Movies Are Prayers by Josh Larsen, Free for CAPC Members
In Movies Are Prayers, Josh Larsen exemplifies how critical engagement with a film can be an act of neighbor-love.
***This article contains potential spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.***
Like its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has hooked moviegoers on a feeling, grossing $642 million worldwide in the first two weeks of its release thanks to its charm. The eclectic superhero team returned in all their hilarious glory with a few new faces added to the mix. As a result, I haven’t laughed so hard in a movie theater in a very long time.
Amongst the jokes, strangeness, and more-than-a-little cheek from Chris Pratt, the film explores some more serious themes than one might expect from a movie featuring a man who calls himself Star-Lord, a green-skinned assassin, a shirtless warrior with no social skills, a sassy raccoon (just don’t call him that), and a baby tree. But all humor aside, many of Vol. 2’s main characters possess a deep longing for relationships and community — and sadly, a pattern of believing lies because of that desire.In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we see the consequences of denying truth.
Through its characters’ actions, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 challenges our perceptions of what is true and highlights the personal transformation required to accept reality — a transformation that many are unwilling to make. But when we are willing to accept the truth, we often find everything we’ve been looking for and more — which is what we see happen to various characters throughout the film.
The mystery of Peter “Star-Lord” Quill’s father was teased in the first movie, and we finally meet the man… er, planet… er, Celestial, himself in Vol. 2. Though Quill is initially suspicious, his desire for a father figure rules out all other feelings but joy. This culminates in a cheesy, ridiculous scene where he plays a game of catch with his dad — who is, in fact, a sentient planet-sized alien named Ego — with a ball of glowing alien energy.
Though such a father-son moment is clichéd, Quill is delighted by it because he’s so hungry for family. He finally has a dad.
Gamora warns Quill that something isn’t right with Ego, but Quill ignores her, angry at her for trying to ruin his joy even though she’s looking out for him. Quill wants so badly to believe that something is true in order to fill a longing in his soul, and his desire almost gets his friends killed. It isn’t until the real truth basically smacks him in the head — when Ego reveals his evil plan and admits what he did to Quill’s mother — that Quill is able to accept reality: Ego is not the loving father he’s been looking for all this time.
“I was young. I was greedy. I was stupid.” This is how Yondu explains his motivation to follow Ego’s orders to collect the Celestial’s children from around the galaxy, and ultimately, deliver them to their doom. Based on the number of corpses in Ego’s basement, it apparently took Yondu a long time to come to that realization and admit he made a mistake in betraying his fellow Ravagers.
Yondu wanted wealth and power, and he believed the lie that those things were an appropriate substitute for love. Only after Quill entered his life, making him a father figure, did Yondu understand the value of a real relationship marked by unconditional love and respect, and it’s only until the events of Vol. 2 that he really accepts that fact.
The reason he hadn’t acted sooner was due to the fear of rejection and losing his image, something he sees in the surprisingly like-minded Rocket. “You play like you’re the meanest in the heart but actually you’re the most scared of all,” Yondu tells Rocket, pointing out that their emotional baggage is similar. He understands Rocket’s fear because he’s felt it himself his whole life.
Fear is a great motivator for believing lies, and Yondu let himself believe many — including the lie that he couldn’t possibly be forgiven for his sins. However, he’s able to redeem himself at the film’s end through his sacrifice. Even the Ravagers recognize his loving act for what it is, choosing to forgive him and pay him respect at his funeral.
Rocket chooses to believe that he’ll always end up alone, which makes him a pretty big jerk in Vol. 2. He pushes his friends away because he’s afraid to trust them and accept that he could be part of a family. Since Rocket is the only one of his kind — a major source of his sadness — his loneliness is understandable. But it drives him to lash out and act irresponsibly.
“Are you trying to make everyone hate you? Because you’re doing it perfectly,” Quill tells Rocket after their ship crash-lands because of his recklessness. And earlier in the film, Rocket steals from the team’s employers, effectively sabotaging the Guardians’ work and adding enemies they didn’t need to an already long list.
Rocket believes the lie that everyone will abandon him. Fear of accepting love because it might disappear can overwhelm all logic. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable, as well as the patience of loving people, to overcome that fear and acknowledge the truth — which Rocket eventually does — that some people stick around if you let them.
Nebula believes vengeance will make up for all the suffering she’s experienced at the hands of Thanos, and by extension, Gamora. “I just wanted a sister,” she tells Gamora. “You were all I had, but you just needed to win. Thanos pulled my eye from my head. He tore my brain from my skull and my arm from my body… because of you!”
Eventually she realizes that all Gamora was trying to do during their childhood was survive. She’s confronted with the truth that Gamora does love her, and she chooses to accept it instead of continuing on her rampage. These moments of sisterhood in the film are touching, especially when Nebula reaches out to save Gamora when she could’ve easily left her for dead.
Admitting truth when you are on a path of vengeance is incredibly difficult because it means confessing you’re wrong. In Nebula’s case, she has fed off her anger and hurt for a very long time, blaming someone who wasn’t at fault. She believed the lie that killing her sister would bring her peace. By allowing her eyes to be opened, she receives the relationship with the sister she always wanted. (However, Nebula isn’t totally willing to let go of her desire for vengeance; she still seeks Thanos’s death.)
The truth is often painful. Accepting it means being willing to change, to admit our failures, and to become vulnerable. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we see the consequences of denying that truth, including the inability to fully love others or allow ourselves to be loved in return.
I can’t help but see myself in all these characters. Like Quill, I’ve held on to a relationship so tightly that I didn’t see the lies being told by the person on the other end. Like Yondu, I’ve focused too much on wealth and influence, believing the lie that they’re more important than the morality of my actions. Like Rocket, I’ve believed I am unworthy of love. And like Nebula, I’ve believed anger is more important than peace.
It’s hard to see through the lies when you want something so badly. When emotions take over, we are often blinded to wisdom. So how do we see clearly?
We do so partly by relying on others to see for us. When we surround ourselves with wise people we trust, they can be invaluable in pointing out truth. For example, Quill had Gamora, who wasn’t so emotionally close to the situation (if he had just chosen to listen to her). Also, we have a God who is himself referred to as truth (John 14:6) and who’s willing to point us toward it through others and through His Word.
It takes humility and the willingness to listen in order to acknowledge that we don’t always have it right. It takes the vulnerability of accepting that someone else might be able to see more clearly than we can. It takes the understanding that we’re not alone in overcoming the lies that the world throws at us — not if we don’t want to be.
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