Thanos’s plan seemed ridiculous to me. It was a significant hurdle for me to get over to get into the story of Avengers: Infinity War. Ultimately I did, of course, because it’s an amazing movie, and you have to get over logical problems to enjoy any superhero movie. I thought, OK, fine. They can’t just have Thanos want to kill trillions to impress Death, so I guess this is another reason. Balance in the universe. Whatever. Still a great movie.
Something struck me, though, when on Vormir Thanos said this: “I have ignored my destiny once. I will not do it again, even for you,” right before he murders his child for power. Then, it sealed the deal when Thanos explains what happened to Titan to Doctor Strange. His half-genocidal plan wasn’t listened to, and then somehow having a lack of food completely destroyed his planet and…killed everyone there? Ruined gravity? Again, don’t look too closely.
What struck me was that Thanos’s irrational plan was a lot like a lot of our irrational actions – it was rooted in unaddressed grief.
Thanos’s Grandiose, Idiotic Plan
Thanos’s plan is stupid. It’s the kind of stupid that is very human – he is fully able to rationalize it, but is unable to realize how irrational it actually is. Significant time is given, in Infinity War, to rationalizing Thanos’s plan. Apparently murdering half of the poeple on Gamora’s homeworld turned it into a paradise where everything is great. (I take this to be Thanos deluding himself, but it’s presented as a fact) After all, he’s been doing this to planets for what seems to be years. He has a whole system – the Maw even has a monologue.
In Endgame, we see a much more accurate depiction of the aftermath of such a horrific act. A whole planet, traumatized. That’s what Thanos’s plan does – it spreads trauma throughout the universe, multiplies his grief by Infinity. Thanos’s most human attribute is that he is so able to rationalize what he is doing, despite the pointless suffering it inflicts on others, and the fact that his grand plan will solve precisely zero of the problems he says he wants to solve.
Thanos Inflicting His Grief on the Universe
Thanos, driven by his own grief, is trapped in a cycle of inflicting grief on everyone around him. Whether it is his tortured “children” like Gamora or Nebula, or…every living thing in the universe.
“Hurt people hurt people”, and because Thanos refuses to have his hurt end with him, he ends up inflicting that hurt on everyone around him one way or another – mostly through genocide and torture, since he’s a supervillain, but in all of his relationships, in all of his plans, this hurt will be reiterated. On a smaller scale, this is something anyone could fall into, Mad Titan or no. Whatever hurt we don’t deal with on our own, we export. What we don’t come to terms with, we inflict on others, intentionally or not.
As a way to solve problems and achieve cosmic balance, Thanos’s plan is terrible. But as a very human character inflicting his pain on others, Thanos isn’t even unusual.
Don’t Be Thanos
I’m not an expert on grief – find a therapist. Talk to people you trust. Just commit to processing your own grief. Figure out the cycles that repeat in your life and change them. I’m saying as a geek who thinks that we can look to Thanos as an emblematic example of how, in Jung’s words,
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Or, in Thanos’s case, “I am inevitable.” He’s right, but not for the cosmic reasons he thinks. He’s inevitable because he is failing to take responsibility for himself, and ends up inevitably inflicting his grief on everyone else.