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.

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  • Jeffrey Lee Rigdon

    I had been a fan of the Marvel comic books from the age of eight and read the comic book Thor as a child in the 60's, loved it from the beginning as it was so refreshing to have a 'superhero' from my ancestry and heritage. In the beginning, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby strived to honor the source material to some extent. I had lost track of the story lines over the years, I am now a man in my fifties, still I was looking forward to this film just as I was to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, that is until the 'explanation' of the Norse Gods origins was made known and then the asinine casting choice of one of African descent to portray Heimdall, one of our most revered gods, by Kenneth Branagh. This is not some racist rant, I am a Folkish-Heathen, we strive to see our gods as our Folk would see them, therefore my Folk will not see the film. Perhaps one day someone will realize that comic books are a part of our common culture, they are a part of our childhood experience, no less important then the reading of Mark Twain's or Jack London's tales. But then, 'hollywood' killed Menelaus in the Brad Pitt 'Troy' film, so I suppose anything goes in 'movie world'.

    • Sarah Morningstar

      I am not trying to troll or fight, but I really am having a hard time understanding how refusing to see a movie over the skin color of an actor is not racist. Can you please elaborate? Mainly, we all evolved from dark skinned moneys in Africa. So we are, in a way, all black. If your Gods were here before humans they should understand that, right? Secondly, it seem that there should be a bigger out lash about the commercialization of your Gods, and the manipulation of their story to a Christians theme. So it seems a bit suspect when your main argument is about the color of Heimdall's skin. Like I said, not trying to fight, just trying to understand.

      • Jeffrey Lee Rigdon

        Sarah, as with many, you read my post but focused only on the reference to the casting of a black actor to portray a norse god. But answer this for me if you would: Why would anyone, at any time, think that a Norse god would have black African origins? Why would anyone think that my ancestors would ever see themselves as 'black, brown, yellow, red-skinned', unless there was some political agenda for the choice? Racists were going to come out of the woodwork over this choice and Branagh couldn't help but know this. An unfortunate consequence of this of course is anyone of the Heathen religion would be grouped with them. I have studied the Sagas, Eddas, history for over forty years and have been a practicing heathen for a dozen years, never, ever has this been mentioned, in any source material, that my gods looked anything other than how we have always 'seen' them. I understand the need for plot twists in a 'comic book' world, but 'space aliens' and black skinned norse gods? The Norse gods are of my people, of the Northern European Tribes, we can't control what is said, or how they are portrayed, but we can stand up and speak on this, some will listen and understand, others will not. I have no issue with the casting of any actor to play a part in a film or theatrical production, and as for 'comic book' heroes, cast a black actor as the next Spiderman, a latino actor as the next Superman, after all, they are taken from the imagination of creative minds, but the gods of the Norse Folk have been with us for hundreds if not thousands of years, and should not be 'fair game' for some director's personal agenda.

        • lynn

          I feel sorry for you, and for anyone who is proprietary over their myths, cultural practices, etc. It must be frustrating to take such a stance. Because you'll always be frustrated.

          In our increasingly connected world of global travel and instant communication, there is more mixing, matching and borrowing than ever. Your gods may have belonged only to you back in ancient times when most people spent their whole lives in one small geographic region, but that localized world is long long gone. Stopping folks from reconfiguring your gods any way they like, well you might as well try and stop the wind.

        • Brenda Daverin

          And considering it was possible to become a member of Norse society and culture regardless of birth origin, if I am not mistaken, your protests of racial purity are offensive on the face. Not to mention how the Marvel characters are space aliens and not your gods. Thirdly, Hollywood whitewashes so many other parts, a black Heimdall is hardly objectionable. Objecting to it, in fact, enhances the appearance of racism in your protests. These are not your gods on that screen. I also wouldn't be so sure the actual gods care who plays them so long as they do it well. Too many people of color are called by the gods of the Norse for your attitude to hold any weight.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Brenda, I enter this discussion with great trepidation. I am not Asatru, not Germanic and have nothing invested in this movie or the race of actors. But I do have some regard for both logic and the mythological process in human society.

            In the context of this movie the Norse deities were non-supernatural visitors or exiles from some extraterrestrial or interdimensional plane. They tarried in Norseland thousands of years ago and were mistaken by the humans thereof for Gods.

            Had one of them been black the Norse would have remembered that. No such thing appears in Norse mythology. Therefore the racial assignment is illogical.

            I am not Mr Spock; I do not identify "illogical" with "offensive." But I do notice it.

          • lynn

            Baruch: On the one hand I can sympathize with the folks who are upset. It can be difficult to see a movie distort/change/etc. that which you hold sacred.

            On the other hand, there are apparently *many* aspects of the Norse legends, from what I understand, that this movie has changed from the original mythology. The space alien angle, for example. Yet the ONE THING these folks get upset and want to boycott over is the color of one of Idris Elba's skin?

          • lynn

            Sorry for the typo in that last sentence. Should read:

            "Yet the ONE THING these folks get upset and want to boycott over is the color of Idris Elba's skin?"

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I've heard criticism of other deviances from Norse orthodoxy but not at the boycott level. Of course, I haven't seen a lot of discussion of those points.

            It's the color of Heimdall's skin; I haven't seen a word of snark at Elba. Yes, race/color stuff is close to the surface. Is this a surprise? If we call the reaction "racism" don't we feed the beast, keeping race/color stuff close to the surface?

          • lynn

            First, just for the record, I have not used the word 'racism' in any of my posts.

            Second, I find it interesting that many people these days get more upset at the *charge* of racism than they do at the actual phenomenon itself.

            Third, the beast is alive whether we call it by name or not.

            Fourth, I can't stand comic book movies in general — despite reading a lot of Marvel as a kid — but this one, after all the brouhaha, I may just have to see (on Netflix of course). Dude playing Thor is a hunk, and so is Elba.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            I did not accuse you of using the term. But others have used it.

            Racism is a serioius charge, precisely because one does take the phenomenon seriously. The charge is serious enough to get one riled if it's ineptly applied.

            The beast is alive in part because we feed it. We can do that without calling it by name and I would argue that this discussion is doing just that.

            Your opinion of comic book movies is close to mine but neither is especially germane.

          • wilderquill

            I think it's down right silly for us Pagans to be even discussing this film in the manner we are. This film should not be viewed as an expose of our religious practice or of our gods. This is a film about a comic book character. End of story.

          • It sounds like World Magazine is underestimating the power of Superman.

          • Scott

            Having seen the film this weekend, there even seems to be a perfectly plausible within-the-tale explanation for this mismatch, to wit: Heimdall, as guardian of Bifrost, *never leaves Asgard*, and so could not have been seen by the Norse, who logically assume him to look like the other Aesir, who are conveniently all (with the exception of the Asian member of the Warriors Three) Nordic-looking. Done.

          • elnigma

            Scott, that was funny, and thank you.

        • Eirene

          As Star Foster noted, Idris Elba did a dead amazing job playing Heimdall. I just can't bring myself to believe anything else is that relevant.

        • Star Foster

          Honestly, seeing Heimdall just BE Heimdall was a religious experience for me. The rest of the film was good fun but Heimdall made me shiver with echoes of the sacred.

          • anonimo

            lol
            all the pagans i know loved heimdall
            funny, the racist and prejudiced…xenophobic and so on made a big deal out of idris elba portraying heimdall and tried to downgrade idris elba and boycott the movie, but maybe, things worked in the opposite direction? because idris elba rocked…and many have said so…
            the irony…
            the negative publicity sure became good publicity…

          • LadySkyfire

            Well put! You're so right. With the other gods, most of the time I pretty much got the superhero vibe, impressive but not necessarily godly, but with Heimdallr there is this unassuming sense of 'greater-than' and mystery that took my breath away.

      • Moe

        I came across a recent issue of Newsmax magazine and in it there was an article written by someone who bemoaned that good "American" comic book characters are being portrayed by "Non American" actors. As usual for that type of griper, there is no mention of exceptions to the claim. like Tom Welling in Smallville.

        I understand Jeffrey's concern about the racial makeup of the actors portraying what is in essence his deities and I understand your remark that it sounds racist to you. Jeffrey pointed out that specifically he is a "Folkish Heathen" and I think you misunderstood what he was trying to say.

        It has been a long held Hollywood practice of ignoring the ethnic/racial importance of various characters. For example, for a long time Native Americans were portrayed by Italian actors. The NAs rightly were upset at that. Add to that the depiction of Jesus Christ for so many years as a blue-eyed blond in some parts of Europe and you might understand where he is coming from. It is not racist. It is simply how the people who WERE and ARE Norse Pagans saw their deities as reflections of themselves.

        • lynn

          Jesus Christ was, and still is, portrayed in European countries and the US as blue eyed and blond haired. And He has been for centuries. Are these same people so in an uproar over Elba playing Heimdall also upset with J.C.'s erroneous depiction?

          Again, people will reconfigure the gods as they see fit. It's just human nature.

          • Moe

            True, but Jesus Christ was supposedly a real person, a supposed historical figure. While a deity like the Goddess of Compassion could have different names and appearances like she does in China and Japan and while the Romans renamed Greek deities to suit Roman customs, and OC the Catholic Church turned a few deities into saints like Brigid, Jesus Christ, if you believe Christians, was a real physical person. Their God in human form ( which BTW would have been blasphemy to the Jewish people). And Native Americans are real people.

            But I do see your point. We see deities by our own biases.

        • Sarah Morningstar

          Ok, this makes sense. I personally think that Elba played a great Heimdall, but I can understand this concern. But I do have two more questions if anyone wants to take a stab at it. (Once again not trying to troll, just want to understand the position)
          First, Why is it the heritage and skin color of on actor the big issue when it seem there is much more to grip about in the film? (or why is Heimdall's skin color more inflammatory than space aliens?)
          Second, what is the "ethnic/racial importance of" keeping Heimdall white/northern European? Is there more than just because its how we think he looks? It seems to me that thousands of years of mis-representing the ethnicity of Jesus has not hurt him or his worship much. Thanks so much.

          • Moe

            To be honest I can't explain that part, not being Nordic Pagan myself. I can see in some way how it does look racist and the sad fact is that there are some racists in Paganism.

            Personally I see the movie as being a Marvel production and not some attack on Norse beliefs.

            I really think the proper attitude for the movie is to relax and watch it for the dumb mindless entertainment value, nothing more.

      • Paul White

        "…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…"

        Yes, of course x-tians were THE first with such a message! Whatever! It is a timeless theme. X-tians were certainly NOT the originators. It sounds like they are trying to hijack, yet another idea and claim its genesis.

      • Sarah, if it was a movie about African Mythology, and they replaced a key "good" god with a white person, and African Americans howled and screamed about "whitewashing" and boycotted the movie, would you call that racism, or something acceptable because it was "disrespecting their ways and traditions."

        • I loved the movie. It isn't exactly what I would have made it, but it was beautiful and impressing. Star may feel all the technical stuff got in the way, but looking upon those golden halls took my breath away. Still, I am happy to have it, and feel that it wasn't an insult to my Godkin. They tied in our mythos well for what they were doing, and explained things with in the framework rather well, to my mind.

          As for some of the criticisms about the movie, perhaps I can throw a different view on them.

          The whole "aliens" thing. First off, in the movie, they never actually say they are not Gods. They never say the do, either, but they do not deny the divinity of the Asgardians. Secondly, even in the sagas and legends, our gods come from other worlds than ours. They are not born of Midgard/Earth. By modern definition, our gods would be Aliens to our world. Science has not understanding of mysticism and magic. To us, that which is a god from another plane is to them an alien. Thor himself says in the movie "What your ancestors called magic, and what you call science, is one in the same to us." Magic is and was the science of our people, before modern science stripped away the magic.

          Does the story have Christian elements to it? Yes, it does. But it also has Heathen elements to it as well. Even the so called Christian elements, such as Thor sacrificing himself, are Heathen as well. He made a final stand so that his kin and those under his protection might live. Christian? Sure. But Heathen as well. Thor being cast out of Asgard, having to learn humility, and becoming better for it? Again, both. We Heathens may not have anything against pride like the Christians do, but Thor taking the Throne of Asgard like he was in the movie, eager for battle and blind to the need for cunning, wouldn't have turned out all that well, at least initially.

          We have to remember that the mortals in the Movie are mostly Scientists. Of course they will use scientific jargon, just as scientists do to us. But just because they call our gods false, and accuse our ancestors of "believing" they were gods when the "weren't" doesn't make the scientists right. As I said, they call them aliens, we call them gods. who knows who is right in the end, but I know what I believe. As it was in the movie were they were talking about Bifrost and Portman goes "Like and Einstein-Rosen Bridge" and Thor replies "I think you mean a Rainbow Bridge."

          Two terms, same thing. All that's different is the point of view of those involved.

          As for Idris playing Heimdall, I too wasn't thrilled about that. Not that I have anything against the man, nor his skin color, but because I felt it was a racial dig towards a European Pantheon and that such a thing wouldn't have been done to a movie about the Asian or African religions. Having seen the movie, Idris's Heimdall is wonderful, and there were black and probably even Asian vikings, so I will not make a big deal of it. I will note that I find it hilarious that everyone screaming that the Folkish people who were insulted or put out never ever complained that the black guy was basically playing the doorman to a bunch of white gods. But hey, maybe the fact that he's a really badd@$$ doorman worked for them. Or they were just happy to see the "racists" get kicked and didn't notice the seeming hypocrisy.

          In all though, I liked it. Yes, it's a comic, and we must remember that. But it is also a comic that many times has drawn heavily on the Northern Traditions of my people. It is worthy of our gods, if not accurate, and this movie does us no shame. There are those looking for answers, and this movie will point them in our direction, and I will gladly hold them just as much my kin as I would someone who started with the eddas or a history book.

          • harmonyfb

            but because I felt it was a racial dig towards a European Pantheon and that such a thing wouldn't have been done to a movie about the Asian or African religions.

            ::cough:: Avatar ::cough::

            Not to mention, this wasn't a movie about Norse religion – it was a movie about a comic book.

          • Lori F – MN

            The movie Thor is based on a Marvel comic book. NOT Norse mythology. As for some of the gods looking different than we expect, they are gods. They can take whatever form they want!

          • ThePaganTemple

            In the movies, the Asgardians are little more than a very advanced race of alien beings from another dimension. Nothing spiritual or religious about it. Marvel treats the Greek deities in pretty much the exact same way. Instead of playing up to the potential strengths of the old myths and relating them to a modern audience, they've turned the whole bunch of gods and goddesses into just another boring batch of superheros. Fine, the old gods and goddesses make natural superheros, but without the mythical and spiritual elements, you are left unfulfilled, like having a steak with no ale.

          • Are you talking about the Last Air Bender, where they entirely redid the casting (and ticked off the minority dicrector?) or that 3d love fest of James Cameron?

          • harmonyfb

            The Last Airbender, which actually addressed a number of religious points in the cartoon, but which failed utterly in the film (and the only non-white character was cast as the bad guy, when the cartoon was entirely non-white.) So yeah, it's been done. That's the one that leaps to mind, though I'm sure I could find some others, if I think about it.

            And let's talk about Hellenic religion and Xena, Warrior Princess/Hercules, where none of the actors portraying the Gods were Greek. Or the Perseus or Percy Jackson movies, where the Gods are portrayed by British actors instead of Greek actors. The Thor movie is hardly special in that regard.

          • To be fair to Percy Jackson, they explain in the books that the gods of Olympus move with civilization, from Olympus itself to Rome, then London, then NYC.

          • Well, the last airbender sucked, period.

          • harmonyfb

            In that, assessment of The Last Airbender, NorseAlchemist, we are in perfect agreement.

          • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgbsV6aTHts&fe

            The first ep of the Thor cartoon! Just for an alternate view (and a horrible theme song) 😀 FYI, this Hemidall is white. And looks like a lumberjack.

          • Crystal7431

            I might have to see this one, though I've never been a comic book buff, or a comic book movie buff, for that matter.

          • Star Foster

            *gasp* I never caught that about Heimdall! How bizarre!

          • Lonsepark

            That is…something.

            I am very curious about how they decided to cast Elba as Heimdall rather than someone else, or how many roles they were willing to put actors of color in.

            Their version of New Mexico is pretty damn white compared to the one I lived in, too.

          • Actually, that one I can explain. In some of the more recent comics, the Ragnarok Cycle (they explain the differences between the comics and the myths as Ragnarok being cyclical, each time coming around mostly the same, but with some differences) having been broken and Asgard destroyed. What then happens is Thor comes back and end up finding a small town in Oklahoma, where he sets up shop and then rebuilds Asgard and starts bringing the gods and goddesses back.

            If you look at the town in Oklahoma in the comics and the town in the movie, they're pretty much identical. They may have goofed somewhere, or thrown it in as a tribute, I'm not sure, but that's why it looks the way it does, it's a transplant town.

        • Syna

          "Whitewashing" happens all the time — see The Last Airbender, Prince of Persia, A Mighty Heart, and Twilight, to name some very recent examples — and is called racist because it participates in a racist narrative. The context is completely different, and much more volatile.

          There is a so-called "double standard" because whitewashing happens so much more often than the reverse, and because minorities get so few film roles. They get few film roles EVEN among the pool of roles that are EXPLICITLY FOR minority characters! Most of those go to whites! If minority actors had any kind of visibility on par with the percentage of their populations in America, whitewashing would be much less of an issue, and would likely not be racist.

          Context matters.

          • Lonespark

            Yes, yes, yes. This. Whitewashing happens all the damn time. On book covers. In movies based on fictional characters. In movies based on comic books and animated series. In movies based on the real lives of real people. And at least as often white characters are shoehorned into the stories because gods forbid the audience be forced to identify with somebody who isn't white. If the same thing commonly happened with white characters, people making this argument would have a leg to stand on. But it doesn't, so they don't.

          • So, when a "race-lift" is given in a film about minorities it is racist, and when a "race-lift" is given in a film about whites, it's not?

            Hmm, that sounds almost….racist. Apparently Whites don't count when it comes to having their characters changed, because it's "striking back."

            Also, before you go whining about "white-washing" these days, you might want to look at the percentage of actors that are Jewish. You might see White, but considering that I would figure many of those "white" actors are Jewish (who, idk, maybe Jews are White now? Fine with me, I thought they were a minority though) so the roles could still be going to minority actors. But hey, you know, complain about the White people taking and controlling everything, and how it's only fair to take things away from them for the actions of their ancestors, rather than their deeds done today.

            Also, in case you didn't recognize the basis of my statement, it come from a movie called a Time to Kill. Samuel L. Jackson, Mathew McConell (or whatever his name is). SLJ's character's daughter is raped and left for dead, and he gets some good old fashioned vengeance, goes to trial, and at the end is going to be found guilty but for a little experiment his lawyer Matt does.

            Tell everyone to imagine a little girl, tell them all the horrible things done to her, and imagine…..she's white.

            So before you go telling me that it's okay to "Minority-wash" a movie or something like that, reverse the races. If it's racist to a minority, then it's racist to white, because it's racist to everyone, and we are all bloody humans, and we need to stop seeing color and saying it's okay to do to one simply because their skin is of a different shade.

          • Considering that "A Time to Kill" takes place in the 60s in Alabama, I'm not entirely sure that it is a good example.

            That being said, the scene you reference is pretty amazing.

          • Was it? the movie itself had elements of the sixties, but looking at the models of the cars and some of the fashion, I had actually figured it was set in the eighties or ninties, just in a really rural part of the south.

            And the example is not what is so important. What I consider important is the "test" I drew from it. Namely: In any given situation, reverse the races of those involved. If the incident then is either acceptable or unacceptable based on the new races involved, then make a judgment. Or perhaps, to put it more simply, we are all the same (at least that is what society tells us) and thus we should all be judged the same. Black, White, Latino, Asian, what is good or bad is simply good or bad, it shouldn't matter the color of one's skin.

          • I am surprised none of the comics-geeks in the thread have commented about the Hawkeye cameo. That was a perfect fan shout-out.

          • Lonespark

            I didn't mean in regard to minorities in general, I meant in regard to people who read to the audience as having dark skin. Certainly there have been many groups who were formerly not White enough for full participation in American society, and in the past many actors made the decision to pass for white by hiding their ethnicity.

            I don't feel it's always wrong to change the race or gender or hair color or height or whatever of a character when making a movie. It happens all the time, and it often works very well. I do think there should be consideration given to how those characteristics affect the character, to make sure that their role in the story doesn't change in a way that weakens the story.

            So altering characters isn't necessarily the problem. The problem is that in our society, at least in big-budget, widely-released media, when it's done with skin color it's done overwhelmingly in favor of whitewashing.

            The actors in the Thor movie aren't portraying our gods. The characters are based on (among other things) the lore, so there is resonance there…Do you object to the casting based on the comic characterization?

          • Moe

            Since DC also did a number on Isis, including this season's Smallville episode where she's made out to be a baddie, I think the issue is really about how most people don't see our Gods as being "alive", just as characters for stories.

            There is racism behind the objection of a black man playing a Nordic myth base character. There is a boycott planned by the " Conservative Chrisaains Council" which is a white supremacist type group.
            http://www.slashfilm.com/thor-boycot-council-cons

            On finding that out, I hereby change my position here concerning the "Folkish-Heathen" claim one poster said. No one wants to admit they may be racist.

          • Syna

            Yes. It is racist, and Heimdall being black is not racist, because of the context. Sorry.

            Let me say it again: context! Context! Context! It matters!

            And dude, this isn't anywhere NEAR "minority-washing." The gods are still mostly white; all of the major ones are, with the rest of the minorities being basically their underlings; if there was one white character who was originally meant to be black in a movie full of black people, I STRONGLY doubt it would be racist within that all-important CONTEXT.

          • Silv

            I thought it was a good film. Not great, but good. The special effects were fantastic, I ooed and awed at them a lot. I laughed a lot, and I was impressed by the creativity of the ideas they were working with. It's definitely not seriously based in Norse mythology, but it does take elements from it. I never read the comics, but I think that anything that will introduce people to find their own answers about paganism, and mythology is good, regardless of the quality of where they started. Everyone has to start somewhere right?

            As for the Heimdall thing, Idris Elba played the part fantastically. It was a fun movie, and it wasn't really intended to be anything more. People need to stop getting their panties in a twist. I've seen my god portrayed negatively and misrepresented in a film before, and I frankly didn't care. We aren't worshiping the gods and goddesses portrayed by an actor or CGI in film. Movies are meant to be fun, unless they're documentaries. That's the only time we should seriously start taking out the red marker when people make false claims and representations.

          • harmonyfb

            maybe Jews are White now?

            Why are you capitalizing 'white'?

            SLJ's character's daughter…and imagine…..she's white.

            Um…so? I have several friends whose children have different skin colors than their own. I don't have a problem imagining that a dark-skinned protagonist can have a light-skinned child (and vice-versa).

          • Because I'm using it as an ethnicity and to put emphasis on it.

            As for the SLJ daughter being "white" that wasn't the point. In the movie she was black, the whole "imagine she's white" thing was because Matt's character was talking to a white jury and basically put forth that if this had been a white girl instead of a black girl that these things had happened to, would they be reacting the same way.

          • harmonyfb

            "White" isn't an ethnicity, though – it's a skin color.

          • I agree, Harmony, but sadly, most people treat "white" as an ethnicity, especially in America, and completely ignore the smaller ethnic groups that make up "white".

          • harmonyfb

            Well, that's no excuse for using it that way when you know better.

            And it's such an imprecise term, anyway – it's not a racial group (that would be 'caucasian'), and it's definitely not a 'culture' (shades of my ignorant family members ranting about their 'culture' being threatened by people with a different skin color who've lived here just as long as they have. I always want to ask: "Getting drunk and blaming other people for your problems is a culture now?").

          • So, Caucasians have no culture? Hmm, that's an interesting statement. And if White is treated as a racial group, then I would argue it is a racial group. However, if white is not a racial group, does that mean they don't exists when it comes to racial grouping? I'm a little confused here.

          • harmonyfb

            "Caucasian" can include people whose skin color is quite dark (such as northern Indians); "white" is not a racial group but a descriptor.

            And no, there is no "caucasian culture" just as there is no "negro culture" – if you put a Finn and an American and a Spaniard and a northern Indian together, you'll find that they don't share a common culture even though they share a racial group.

          • Moe

            Sorry it is called Council of Conservative Citizens.

          • Lonespark

            I suppose this is getting off topic, but just as a white fan I find whitewashing soooo disrespectful and enraging. Why do they automatically assume I don't want Earthsea to look like Earthsea? That I don't want the Earth Nation or the Northern Water Tribe to be what they were in the original work? Or that my friends and colleagues who haven't been exposed to the awesome that is The Last Airbender will prefer to see a much, much whiter world. Why take something a lot of people have loved and change it? Aaaaargghhh!

          • lynn

            Because in our culture we have been trained to see the 'white experience' on screen as universal, whereas a film about Latinos is considered to be only relevant to Latinos. Presumably everybody will go pay money to a movie with white folks in it, but only black people will go see a movie starring a black cast. So stories are whitewashed to reach the broadest possible audience and make the most money.

            The only way this will change is to have more diverse images of everybody in movies, so that more of us will become interested in the stories of people who may not look like us.

            Neil Gaiman nixed a movie version of his book Anansi Boys because the moviemakers wanted to change two of the main characters, who were black, to white and get rid of some of the magical elements of the movie. Which is ironic if you consider that Anansi is the name of the West African spider god.

          • Syna

            This. This. This. This.

            You describe why I am so suspicious of that "we're all humans/I just see everyone as people" comment. It is certainly well-intentioned, but it also echoes the typical white perception of white experience as The Default.

          • I may be jumping the gun here, but if you're talking about my "we're all human" thing, I'm not saying the white experience is the default. I'm saying that no one's is the default, and that everyone's experience/culture/what-have-you should be given equal treatment.

          • Lonespark

            I think it can be one of the great strengths of being Heathen/Recon/Traditionalist to take other cultures on their own terms, and to see the holiness in a wide range of practices. Elements of tribal culture tend to be scoffed at in the mainstream, and ethnicity and folkways considered things only other, foreign or nonwhite, people have.

            That doesn't change the fact that we're embedded in a culture that makes whiteness the default, the unmarked, unremarkable and "normal" state of real true Americans.

          • Ah, Lonespark, well put, but in doing so, have we not made whiteness invisible, by denying it a uniqueness we give to other cultures? It seems to me that "white" doesn't count as a racial group any more, and that when it comes to the vibrancy and importance of cultures, 'white" seems to be viewed all too often as beneath everyone else. I could be wrong though, and I'm certainly not arguing that "white" is better than anyone, I'm just tired of it coming across as less.

    • Your folk and mine are humankind, on this good green Earth. Yes, we make the gods in our image. But if you cannot see your own humanity in a person of a different ancestry, then you are certainly not going to be able to see the Divine when you meet it. Good luck to you.

    • And some of your best friends are black too, right?

      /rolleyes

  • William Hood

    My problem with the movie, and with the comics, is that it perpetuates the Christian-started bias that polytheistic Gods MUST be false and the product of "primitive," "ignorant" ancients. They just replace the Christian language with scientific language. I really don't think there will be some "Heathen Renaissance" started by such a depiction, because that would require the movie-goer to take the Gods seriously instead of seeing them as silly stories that no one really follows anymore, which is exactly the presumption that this film and the comics operate on.

    • Sarah Morningstar

      Have you seen the movie? there is an interesting subplot with the older Swedish scientist, Erik. He chastises the love interest (Natalie Portman) about believing such "nonsense" Saying that they are "just bedtime stories" but as the movie progresses he actually picks up an old book of myths and starts reading it again, opening himself up to the possibility what he is seeing is real. He eventually believes Thor and become quite excited about the whole thing. It is funny such a plot would be in a movie that "perpetuates the Christian-started bias that polytheistic Gods MUST be false"

      • I haven't seen it yet, but my movie/comic-buff, non-Pagan 19 year old did and said it was the best Marvel superhero movie he's ever seen.

      • chuck_cosimano

        It's a pity it isn't getting the religious right's panties in a know. That would bring a far bigger audience.

        • Crystal7431

          Panties in the know, huh? Lol! But I agree with you. Sadly, I kinda wish it wasn't given such a gleaming thumbs up by the fundies.

          • Oberon

            Has anyone mentioned that Hogun of the Warriors Three is obviously Asian? This depiction is from the original comic (late '60s), so Marvel was obviously not interested in doing an exact version of Norse myths, even back then.
            Likewise, Marvel products/films have changed characters' races before:
            In the Daredevil movie, the Kingpin of Crime is black, but in the comics he is white.
            In the Fantastic Four movies, Alicia, the Thing's girlfriend is black, though she is white in the comics.
            Perhaps, long ago, Marvel realized that many of their fans are in fact black and this is a nice way of including and honoring their support.
            In Marvel comics, any of the pantheons (they've done more than just Norse) are really extra-dimensional beings who became associated with previous cultures as their deities, has been around for at least 30 years, going back to the Ragnorok storyline in the late '70s.

          • Scott

            Here's an interesting observation: the publication history of the Thor comic is as old or older than "second-wave" Asatru, and certainly older than the major modern Asatru organizations, on any side of the race/"volk" question (the first Thor issue, according to Wikipedia, was published in August 1962; the Odinist Committee, later the Odinic Rite, was founded in '73, the Odinist Fellowship in '69, and the Viking Brotherhood in '71). Hell, it's older than the major modern scholarly works that arguably underpin the Norse reconstructionist movement (Turville-Petre was published in '64, and the English translation of Dumezil in '73). Should their "prior art" on interpretation of the Norse myths get any standing in this discussion?

          • Interesting trivia, Hogun wasn't Asian in the comics (at least not to start with) he was based off an actor named Charles Bronson, famous from the Death Wish franchise and other movies of an action nature.

            I will say though, the new Hogun was pretty cool.

      • William Hood

        None of that changes the fact that the Asgardians AREN'T Gods in this movie, they're aliens. What one character feels on the matter isn't relevant when the writers make it explicitly clear that the Asgardians are not actual Gods and that the aforementioned stories were the faulty explanations of a "primitive culture" (the phrase that they actually use). Also, yes I went and I saw it. Despite my misgivings I go and see every Marvel movie. Except Elektra, I refuse to watch it. If I turn off my criticalness I have to say the Thor movie was actually enjoyable, as an action/comic-book movie. I look forward to seeing the Avengers. Just because I see a certain bias in it doesn't mean I hate everything about it.

        • Oh please. It's a movie based on a COMIC BOOK. A COMIC BOOK, FOR THE LOVE OF HEIMDALL.

          Really? You're getting bent out of shape NOW over a continuity that's been around for years in the COMIC BOOK? Really?

    • Lonespark

      I hate that too, but I didn't feel so much like this movie did that. I felt more like they offered possible (technobabble) explanations for a way that there could be mulitple worlds populated by different kinds of wights.

      • Actually, multiple worlds theory technically isn't technobabble – its just not yet testable.

  • For anyone interested in reading a few Thor comics that actually include a good deal more of the mythology than the comics usually do, I recommend the Walt Simonson run, which ran in the 80's from numbers 337 to 382 and are probably available in trade paper back, though the individual issues are usually pretty cheap in the back issue bins.
    If it weren't for Thor comics,. I never would have taken an interest in Norse mythology or the Runes, which are actually my cultural heritage.

  • Sarah Morningstar

    Thor was cheesy, fantastically cheesy. You have to understand that the guy who directed it was also the guy who did "Wild Wild West" with Will Smith. It was worth my 16$ to see it in IMAX 3D at midnight only because I loved the comics. As the guy who sat next to me said, "set the bar low and you wont be disappointed" That said, I can understand the misgivings of those who worship Thor and the other Norse Gods. I would be a bit touchy if my Gods showed up as some sort of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with a jesus complex. I enjoyed it, I can respect if others didn't.

    • Moe

      As for "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with a Jesus complex", ever seen the movie series "Bibleman"? :-> Trust me, that comes pretty close and is BY Christians. I've wondered if they had Talmud Teen or Quaran Man characters.

      I understand that the Marvel Comics current dumbing down of what even they at the beginning admitted were Norse deities and Nordic mythology can be seen by modern Pagans as bad commercialized imitations of beings that are as real to us as Jesus is to Christians. But then so was "Clash of the Titans" remake. The fact that a Christian magazine review even says the movie's "bastardization of ancient mythology" is so tame that Xian parents don't need to worry about their indoctrinated little darlings from becoming Norse Pagans pretty much says that this movie is, mythologically speaking, weak.

      If you want to see a good Marvel Thor, get the " Incredible Hulk" TV series movie, the title of which I've forgotten.

      • William Hood

        What I find funny about Bibleman is that the actor is the dude that played Boner on Growing Pains. Right?

    • elnigma

      The director of Wild Wild West was someone else, this was directed by Kenneth Branach who starred (not directed) in that horrible movie but has directed some decent Shakespeare movies, etc. as well as this picture. I saw Thor ( cashed the use of the Groupon Fandango coupon). It was 2 hours of popcorn-y fun and eye candy and fun, and Loki actually ends up being an interesting character in the film. Natalie Portman was a snore. I think the only explanation needed is it is comic book based.

      • Crystal7431

        When is Natalie Portman not a snore? The last film she was decent in was The Professional, when she was just an adolescent.

      • Sarah Morningstar

        Ahh, thank you for the correction!!

        • Oberon

          I've been a Wiccan for almost 40 years and a Marvel comics fan that whole time. I've always loved Thor, the comic book, though with nearly 50 years of publishing history, there are high and low points.
          I think they did a good job of narrowing the story down and redefining it. In the original comic Thor Is Donald Blake, a Doctor who walks with a cane. Later in the story line he realizes he always was Thor (same meme; Oding sent him to earth to learn humility), but in the original he found a staff that turns himself and itself into Thor and his hammer. Jane Foster is his nurse, not an astro-phyz person.

  • tumakhunter

    I look at the comments by the Christian papers, and I think to myself, "THAT is how they dodged the Religious Right bullet." I haven't seen it, yet, but I am very much looking forward to it, as both a Thunor's man (to use his Anglo Saxon name), and as a comic geek. And I will be setting the bar fairly low for my expectations, remembering that this is *not* based off of the Eddea, that it is *not* meant to be a heathn version of the Passion of the Christ, but more like the heathen version of Dogma.

    • hat it is *not* meant to be a heathn version of the Passion of the Christ, but more like the heathen version of Dogma.

      "Dogma" was written and directed by a devout Roman Catholic who was humorously criticizing negative aspects of his own tradition. It shows a great deal of reverence to the essence of Catholicism while skewering many of the peripheral aspects that have been given too much weight.

      Not a good parallel.

      • tumakhunter

        Fair enough. I was following the examples cited above. I think my point still stands, however.

  • Well, I just created a FB joke/page: Wiccans that change their pantheon after watching "Thor" (because of THOR, of course). I must recognize that Thor is "Ohmaygawd" in the film, but I actually think that is, indeed, that point what brings to the film a slight similarity with the "Twilight" style…

    • Hey, when Portman said "Oh My God." I like to believe she was speaking to the God in front of her. She certainly seemed eager to worship him.

  • Pat Mathewa

    "The movie explains that the Norsemen worshipped them as gods, but that they are really just supernatural beings from another realm."

    That one goes back to Snorri Sturleson, though. I'm pretty sure most Asatruar and other heathens would think of that right away.

    • Yeah, I do. Asgard is not Midgard. They are from a different realm or world. Doesn't mean they aren't gods though. Then again, our definition of a god is different from the Monotheistic standard.

    • Kevin

      I am praying that no one takes this movie as the did with The Craft. First of all Thor is based on a comic & nothing else. Second The Craft did more harm then good, while it did get people intrested in Wicca teenage girls ran with the idea that it was ALL true. Once said people get it into thier heads there is no correcting them & the damage is done. I have such a friend & he can't see past what he belives is right.

    • Lonespark

      Heh. Not a bad point. There's certainly a long history of downplaying gods the better to keep their stories in a Christianized world.

  • I thought it was a really fun super hero movie. That Thor is smoking hot. And that nothing in it particularly offended my pagan sensibilities, but it didn't warm them either.

    With a lot of the hype ahead of time about it not being accurate to Norse Myth, I wasn't expecting a sensitive treatment of mythology, I knew ahead of time it was a super hero thing.

    I agree with rotton tomatoes. It was fresh! At least a B-.

  • http://themovingtemple.blogspot.com/2011/05/bleed

    Now that I finally seen it, here are my thoughts on how Pagan it is.