After watching the film “Avengers: Infinity War” I was disappointed.
Not by the action, of course. That was spectacular.
And not by the acting. Even the CGI tears were moving.
So what was it? Thanos was disappointing.
Sure, he was an imposing figure. Sure, he was menacingly calm and ruthless while dealing with all who were attempting to stop him in his quest. He brutally killed his adopted daughter, of whom he was clearly very proud, to reach his goals. That was true evil, and exactly the kind of thing we need from the big bad villain.
And yet, I think it could have been better. I would have preferred it if his motivation had been to win the love of Lady Death. Then we could have really seen something! A villain who is driven by a wild, irrational, head-over-gauntlet love for the ultimate unattainable woman.
After all, Lady Death gets you. You don’t get her.
This change of motivation would have changed the story in an important way. Thanos would not be a boring consequentialist philosopher. He would not merely have the mundane technocratic goal of trimming the branches of the tree of life by 50% to improve short-term galactic resource allocation efficiency.
There are many delightful ways in which we see Thanos as a villain: master manipulator of events from afar, ruthless killer up close, toying with his opponents, and even showing a certain amount of sympathy for them.
And yet his motivation was… boring.
In the blazing light of such a grand thing as pursuing the love of his life, his extraordinary will to power (it would have so enthralled Nietzsche!) would have cast an even larger, deeper shadow of villainy. That’s my take on it.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Thanos is the better villain precisely because his motivation is so boring.
In our world, the big bad villains are often technocrats. They think that if we change this one regime cog in the world political machine, people will be better off. Or that other little regime cog. Or we add this set of tariffs, or a trade agreement.
Maybe it’s the eugenicists who believe that we’re better off sterilizing the people deemed to less worthy. Or they think that if we have more aborted babies, the world will be better for everyone else.
We all know how this plays out. The winners are the rich and well-connected. Those who are sacrificed on the altar of quality-of-life are the poor and vulnerable.
In a way, Thanos is more moral than they are, our real-life technocrats. He at least took pains to make sure that the culling would be random, not favoring the rich or powerful (aside from himself of course).
He recognized that if suffering is evil, then the ultimate good is to eliminate suffering by ending enough lives to end the suffering. And he went about it as fairly as possible.
Granted, it was a very short-term solution. Given the growth rates of the populations of many species, re-doubling the population wouldn’t take all that long. So his solution is, well, short-lived.
Maybe this is an ever deeper disappointment. Maybe, even in the end, Thanos was really just a strong-willed technocrat, doing what was necessary to bring a saving bureaucratic efficiency to the galaxy for a short time. How dull.