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Infinity War & Seemingly Stupid Character Decisions, or “We’re All Going to Die But Are You Going to Eat That?”

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark in Avengers: Infinity War

Warning: This skews fairly serious towards the end and since I’m not Pixar, I’m going to actually tell you in advance so you don’t get blindsided. You’re welcome. Also, DO NOT READ THIS if you have not seen Infinity War.

So there’s something in Infinity War that’s been bothering me. Well, it was bothering me but now it interests me a great deal. I’m talking about certain decisions that the characters made. Specifically, bad decisions. And much has been made about some, not so much about others. Some examples:

When half of the life of the universe is in the balance:

  1. Why would Star-Lord lose his shit and screw up The Entire Plan?
  2. Why would Gamora give up the location of the Soul Stone to save Nebula?
  3. For that matter, if Gamora knew something so valuable that Thanos finding out would mean Utter Doom, why didn’t Gamora just kill herself?
  4. Why would Vision not get sacrificed from the get-go and the Mind Stone get destroyed to keep it from winding up in Thanos’ hands (well, on his hand, specifically)?

Granted, for this last one (and possibly for all of them), when a Time Stone is in play, a large number of bets are off. But I think you get the gist.

The argument against the film could easily be that, when up against what they’re up against, why would anyone make those decisions? My counter-argument is that because they make those non-objective, ill-thought-out decisions, the film is actually quite realistic.

Two prongs to this counter-argument. First bit: why is it easy to get pissed at the characters for their decisions? This leads me to one of my favorite topics, something that never fails to fascinate me: knowledge bias. In other words, if I know something…it’s difficult for me to understand how you don’t know it. I think it’s the reason we as humans are so fucked up as a species. And I think it’s why it’s very easy for us to get angry with fictional characters.

People in horror movies that do Things You Should Never Do in Horror Movies? We always referred to those people as “Too Stupid to Live.” When you want to yell at the screen for them to not go into the abandoned house or look in the creepy attic or whatever. You know the character is in a horror movie. The character does not. How do you get around this?

The best example I read early on: in Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, a character takes a flashlight and goes to investigate the cellar. This is something you would never do in a horror novel. However, the character thinks to herself, basically, “This is ridiculous. How many times have I yelled at characters on the screen how stupid they are for doing exactly what I’m doing now? And yet, here I am.” This makes the character rooted in reality like nothing else in that book of New England-invading vampires. Because I think we’ve all been there.

(As an aside, part of the reason I love the film From Dusk Till Dawn so much is that the characters seem to understand they’ve switched genres in the middle of the proceedings and are trying their best to deal with that.)

It’s very easy when standing outside of a situation to judge the people inside a situation. It’s also much easier when outside of a situation to think. How many times have you sought somebody from outside a situation (or even just outside your skull) to bounce something off of because you didn’t trust your own opinion given where you were and what you were going through?

The other place I’ve seen this deftly dealt with is when Robert Kirkman revealed that in the world of The Walking Dead, both comic and show, there never was a zombie horror sub-genre. In a world without George Romero, it makes sense that Tara would spend months without ever stumbling on the “hit them in the head” solution. Or as Brother David Gardner once put it, “It’s hard to explain something to somebody if they hadn’t never [thought of it].” (That was paraphrased from memory, of course, because it’s a Hard Saying.)

Back in the MCU, these are characters who aren’t exactly like the heroes in the comics. The heroes in the comics have had New York City face destruction more times than you’ve bought new socks. And all of reality coming under fire is…well, it’s not ordinary, but it’s not unheard of. They have had to consider it a few times before.

In the MCU, though, possibly the biggest threat faced thus far is Dormammu, because he was attacking our reality at the…well, reality level. Ronan got an Infinity Stone, yes, but he was trying to wipe out Xandar and then a galaxy. And Loki in The Avengers was basically trying to take over the Earth. I know it’s weird to have a galaxy come second and a planet come third, but welcome to comic book fiction.

I may have missed some in there, but I would argue that nobody has really given a great deal of thought to the consequences of losing the fight against Thanos. The closest among our heroes is Stark, and even then he was still thinking on a planetary level. (Again, remember, that came in Third on the Threat Level Analysis above.) And the result of Stark’s thinking was not only Ultron, but the Iron Man 2 of Avengers movies. Still, Stark does say to Thanos “You’ve been in my head for three years.” But has he? Has he really?

I don’t think the characters in the film can properly conceive of what happens at the end of the film. The audience can, especially when we’ve read Infinity Gauntlet, the basis for the film. And because we know more than the characters, it’s easy to get pissed when they act in a way that could be deemed reckless. Yes, Peter, we all dig Gamora, but is she worth getting half the universe killed for?

Once you start looking at this objectively, it’s easy to see these as a series of threads in a giant sweater knitted by Eternity itself, and when you start to pull at them you wind up with an embarrassed and mostly naked Kevin Feige. But the more I thought about this, especially in the context of knowledge bias, the more I think this makes the film more realistic rather than less so.

After all, I’m going to die. You’re going to die. Neither of us knows when that’s going to happen. But even with that knowledge in my head, rather than drinking myself into a stupor at the harsh inevitability of it or diving head first into research about prolonging life (or perhaps, more shrewdly, doing both simultaneously), I’m writing this article about a pop culture super hero movie. And instead of pouring yourself a dram the size of Rhode Island or investigating how fasting can prolong life then deciding that sounds like ass and can we make fasting into a pill, you’re reading this article.

The human mind wants to protect us from things that would basically crush us. I suppose it makes sense from an evolutionary point of view: if our distant ancestors spent all their time crippled by the knowledge they were going to die they would have inevitably been too distracted to keep from being discovered by something that would have gleefully eaten them.

It’s very easy to be objective when you’re outside of a situation. Objectively, when I found out my mother was dying, I should have spent every minute I could with her. And it would be very easy to get pissed off at myself and how I acted at the time, but objectively, now I realize I couldn’t face it and instead threw myself into trying to save her and the people she was going to leave behind. And so I missed all of those chances because I could not properly conceive of a world in which my mother no longer existed. So in retrospect, it’s hard for me to bitch too much about Peter or Gamora or whoever. Or to be surprised that Quill was so shocked when they lost. Partly because, well, I’m not completely insane and I understand they are fictional and don’t actually exist. But mostly because I know what it’s like to be inside an apocalyptic situation and not understand you’re in one (or at least the scope of it) until it’s too late. So all of that to say, I think that’s why Infinity War might ultimately be one of the realest MCU films out there.

We are all facing down an apocalypse, even if it’s just a personal one. And even though we’re going to die, we will still make time for reruns of The Golden Girls. Perhaps it’s because Betty White is actually immortal and will, in one way or another, survive until the Heat Death of the Universe. Keith Richards will be with her on that day, so he could probably explain it, but he could not be reached in time for this article to be published.

P.S. Could we please stop referring to any of the deaths that happened in the film as “fake deaths”? A death can be real AND reversible when a fucking Time Stone is in play. Thank you.