Is “Thor” a Religious Experience?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 8, 2011 — 148 Comments

With apologies to all the mothers (divine or otherwise) out there, I thought I’d take the opportunity this Sunday morning to look at reactions to the new Marvel Comics movie “Thor”. I’ve already mentioned Eric Scott‘s take on the film’s merchandising blitz (“Valhal-Mart”), but what do other Pagans (and film critics for that matter) think of this latest mythological tale?

Thor in the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

At Patheos.com Pagan Portal manager Star Foster explains why “Thor” matters.

“I think we should look at this film as if we are a spiritually and culturally hungry person. As if we are a 16 year old young woman considering a military career and in need of a warrior ethic.  As if we are a homemaker taking her kids to an action-flick who is suddenly overwhelmed by Frigga. As if we are a man with a newborn who stumbled across Asatru looking up info on the film and is looking for a spiritual tradition for his family. Because those are the people who will be coming to us with questions. We shouldn’t dismiss them for referencing Thor like so many seekers were dismissed for coming to Wicca by way of The Craft. Maybe Thor will lead folks to their path, and maybe there will be folks who need to be gently dissuaded, but they all deserve positive, straightforward and enlightening answers.”

You can also read Star’s actual review of the movie. Meanwhile, Christopher Campbell at SPOUT is critical of how science and religion are mixed in the film.

“I never could get into the “Thor” comics as much as I wanted to, probably because in my youth I thought them a bastardization of the myths I loved. Now the movie goes a step further in stripping the spirit of those marvelous tales for something so scientifically precise—as in formulaically machinated to certain enjoyment by a mass audience—and so scientifically constructed—from the computer effects to the 3D presentation, a movie like “Thor” involves more technological input than creative. What was once considered movie magic seems now completely movie science.”

The Catholic News Service doesn’t seem to think “Thor” is very Pagan in its message.

“The potential blockbuster’s contributions to cinema, let alone to Western civilization, are negligible, yet it has enough positive qualities to constitute a commendable diversion. While no one will mistake the hammer-wielding protagonist for, say, Wagner’s Parsifal or Siegfried, the story’s Christian framework is readily discernable, even to moviegoers with less-than-Wagnerian attention spans. […] The notion of a self-sacrificing hero who overcomes pride and takes redemptive action for others certainly registers. And because the narrative has many Christian echoes, “Thor” can’t be criticized for propagating a pagan worldview. Besides, the theological implications of the underlying myth are never seriously explored.”

This is echoed by World Magazine, a Christian publication that also has few theological problems with the movie.

Parents worried about the pagan source material can rest easy—this bastardization of ancient mythology is so silly that there’s little concern of anyone taking it any more seriously than Superman’s origin of falling from Krypton. In Marvel’s world, Thor, Odin, Loki, and the rest of the Norse deities are transformed into immortals. The movie explains that the Norsemen worshipped them as gods, but that they are really just supernatural beings from another realm. That’s not to say that anything here reflects a Christian understanding of the universe’s origins, but this is wink-and-nod fantasy with no overtures to anything more significant.”

The New York Times found nothing particularly magical about “Thor,” likening it to part of a Marvel-run Ponzi scheme.

“A howling turkey is at least something to laugh at, and maybe even something to see. But “Thor” is an example of the programmed triumph of commercial calculation over imagination. A postcredits teaser gives viewers who have lingered in the theater a taste of “The Avengers,” which at some future date will braid together the “Iron Man,” “Incredible Hulk” and “Thor” franchises under the eye-patched aegis of Samuel L. Jackson. Or something. This is franchise building of the kind that has long been practiced by comic book publishers to keep their long-running serials fresh and their readership hooked.”

That said, the movie did garner a “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, so some critics are enjoying it. As are some Pagans, like Laura at The Juggler.

“I thought the most Pagan part of the film actually happened about a quarter of a way through the film. I mean, who among us has not tailgated at a Pagan Festival, drinking beer and trying to pull Mjolnir from the rock where it was lodged? […] If you are a Pagan Geek like I am, Thor has something for everyone.  It is worth the highly inflated price of admission for the pure entertainment value.”

Have you seen “Thor” yet? What did you think? Was it a religious experience? Two hours of popcorn-y fun? Not worth the price of admission? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts and impressions. Oh, and if you wanted to know the differences between the comic and mythological versions of Thor, Newsarama has you covered.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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