I was reading a review on Avengers: Age of Ultron the other day, a I ran across a comment from someone who was really angry about the film because of a statement one of the characters makes about not being able to have children.
It’s one of the many heart-tugging moments in the movie where Natasha Romanov (aka Black Widow) and Dr. Bruce Banner (aka The Hulk) are sharing a private moment to discuss the potential of being more than friends. Personally, at first, I wasn’t too thrilled with the concept of a romance between these two particular characters, but by the end of the movie, I was actually on board with it. In any case, good old Dr. Banner is being his usual self-deprecating self, talking about being a monster and that he could never provide a family for her. And Natasha counters, telling him that she can’t have children anyway, asking him if he thinks he’s the only monster on the team anymore.
From that conversation, several people (a surprising few actually) have decided that director Joss Whedon thinks barren women are monsters.
It’s an interesting conclusion to draw. I can’t say I went there, but then I’m a huge proponent of letting characters tell a story. I think Joss Whedon is pretty much the same way.
Movies in our world are usually regarded as vehicles for social commentary. Some movies have initiated lots of discussion about important issues in life and government and family, and that’s great. But other movies are really just there to entertain. To bring a taste of the fantastic into an otherwise bland and boring life of normalcy. For me, Avengers: Age of Ultron fits better in the latter category. It’s not a movie you go to watch so that you can be challenged about your views on the environment or on your political position. You go see it because–well–it’s the Avengers.
But couldn’t the director of a comic book movie sneak in a reference to a social issue? Well, sure, but I don’t think that’s the point here.
Joss Whedon, like many other storytellers, do characters very very well. They have the ability to create a character on the page or on the screen who just leaps to life, and you as the audience have no choice but to accept that character as real. And a lot of that happens because storytellers allow the characters themselves to tell the story instead of inserting their own opinions along the way in the narrative.
In the case of this scene that has caused so much distress, it’s not Joss Whedon speaking. It’s Natasha Romanov. Sure, Joss Whedon is the director and the writer, but it’s Natasha’s perspective. It’s Natasha who sees herself as a monster, and we already know our beloved Russian-spy-turned-SHIELD-Agent has some issues.
So can you really hold the writer responsible for what a character in his or her story believes?
Yeah, if you don’t write, that question sounds schizophrenic. But this is an issue I’ve run into on several occasions. I have a lot of characters running around in my head, and some of them just aren’t very nice. But if I’m going to write a story the way it needs to be written, I need to have bad guys. I need to let my bad guys do bad things, and everyone needs to experience the consequences.
But if a character does or says something that a reader disagrees with, should they be angry at me? Maybe I’m writing it, but the characters are the ones telling the story. Yes, I have to decide how much to share. How graphic do I get? How far do I go? It’s not an easy call.
Most people who know me read Nameless and react in shock. How could I write something so dark? How could I write something that talks about so many evil things? I must have lived that life in order to write about it. I must believe that all those horrible things are okay because I put them in my book.
No, that’s not the case. I don’t like any of those things. I don’t approve of any of those things. But those things happen, and I’m not doing anybody any favors by ignoring them. Maybe that’s where the social commentary comes in. Facing the everyday horrors that we all live with and not turning away from them.
The scene where Natasha Romanov admits to being barren didn’t upset me. It made me feel for her in a way I hadn’t before. This poor woman who has saved so many people sees herself as a monster because of something that was done to her against her will. It made me appreciate her and love her because I could see the flawed, broken person underneath the warrior’s armor.
The best stories let the characters do the talking. Some people will get that. Others will think you’ve got some kind of social agenda you’re pushing. But if you’re the author, it’s your job to tell the story truthfully, so you’re going to upset some people. And that’s okay. You learn a lot about yourself by seeing how you react when you’re confronted with people who are upset with you.