I recently had the chance to see “Iron Man 3,” and I must say it is a dazzling sight to behold. Here, I will briefly comment on a few themes. Be aware that there will be major SPOILERS in this post, so stop reading now if you do not wish to have major plot points revealed.
Science and Ethics
One of the recurring themes throughout the film is the notion that there is a real interplay between doing science (and other activities) and ethics. That is, the practice of science is more complex than abstract notions of lab work without any strings attached. Aldrich Killian is a disabled man who longs to transcend the body he was given. He wants to help others who have physical problems. When he is rejected by Tony Stark, he falls to extreme measures to finally cure himself and start “helping” others.
Many characters are seen raising this same issue. Their motivations start out pure: they want to help people, they want to save others, but they ultimately have that dream tainted. They don’t get the funding they need; they are rejected by the people they care about; their experiments don’t turn out as expected. One can see the human predicament here: we too often and easily let ourselves fall from our ideals. We are willing to make a compromise to get towards a “greater good,” yet once we look back, we discover a sea of wrongdoing.
The very brief discussion about scientific funding and the like is worth noting. It is often thought that scientists are some kind of demigods, doing their research and learning things just because they can. But the reality is that funding is very often an issue, that ethical considerations come into the research that is sought, and that people are involved in the scientific enterprise. These are important points to remember.
The Fall and the Human Predicament
The notion of a “fall” is intertwined with the discussion on ethics and science above. The “bad guys” all have aspects which are pitiable. The opening scene with Aldrich leaves one pitying him rather than seeing him as some kind of evil person. Thus, there is development from him as an object of sympathy to an evil man. The development is abrupt, but it can be seen how this development would occur. When someone makes the decision to choose evil rather than good, there is a very real “fall” which goes along with it.
Other characters experience similar difficulties, but perhaps the most interesting is that of Tony Stark himself. He is the billionaire hotshot who could get anything he wants, yet he suffers from bouts of panic and anxiety attacks. He is human, after all. The human predicament is aptly illustrated through the character of Tony Stark. I could almost hear the words of Ecclesiastes echo over his attempts to use his wealth and “charm” to get through everything: “Meaningless, meaningless… everything is meaningless [under the sun]” (see Ecclesiastes 1ff). No matter what heights we attain, we are ultimately grounded within our own sinful nature. We cannot get past it by our own power.
On a personal note, this part of the film was most disturbing for me. My wife was born without her left arm. In “Iron Man 3,” the “bad guys” almost all turn out to be those who are affected by disabilities. They go to Aldrich to get their missing limbs regrown; they are willing to betray their country to help a child who is missing a limb; Aldrich himself is motivated by his desire to overcome his disability. I couldn’t help but think that the film therefore presents a dim view of those with physical disabilities. There were no counterbalances given; it seemed that the operating assumption was if someone is missing a limb or suffering from other physical disabilities, they would be willing to go to almost any extreme to fix it.
Now, I’ll grant that some of these people seem to have been unknowingly used by Aldrich. I admit my personal feelings in this issue up front because I may be overly critical here. Yet I know of other superhero films in recent memory that use this same theme: those with disabilities often turn out to be the bad guys, and they are willing to kill in order to overcome them.
Here, I have only written up some very brief thoughts on the film. I believe those who go to see it will be able to come away with a number of talking points. The interplay between science and ethics was of great interest. The portrayal of disabilities was, perhaps, questionable, and there were moral issues raised throughout. Please leave a comment and let me know your own thoughts on the movie.
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A Christian Look at “The Avengers”– I examine a number of other themes in “The Avengers” which Christians and non-Christians can discuss.
Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.
Be sure to check out other looks at movies that I have written (scroll down for more).
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