Pim Razenberg on the role of the five stages of grief in Avengers: Endgame, following the tragic events of Avengers: Infinity War…
Warning: If you have not seen Avengers: Endgame and want to avoid spoilers, do not read the following article.
One of the fantastic ways in which Avengers: Endgame deals with the fallout of Avengers: Infinity War is by showing the emotional struggles of the original Avengers in the gloomy first act of the film. Whether coincidentally or intended, each of the main Avenger’s story arcs within the opening act of the film represents one of the five stages of grief, as proposed by the Kübler-Ross model.
The Kübler-Ross model separates five chronological emotional states experienced by terminally ill individuals: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In modern culture, the model is also used as a model for the stages of depression or dealing with tragedy.
In Avengers: Endgame, Thor’s storyline embodies the stage of denial. Hawkeye’s story reflects the stage of anger, and in turn, Steve is struggling within the bargaining stage. Natasha is coping with depression, and finally, her former partner Hulk – surprisingly – has reached the final stage of grief: the stage of acceptance.
According to the Kübler-Ross model, the first reaction to a great tragedy is denial. In this stage, the individual refuses to see the truth of their situation, and clings to a false reality to cope with the shock of the event.
One of the biggest reveals in Endgame is the physical appearance of the God of Thunder, who seems to have really let himself go in five years between the Decimation and current-day Endgame. Sporting a big belly, playing video games in his seashore shack in the Earth-based New Asgard, Thor has been drinking, eating and overeating to forget about the fact that he failed his friends, his family and his people. Thor has become a shadow of his former self. Rather than facing the truth and coming to terms with what happened, Thor hides from the world. When Hulk and Rocket come to visit him, Thor forbids them to use Thanos’ name, the name of the villain he has “already beaten” by lopping of his head. Still, Thor fully knows the act itself was merely a hollow gesture after having failed to use the mighty weapon that was granted to him in the right manner. His pride got in the way, and it cost half of the universe their lives. Naming himself an idiot and a failure, Thor’s shame runs deep and it takes the words of the now much wiser Hulk to start coming to terms with what happened at the end of Infinity War.
Once denial is no longer feasible, individuals who’ve been through a tragedy often become frustrated, asking “why me?” or “why did this happen?”.
A few years after having finally settled down with his family following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Clint finds his entire family turned to dust by Thanos’ finger snap. Rather than asking “why me?”, Hawkeye’s anger is focused on the question: “why them?” Why did so many innocent people have to die, when so many who make their living hurting others got to live? The death of Clint’s family leads him to hunt down those who, according to him, don’t deserve to continue living in the world where innocent individuals could not. Without the emotional support of Natasha, Clint embarks on a rogue spree, killing people left and right in the name of (false) judgement. As with Thor, it takes a fellow Avenger to bring Clint back into the fold and help him channel his anger towards avenging his family, rather than simply seeking revenge.
Bargaining: Captain America
During the third stage of grief, individuals try to negotiate avoiding their grief through hope, by focusing on what can be gained, rather than lost.
One of the first moments in Endgame set in the year 2023, is a scene of Steve counselling fellow Decimation survivors in a support group. Together, they try to attribute meaning to what happened to their lives and the lives of their friends and loved ones. Steve councils the meeting’s attendees, stating that they own it to the ones that lost their lives to make something of that what’s left; in short: to be grateful for life. The person who least believes his own words, however, is Steve himself. Though Steve uses his own life as an analogy of having lost something or someone and having to move on, we’ve seen in previous films that Steve never really did move on and would take any chance to return to the life that was taken from him. Steve never got over the loss of the life he could’ve led with his one true love, Peggy Carter. Still, simply rejecting the life that was left to him would be to disrespect the lives that were lost.
Steve’s story arc at the beginning of Endgame is closely related to that of Natasha. Trying to focus on what is left rather than what is lost, he maintains his position by Natasha’s side as her trusted friend. Because of this, he is willing to help Natasha when an opportunity arises to possibly reverse Thanos’ actions. In a way, Natasha reminds him that the Avengers still have a cause worth fighting for, even after their defeat in Wakanda.
Individuals going through the stage of depression are often lost in despair. They no longer feel there is a purpose to their lives and question the meaning of their own actions. Individuals in the fourth stage of grief often withdraw themselves and are stuck in a mournful emotional state.
While Steve seems to be the one who has given up the mission, it is Natasha who embodies the stage of depression in Endgame. Having lost all she lived for, including her best friend Clint, Natasha shelters herself from the world, pretending to be alright for as long as she can make herself believe she is still doing what she is supposed to be doing. Rather than falling silent, she floods herself in work, taking up leadership at the Avengers headquarters. Underneath the surface, however, Natasha seems to have already given up; therefore, her goal is to bring back the one person she perhaps can still save: Clint.
When the opportunity arises to bring back their friends and restore life in the universe, it is Natasha who eventually brings everybody back together for their biggest mission yet; her drive to overcome her feeling of helplessness plays a driving factor in the film’s storyline.
In the final stage of grief, individuals embrace the inevitable, allowing the past to be, while focussing on the future. They gain retrospective insight into the tragedy which affected them and become emotionally stable.
Surprisingly – especially after the struggles the character went through in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War – Hulk is the Avenger who seems to have come to terms with what happened in Wakanda. Having merged Bruce Banner and the Hulk into one form, Bruce now seems to be in full control of his life. He learned that the Hulk was not a tool to be used, nor a monster to be suppressed. By owning up to his own failures, Bruce has made himself stronger. Acknowledging his previous mistakes – such as his outburst in South Africa – was one of the most important steps in coming to terms with himself and the monster within him. Taking full advantage of both bodies and minds, Bruce’s renewed positive nature eventually helps bringing Thor back into the fold.
If Thor, Hawkeye, Natasha, Steve and Bruce represent the five stages of grief as proposed by the Kübler-Ross model, then Tony represent what follows those stages: a new life, with a renewed sense of purpose.
Tony has fully moved on and away from his former life. In 2023, he has come to the point where his gains have become greater than his losses. This leads to his rejection of the idea to reverse the tragedy caused by Thanos; by the time his former colleagues show up on his doorstep Tony has already processed the events of Infinity War through his love for Pepper and his daughter, Morgan.
In the end, each of the Avengers puts aside their worries in favour of hope – the hope to restore what once was. Tony’s desire to maintain his current reality, however, forms a crux in the Avengers’ plan in Endgame – but that’s another story!
How do you feel the Russo Brothers handled the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War in Endgame? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @FlickeringMyth…