Everyone has been talking about Marvel’s latest movie in the Avengers series. After sitting through a superhero movie that I didn’t expect to offer more than a few battle scenes, I walked away pleasantly surprised as I reflected on the themes of sacrifice and family that were portrayed, whether intentionally or not.
This article contains spoilers***
Society today is heavily invested in self. Selfies flood our screens, endless justification for selfish behaviors abound, and we are constantly told that if something brings us happiness, no matter how fleeting or narcissistic it may be, it should be justified. This culture is perpetuated everywhere, but recently, some of the biggest box office hits have had a quiet, underlying theme of self-sacrifice.
Recently, some of the biggest box office hits have had a quiet, underlying theme of self-sacrifice.
Whether this is purposeful or not, there is something to be said for the seemingly innate understanding that exists that despite the glorification of the self, sacrifice is not only admirable, but one of the greatest goods to be offered and experienced in life.
Family, Sacrifice, and Support
Although there is much love for the Avengers series because of the many plot points, characters, and collisions of universes, the most admirable point of the series seems to be the value placed on sacrifice and family. In the latest installment of Avengers, the main characters desperately fight to either keep their families intact or bring back the loved ones that were lost when half of the population was wiped out by the villain, Thanos.
The most admirable point of the series seems to be the value placed on sacrifice and family.
Even those characters who don’t have a deep concern for bringing back personal family members are still concerned about the fate of humanity and that of their peers. The Hulk chooses to sacrifice himself, sustaining what appears to be lasting damage when he volunteers to don the gauntlet in order to attempt to bring back those that were destroyed. He immediately rises to the occasion, citing his unique size and strength, saying that no matter the outcome, he is willing to take the personal risk in order to help others.
Saying “it has to be me,” the Hulk chooses to accept whatever may befall him for the sake of the others. Scarlet Witch has no family but tells Thanos that “he took everything from her” showing that without those she loved, life had lost much if not all of its value to her.
Heroes Are Selfless
Black Widow and Hawkeye journey together to find a stone needed to defeat Thanos and bring the other half of the world back. Getting the stone the two are after requires the sacrifice of a loved one, and Black Widow and Hawkeye fight over which of them will be the sacrifice, as they are both willing to give their life for the other and the greater good.
Hawkeye lost his wife and their two children but is still willing to sacrifice himself to save Black Widow. Hawkeye’s intention is then more than just to reunite himself with his family, but to bring back those he loved no matter his personal cost. In turn, Black Widow is willing to make a similar sacrifice, in hopes that the comrades whom she loves will have a chance at life with their families even if that life doesn’t include her.
Hawkeye’s intention is then more than just to reunite himself with his family, but to bring back those he loved no matter his personal cost.
Captain America is threaded throughout the movie that travels through time and is seen at several points encountering the love of his life, Peggy Carter. He laments the life with her that never was, and at the end of the movie he chooses to stay back in time and “get some of the life” Tony Stark had alluded to rather than coming back to the present.
Captain America instead lives a life with Peggy, and presumably the family they create. When he arrives back in the present as an aged man and is asked if he would like to share about his family experience, he fingers his wedding ring and responds with a quiet “no, no I don’t think I will” preferring to keep the deepest and most meaningful part of his life from the others.
This moment is particularly touching, as it is a beautiful reminder of the deeply profound and personal experience of loving another and creating a life with them. There is a time and a place for being a superhero to the world, but there is also a time and a place for being a superhero to a family of your own.
There is a time and a place for being a superhero to the world, but there is also a time and a place for being a superhero to a family of your own.
A Change of Heart
The most obvious and important sacrifices come from Iron-Man, as his generally sarcastic and self-centered character finally evidences a deep love for family and the desire for something beyond himself. The obvious love between Stark and his daughter, who responds to his “I love you a ton” with her “I love you 3,000” is clearly a large source of his motivation.
Stark’s wife and daughter were not among those wiped out, and he is initially reluctant to help the rest of the Avengers because his own family is secure, as he states that he “got his second chance” and that he “can’t roll the dice again.” Eventually agreeing to help, Stark himself is at the bottom of his priority list, as his priorities are bringing everyone back, keeping what he has at all costs, and hopefully not dying.
Stark himself is at the bottom of his priority list, as his priorities are bringing everyone back, keeping what he has at all costs, and hopefully not dying.
It is clear that after initially declining the Avenger’s request for help, Stark was unable to reconcile having the solution to time travel and being unwilling to give up his current happiness and his own family for the universal good. When sharing his solution with his wife, Pepper, the two discuss how lucky their family was and when Stark describes how he can’t help everybody, his wife responds with “it sorta seems like you can.” The conversation continues with Pepper questioning whether or not her husband can truly rest, knowing that he had the solution others were so desperately seeking.
Supporting Each Other For The Greater Good
This exchange not only evidences Stark’s sacrifice but Pepper’s as well. Knowing full well the risks, Pepper acts as a supportive spouse, in tune to the passions and callings of her husband’s heart. Although their own family is certainly the greatest good to them, both are willing to ultimately sacrifice even that for the sake of the rest of the world.
In Stark’s final moments Pepper remains strong, ensuring him that they will be ok without him and that he can finally rest. In what is probably the most difficult moment of her life, Pepper thinks about her husband rather than herself, allowing grief to envelop her only after ensuring her husband was able to pass peacefully.
In what is probably the most difficult moment of her life, Pepper thinks about her husband rather than herself, allowing grief to envelop her only after ensuring her husband was able to pass peacefully.
Stark’s father, Howard Stark, embodies both the love of family and the importance of sacrifice that the movie seems to be predicated upon. In another jump back in time, Howard describes his unborn child, the future IronMan, by saying “that kid’s not even here yet and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him.”
He goes on to describe how he hopes that his child isn’t like him, as he says of himself that “the greater good has rarely outweighed my own self-interests.” Here we see that sacrifice again, both that which is innate and that which requires effort is the most desirable course of action.
When all the chips are down, every main character jumps at the chance to sacrifice for those they care about. Although the heroes of Avengers certainly best their enemies through their physical strength, superpowers, and cunning plans, none of these things are what actually make them the superheroes we know and love.
They are true heroes because, at the end of the day, it is not the fighting and the battles that make the most lasting impact, rather it is the commitment to something greater than themselves, be that the good of their families or the good of society as a whole.
Their sacrifices are driven by love and a willingness to acknowledge something far greater than themselves. In an era that tells us that life is about how happy we can make ourselves, let us not forget the innate understanding of the value of love and sacrifice that is demonstrated through the actions of the Avengers.
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