Faith and Film No. 3

I love superheroes. I always have. From Tim Buron’s Batman to Kevin Feige’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (henceforth referred to as the MCU), I’m smitten. I love the fantasy and the idea that we can leave this world and explore a world of superpowers and mythic ideologies. I’ll freely admit that some superhero movies and television shows are much better than others, but rarely do I find myself not entertained at the least. Because, like I said before, I love superheroes.

With that being said, Wandavision, the latest from Marvel Studies (and the first of many shows to grace Disney+), has been a revelation. I’ve been hooked from the beginning and I’m thankful to say I’m not the only one. Millions of people are watching each week as the episodic adventures of our favorite witch and sentient robot unfold in front of us.

While it’s definitely a deep-dive for some into the world of Marvel, it’s not the comic mythos that has me hooked, it’s the real-world feelings.

If you aren’t a self-professed superhero stan, let me catch you up a bit. Wanda Maximoff is the main character alongside of her husband, Vision. In the MCU, she was one of the Avengers (i.e. the good guys). She was orphaned at a young age and grew up resentful of Tony Stark, a reformed superhero himself. Alongside her brother Pietro, she volunteered to undergo experiments that gave her “magical” powers (i.e. levitation, mind manipulation). After first opposing the Avengers, she joined them to eventually defeat the artificial intelligence Ultron and the alien despot Thanos. She found a kindred spirit in Vision (a synthetic being that housed the computer program Jarvis) and happiness following her brother’s death. Together they formed the first family of the Avengers, but Vision was unable to survive Thanos’ attack and was tragically killed.

The show is set just a few weeks after a complicated story of time-travel ends with Thanos’ defeat and most of the world back-to-normal. Vision’s death wasn’t something our heroes could fix, so even though we get a happy ending, Wanda does not. Left to pick up the pieces, we find her suffering, lost, and inconsolable. From our point-of-view, all the signs are pointing to a full-blown mental breakdown that is certainly deserved. After all, she lost her parents, her brother, and now her soulmate. She is alone, with nowhere and no-one to confide in. Then, as the show details, she drives to Westview, New Jersey with blueprints to the house Vision planned to share with her for the rest of their lives. That drive becomes the final act of a normal Wanda.

In the same place where the house would’ve been built, we find Wanda overcome with grief. When she finally gives in, her powers explode and create a parallel world in that small community. That complex story sets the stage for the events we’ve been watching.

Vision and Wanda

Since then, the show has spent seven episodes examining the complications her powers have produced in Westview. In her pain, Wanda created a world (simply called “The Hex”) that comes right out of classic television sitcoms like the Dick Van Dyke Show, the Brady Bunch, and even Malcolm in the Middle. However, it’s Wanda who has total control over everything and everyone. She is dictating the lives of the residents of Westview and even the time period they live in. It’s an unsettling idea of manipulation and violation that teeters on the edge of whimsical. We learned in the eighth episode that she didn’t mean to hurt anyone or even create “the Hex.” We also learned that it was a creation of her grief, not necessarily for her grief. It has the look of comfort, but deep down it’s merely a construct of her fractured soul.

In that episode, Wanda was taken on a journey through her past by another magical being named Agatha. She has been observing Wanda from within “The Hex” and is trying to figure out how this whole thing happened. As Agatha took Wanda back to her parents’ death, her encounter during the aforementioned experiments, and even to a quiet time alone with Vision we see the moments that broke her. She got to re-live them and its awful to watch her suffer over and over again.

That’s when the story takes an unexpected detour. During the flashback, the quiet moment with Vision produces a moment I wasn’t expecting in a superhero show. It’s that moment I’d like to talk about. It’s poignantly profound and worth more than I can say here. The quote comes from Vision himself as he was trying to comfort Wanda after her brother’s death. Sitting alone, broken and sorrowful, the living robot without a soul but a keen intellect said:

What is grief, if not love persevering?

When I first heard the line, I stopped the tv, rewound, and watched it again. I was so very impressed with the simplicity and profound truth of a robot’s statement to a magical being that I didn’t even notice the absurdity of their existence. The conversation between these two comic book superheroes had more real-worth truth in it than most conversations (or sermons for that matter).

Most of you know I’ve experienced my fair share of grief. Losing both parents before I turned forty took the wind out of my soul. It made me bitter, disappointed, and lost. I did a great job of hiding it though. I hid it because I thought people wouldn’t understand. After all, I’m a minister. I can’t be shaken, I can’t want to run away from things. I have to be strong for others. I have to be perfect because that’s what so many expect.

I was anything but.

Over the last few years I’ve come to terms with the fact that I didn’t handle my parents’ death like I should have. I should have been brutally honest and even vulnerable with my friends and family. I should have showed the people who share life with me everyday that it’s okay to weep and mourn and be angry at the circumstances of this world. I didn’t lose my faith, but I did lose my direction and I shouldn’t have been afraid to tell them.

I did exactly what Wanda did, I bottled it all up until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

While I didn’t create a world with my superpowers, I did let finally let it all out. I started writing about my experiences, my insecurities, and even my doubts. I dug deep into the story of Job and found a kindred spirit in that faithful man’s anger, disappointment, and doubt. I grew to appreciate the feelings I experienced, not fear them. And I’m a better person today because of it.

Watching Wandavision has been a cathartic thing for me. Hearing the words of Vision were something altogether special. I truly understand that grief is simply love persevering. It’s how we get up, get on, and honor those who leave us unexpectedly.

Funny, who would’ve thought my love for superheroes would produce some life-changing bit of understanding? I sure didn’t but I’m grateful it did.