I just finished watching 21 Marvel movies in chronological order, all within in ONE WEEK. I bordered on delirium. I loved it. I did this so I could continue my series of article on Marvel and Mental Health. [Read my first article about Thor HERE.] After 21 full, feature films, I have been fully indoctrinated with MCU heroism now. Who needs a hero?
Of all the characters of the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU), I find myself most drawn to Loki’s character development. Loki was first introduced in THOR (2011) as the brother of the title character and later brutally killed by Thanos in AVENGERS: Infinity War (2018). Loki, God of Mischief, is played with charismatic perfection by the one and only Tom Hiddleston. All of us who have seen the MCU movies know what Loki does between the first film and his last. Lots of chaos and incandescent rage.
My (glorious?) purpose in writing this article is to shine a light on aspects of Loki’s character development that I feel may be too easily overlooked. Loki was MADE to become the villain. He was crafted into the monster he feared, despite any resistance he could have mustered. And it broke his heart.
Though this be madness; yet there is method in ‘t. (HAMLET Act 2, Scene 2.)
My thesis is that Loki is not so much as insane as he is emotionally unraveling in a profound pain he is too proud to address. He loses his brother (to banishment) and discovered he is not who he had believed himself to be all these years. I am convinced that this is the first crack that gives way once Thanos gets a hold of him.
After 1500 YEARS, Loki discovered he was NOT a natural son of Odin. Suddenly, Loki was overwhelmed with previously unacknowledged feelings that he somehow never truly belonged. Now he had an answer as to why. Whether that answer was true or not, Loki ran with it. Complex motivations compelled Loki to try to destroy Jotunheim. I believe this is an act of self-loathing. Loki was projecting his resentment onto the place he was born. He had learned to fear and despise Jotunheim as a land full of monsters. Only to learn that it was his heritage.
When Thor returned from his banishment to confront his brother Thor declared that Loki’s actions were madness. Tom Hiddleston’s performance interprets Loki’s response with an almost genuine questioning, “Is it madness? Is it? IS IT?” I don’t know about you, but this moment breaks my fragile human heart. Every time. It’s as if Loki truly wants to know if he is losing his grip on sanity. I feel that this speaks to his mental state as Loki is in the midst of a life-changing identity crisis.
Loki is roughly the same age as Thor; presumably the latter being a bit older. So, for 1500 years – give or take – Loki has played with, been educated alongside, and fought under Thor’s command. He has had all this time to be a hero to Asgard; to be their Prince. Moreover, Loki is initially shown to be more level-headed than his brother.
Loki and their warrior friends followed Thor in breaking Odin’s orders not to go to Jotunheim. They end up surrounded by Frost Giants, gravely outnumbered. Yet Thor was not backing down. Loki stepped forward to discreetly whisper guidance to his brother, “Thor stop. . . Look around you. We’re outnumbered. . .” To which Thor replied:
I once offered some advice on a project of which I had considerable and documented experience to an employer who had never done the particular project at hand. I had managed an entire multi-location departmental restructuring containing 25+ employees answering to me (before I was laid off). My employer’s response? “What’s your name?”
I looked at him in confusion. Less than 10 people worked for him. He knew my name. In my silence, he repeated himself, “What’s your name?” So I maintained eye contact and calmly answered. Corissa. He said, “That’s right. And I’m [redacted]. I’m me and you’re you. You’re trying to be me. Stop trying to be me. I tell you what to do. You do it.” Know your place. . .
Oh Loki, my very soul, I know your rage right there. As if your 1500 years of experience meant nothing. Even to Thor.
If I were a villain, that job would be my origin story. For Loki, I think that brush-off moment is part and parcel to Loki’s decision to monopolize on Thor’s banishment to Earth and Odin’s sudden illness. He finally has a moment to breathe; to grow into his title. Unfortunately, this moment comes just after his personal identity is completely shattered. He has lost that level-headed calm he once had.
When Thor returned and stopped him from destroying Jotunheim Loki is thrown to the edge of the broken bridge during their fight. Even then Loki still did not want to be cast away from Asgard. He didn’t want to die. He pleaded for Thor to pull him back to safety.
Odin appeared and kept both Thor and, by extension, Loki from falling off into the abyss. Loki declared to Odin that he ‘could have done it‘. He could have destroyed all of Jotunheim – a realm of monsters, as he saw it – thereby severing his claim to its throne. “For you,” Loki said. Odin just quietly replied, “No, Loki.”
Only then did Loki (apparently) come to the despairing belief that he would never truly belong in Asgard. In that moment, Odin Allfather was no longer his father. Moments before he had begged Thor to save him, now Loki simply and calmly lets himself fall from Asgard into death, or a banishment of his own choosing.
Chronologically, this is when Loki, Prince of Asgard, falls into the hands of the Mad Titan. Thanos. I have heard that what happens to Loki during this off-screen time is so gruesome that it could not be shown on-screen while maintaining a family friendly rating.
Loki Odinson – who became Loki Laufeyson – fell into the clutches of The Other and the Chitauri army. After an unknown amount to time spent being tortured by The Other and manipulated via the Mind Stone Loki essentially becomes a Child of Thanos. (Although he was not referred to as such.)
As awful as it is to say, I think that Loki had intended to die when he let himself fall from the bridge on Asgard. Unfortunately, for him he didn’t die. Instead, he became the unwilling tool of Thanos’ quest to bring a grim balance to the universe. I assume he experienced indescribable torture, mingled with Thanos’ manipulative nurturing as a false father figure. Thanos would have monopolized on Loki’s fresh wound regarding fathers. These factors combined with the use of an Infinity Stone gradually stripped sanity away of the Lost Prince of Asgard.
Want to break your own heart even more?
Imagine – if you will – that Loki fully believed that Heimdall could see him no matter where he is in the universe. Even there. In his anguish. After all, this had been true of Heimdall all his life. So Loki screamed for him over and over. Begging Heimdall to send the bifrost. Bring him back to Asgard. Loki would rather face all of Asgard in disgrace than to continue to suffer until Thanos would eventually succeed in warping him into the monster Loki feared he was.
But the bifrost never comes. Heimdall never sends Thor to his rescue. And perhaps Loki believed it was Odin’s orders denying his returned to Asgard. Loki may have come to believe Odin had condemned him, as punishment, to the hands of Thanos’ and all the horrors the Mad Titan was inflicting on him. If Loki accepted this belief, it may have been the last dam to break before Loki’s mind gave way to the will of Thanos and The Other.
Maybe he could please THIS father. . .
(It’s revealed that not only did Heimdall NOT see, but no one even knew of the place where Loki was kept.)
Unable to process the unraveling of his familial identity in combination with being systematically brainwashed, Loki became a corrupted caricature of himself. He had been playfully mischievous by nature before, until that nature was twisted to Thanos’ design.
Loki became a malicious trickster, using his magic in his desperate campaign to bring the Tesseract to Thanos. He treated humans with the same brutality he would have any other more resilient creatures in the nine realms. Sadly, humans are fragile. They died easily. He had not been a murderer before Thanos. Yet, Loki’s terror of returning to that unending pain at the hands of the Children of Thanos drove him on despite any internal protest.
Fear is a powerful motivator. So much more so is TERROR. I know Loki has murdered people at this point. I am not disillusioned to his status as a villain. It’s just. . . I can’t discount the state of mind he was forced into. I could write a book on the ways I believe Loki was trying to warn the Avengers and to give them every opportunity to defeat him in his compelled attempts to rule Earth.
I believe he strategically made sure the Avengers were brought together and tested their bond. After all, they were HIS only defense against Thanos. When Tony Stark/Iron Man tells Loki that all he had accomplished was to piss off all the Avengers, Loki just shrugs and says, “That was the plan.”
Before that, when Loki was captured (all too easily, as everyone involved agreed) Fury questions, “Why do I get the feeling that [Loki] is the only person on this boat that wants to be here?”
I have two theories. One, Loki wanted to be there because he feel safe from Thanos in the custody of his brother and all the Avengers. Two, at this point, perhaps Loki was just used to being in a cage. After all, he did say that, “Freedom is life’s greatest lie.” I get the feeling that this was something violently impressed upon him over and over (and over) again until he believed it strongly enough to enforce it on others.
Then again, maybe Loki was just there to cause chaos that would serve as a distraction while the Tesseract powered device was built and the wormhole was opened to usher in the Chitauri army. I just see the complexity in which Tom Hiddleston portrays Loki as allowing for a much more complicated source of character motivation. I choose to watch the films with this complexity in mind and find it to be a highly intriguing experience. (I’m okay if that’s just me though.)
I could go on to describe how I think Loki hides from Thanos in a faked death, or by impersonating Odin. I could bullet-point all the times I think that dread and terror were the center of Loki’s decision making. However, my main point I’ve come to now is that Loki was never given a chance to heal from the mental trauma and shattered identity. He had been taken to Asgard as a prisoner and settled into eternity in a cell without argument.
Once more, Loki initially chose to stay on a planet possibly more chaotic that he was in order to avoid death. Namely, the Goddess of Death – Hela. At no point do we see Thor or anyone else allow for Loki to speak to his experiences to explain his destructive actions on Earth.
It isn’t as if Thor didn’t know something had happened to Loki to send him so far off course. Case in point:
To touch on a similar story line in the Marvel Comic Universe, Captain America’s best friend Bucky was captured, tortured, and brainwashed. He became the Winter Soldier who murdered countless people, including Tony Stark’s parents. The course of the MCU films show that Bucky given the time to physically and mentally recover, to find peace, and regain respect among the heroes.
In contrast, Loki was left to manage his trauma alone. Thor could have revisited that question when Loki was in Asgard’s prison. He didn’t. Instead, he barely spoke to him. So, I believe, Loki doubled down on his anger as a means of self-preservation.
During the events of Ragnarok Loki had the opportunity to be the hero he once was. He started to feel safe again; confident in who he is now after all the pain. He had seen respect on his brother’s face again. Loki stood at Thor’s side once again. Until an all too familiar ship cast them into shadow.
Thanos had found him. Just has The Other had threatened he would. Only when Loki saw Thor, his King. . . suffering at Thanos’ hands was he finally free of his own terror.
I am convinced that this was the moment when Loki realized he had one thing he feared so much more than Thanos. He feared this more than all the tortures the Mad Titan could ever subject him to. Above all the pain in the universe. . . Loki feared losing Thor. And in that realization came bravery.
Loki had run and hid from death and Thanos for years. He wasn’t running anymore. He commanded Thanos to stop hurting Thor; to spare his brother’s life. Then he took it further. Loki resigned himself to one last trick. An attempt to kill Thanos. By Loki’s expression just before he thrusted the blade toward the Mad Titan’s throat it was clear that he didn’t believe he would succeed. Yet he tried anyway. It’s what a hero would do. It’s what Thor would do.
Death isn’t so terrifying when you choose it in place of someone else. Loki didn’t choose to die. He chose for Thor to live.
Before his death, Loki made it clear he had found peace with himself and the full scope of his identity. “I, Loki, Prince of Asgard, Odinson. . . Rightful King of Jotunheim, God of Mischief. . .” Odinson. He made sure Thor registered that. In a way, I believe that was Loki’s way of saying goodbye to Thor before his end.
I guess what is the most heartbreaking in all of is that although Loki was utterly destroyed, he rebuilt himself from the inside out. He fought his way to redemption in the eyes of those he loved the most. And then he died. He died a heroes death.
Loki never had the time to see what life could have been like at Thor’s side; a Thor who had also come to accept himself. We, the audience, don’t get to see it either. That being said, we do get to see the fight of a man who refused to take a passive role in response to having been a victim. Loki did the work to fix his heart and mind. He took action to do what he could to course-correct the damage he had put in motion against his will. He took responsibility.
Loki had no help. Yet, he found himself again. He accepted himself. And if Loki can, so can you. So can I. We can rework the wreckage we may feel our life is and remake it to our own will. Don’t stop. Don’t let the damage be the end. You still have a hero inside of you. What are the titles you are reclaiming for yourself?
I, Corissa, wordsmith and actress. . . rightful Queen of my own life, do hereby swear to do everything in my power to encourage you all to live, to dream, and to conquer all your fears.
Yes. I really am that much of a theatrical idealist. I refuse to be any other way.
Now, after making myself cry several times while writing this, I will be looking forward to the Disney+ Loki series where Tom Hiddleston will reprise his role as an alternate timeline Loki. A Loki from before all the healing and redemption. I’m eager to see if the series touches on any of what happened between Loki and Thanos/The Other. I can’t wait!
For now, you’ll have to excuse me while I go lament that I’m not in a position to audition for this series.