Fantastic Four and Grief

30 11 2012

The 2005 Fantastic Four movie is actually quite a decent film. Similar to Thor, it is much better if you view it as a character movie rather than an action movie – which often causes people to underrate its quality. Throughout the movie, the conflict between the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom largely took a back seat to the conflict between the Four themselves, and their adjustment to their new powers. The Four (plus Doom) all have different reactions to the changes in their lives, with each character representing one of the five stages of grief:

Denial – Johnny Storm

Jonny’s excited to have superpowers (possibly because his are the coolest), but while Reed and the others worry about possible detrimental side-effects, and the way becoming superheroes has affected their life, Johnny chooses to ignore such worries. The way in which he embraces his new abilities is irresponsible and lacks foresight. Yes, it’s great to see him trying to make the most of his abilities – but he doesn’t stop to consider the risks he’s taking by doing so. He doesn’t worry about the risk his powers could cause to others until Reed cautions him, and at neither does he worry about any danger he himself could be in as he tests the limits of his abilities. Ultimately, while he may  appear to be doing well, Johnny acts without regard for others or the future, and only reaches his full potential when he ceases to deny the situation and instead takes responsibility for himself and the team.

Anger – Victor von Doom

The repercussions of the accident results in Doom having to deal with more than just unwanted superpowers. He loses Susan to Reed, faces the loss of his company, and is beginning to turn into metal. On top of all that, he has a scar on his beautiful face and gets dropped from his talk show guest spot, which is just the worst thing ever. He takes these frustrations out on those around him, turning to murder and general villainy. Needless to say, this does not work out for him in the end.

Bargaining – Reed Richards

As a scientist and all-round super genius, Reed’s natural response to developing superpowers is to study it, and to “fix” it. He attempts to bargain with science itself, refusing to believe that his condition is permanent, however in doing so, he prevents both himself and the others from moving on with their lives. While it may seem that he is working to make things better for everyone, his tendency to think rather than act creates a tension that ultimately weakens the group.

Depression – Ben Grimm

When Ben is transformed into The Thing, he finds himself cut off from the world. In the weeks following the accident, we see Ben drinking, spending the day sleeping and finding simple tasks, such as eating, frustrating – all signs of depression. Certainly he has plenty of reason to withdraw from society – after all, he’s turned into a monster, his fiancée has  left him and his fingers are too big and clumsy to pick anything up properly – however it is not healthy for him to remain in such a state. His depressive state allows Doom to take advantage of him and weaken the Fantastic Four, and it is only when he realises that he can still make meaningful contributions as The Thing that he is able to use his powers to help his friends.

Acceptance – Susan Storm

Susan is the hardest character to place. Her characterisation is the weakest of the main characters, as her main role seems to be getting in between the men as they fight – either as a mutual love interest (Richards and Doom) or a mediator (Ben and Johnny). She does, however, seem to have the healthiest reaction to her new superpowers of the group, being willing to work for a cure without obsessing about it, having frustration without being consumed by it, and being willing to take advantage of her new abilities without denying the possible dangers. I could just be reading all of this into her character, however, since mostly all she does is moon over Reed.

By the end of the movie, the other three members of the Fantastic Four have joined Susan in accepting their changed status. This is in large part because the members of the team help each other to avoid taking their coping strategy to excess. Susan acts as a check on her brother’s rash behaviour; Johnny’s exuberance fights against Reed’s desire to “fix” the problem; Reed’s support and loyalty gives Ben hope during his depression; while Ben expressing his desire to be invisible is possibly what causes Susan to accept her abilities so quickly. 

The one who doesn’t manage to complete the process of grieving is Doom, who exists outside the group. He doesn’t have any loved ones to help support him, and by lashing out in anger, he pushes any possible help further away. While Reed, Ben and Johnny all risk hurting themselves or others due to their respective coping strategies, Doom is the only one who actually does kill. It’s at this point that you see that Doom’s anger ceases to be a valid coping strategy, and instead becomes a pathological issue. While he was never a particularly nice person to begin with, the main cause of his villainy was not his obvious jealousy of Reed, or his ego, but rather his inability to cope with loss in a healthy manner. 

What we can take away from this is a lesson on the importance of support networks during times of upheaval in our lives. With the help of friends, family and lovers, we find it much easier to make our way towards accepting changes in our lives. If, however, we lack these networks, or we push our friends away, then we will find it much harder to make peace with ourselves and may, in the process, hurt both ourselves and others. 

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