Thor: Ragnarok is a Leftist Masterpiece
Taika Waititi Brings to Life The Core of Class Struggle, Revolution, and Anti-Imperialism
The movie industry today is the ghastly image of corporate capitalism. Giant, oligopolic super-corporations churn out emotionless, crowd-pleasing commodities, and increasingly monopolized movie theaters squeeze hundreds of people into dark, cramped rooms and gouge the prices for simple food and beverage. However, every once in awhile, there is someone with the vision to break through it all, and to spread a message that is truly by the people and for the people. That is what Taika Waititi has done with his leftist epic: Thor: Ragnarok.
On its surface, Thor: Ragnarok may seem to be just another cookie-cutter blockbuster, but a simple analysis shows it to be so much more. There are a few categories which can be explored, but the most obvious place to start is the plot.
The movie begins with the main character, Thor, learning that there is a threat against his homeland, Ragnarok. Initially, this is seen as a negative. Thor, who has not yet seen the evil behind his regime, temporarily negates this threat. From there, he returns to his home world, Asgard. Initially, Asgard is seen as a place in need of protection, based on a devotion to the homeland. However, as time goes on, it becomes clear that Asgard is simply the product of an imperialist nightmare. The gold of the palaces was stolen from the civilizations that Asgardians had trampled over, in a situation similar to imperial Europe throughout the colonial and industrial eras. One can not help but be reminded of the museums of Britain, filled with the relics of deadly conquests, dressed up to appear as though everything was provided willingly.
The death of Odin represents another theme in itself: the dangers of hereditary monarchy. When the moderate Odin dies, he is replaced by the imperialist Hera, his first-born daughter and the main villain of the movie. Even later it is shown that Odin, who was portrayed as a benevolent king, gained his power from the ruthless killing of other people, showing that no monarchical system, no matter how pure it seems, is free from sin.
Later on, Thor is left stranded on the planet of Sakarr, which serves as the image of a libertarian paradise. The oceans are filled with trash, and humans that can’t fight back are bought and sold as commodities. The people who were able to gain wealth the quickest (The Grandmaster) are able to rule over everyone else with an iron fist, entertaining them with trinkets and events while exploiting their labor.
This culminates in the gladiator matches in which prisoners, who have no human rights, are left to fight each other for the entertainment of the populus. Eventually, the prisoners organize and lead a revolution against the ruling class, allowing our heroes to escape.
Meanwhile, on Asgard, the imperialist Hela enlists the help of the scab Skurge to massacre the people in order for her to claim the throne which she sees as her birthright. To avoid this, Heimdall, in the image of the union organizer, gathers the people together to provide protection against this ruthless regime. He takes the power away from the imperialist Hela by stealing the sword that allows her to travel. This represents the ability of the union to steal the power of oppressive regimes.
When our main characters return to Asgard, they initially try to fight the imperialist Hela by her own rules, but realize that there is no way to overcome the power of an imperialist under the rules set in place by an imperialist system. Therefore, they realize that the only way to truly emerge victorious is to let Asgard fall, as foretold in the prophecy of Ragnarok. Ragnarok resembles the inevitable end to capitalism which is foretold by Marx in The Communist Manifesto. While it may not be pretty, it results in the defeat of a great evil.
In the end of the movie, the people are left adrift, but hopeful for a new future. The dream of a new, better society, founded on true ideals that benefit the people, still remains.
Like many protagonists, Thor represents the average viewer of this movie. He falls for the lie that imperialism and monarchy is for the greater good, and that is was mostly built with good intentions. He believes in the goodness of Asgard, the golden city. He believes in the goodness of Odin, his benevolent father. He believes that power must be wielded through weapons, such as his hammer, Mjolnir. However, as the movie goes on, he learns through his experience as an exploited worker on the planet of Sakarr. He realizes that his father gained his power through exploitation, and his kingdom was built on the backs of the oppressed. In the end, he destroys the kingdom of Asgard and leads the people to a new future.
As the main villain in this movie, Hela represents the greedy, imperialist society that we live in today. Her only claim to power is that she was the daughter of a king. When she is given this power, she uses it to slaughter innocent civilizations, much as the European powers of old. While she was banished temporarily, she came back immediately once Odin died, as she drew her power from the imperialist state of Asgard. Only once Asgard was destroyed could she be fully defeated. This shows that the evils of imperialism and capitalism can not be defeated until the society that they draw their power from is destroyed. This fits perfectly into revolutionary Marxism.
Loki is truly the image of the reactionary. He comes from royalty, and only acts in ways that serve his self-interest. While it may seem at times that he supports the people of Asgard or Sakarr, he will sell them out at the drop of a hat if he feels it will benefit him. Eventually, the people learn to stop trusting him, and to instead use them for their own benefit. This is the only way in which a reactionary is useful in a true left-wing movement, which is recognized by the end of the movie.
The difference between the Hulk and Bruce Banner in this movie may seem like an odd one, but when viewed through the lense of leftist ideology, it makes perfect sense. When he isn’t Hulk, Bruce Banner is timid. He moves along only as told to by the people surrounding him. He is afraid of everything, which leads him to become relatively inconsequential in the story. This represents the working man when he stands alone. He is constantly open for exploitation, and has no agency of his own. When Banner becomes the Hulk, he transforms into the unionized worker. With the power of the union, a worker is able to proverbially “smash” the ruling class. However, unionization can only happen when the workers are sufficiently angry. Once they’re angry, they can do anything, becoming more powerful than anything else.
Valkyrie is another interesting character. When we first meet her, we see that she is serving the Grandmaster, the image of the capitalist system. However, once given her backstory, we see that she was previously exploited as a warrior of imperialism, just a pawn in a war between two powerful figures. Though she starts out as a negative figure, she joins the cause of liberating the Asgardians, and helps defeat the imperialist Hela. Her arc represents the transition from anarcho-capitalist to revolutionary Marxist.
As we mentioned earlier, Heimdall represents the union organizer in this movie, alternatively known as the leftist subversive. He uses his standing within the community to organize the people against the imperialist Hela for their own protection. While he may be weak on his own, he does his best to make sure that the people are safe by making sure that everyone is organized. Then, when the main characters return, the people are already prepared to battle and later board the ship away from Asgard.
The Grandmaster, as the wealthiest and most powerful figure on Sakarr, he fits firmly within the mold of the bourgeoisie, the class that owns the productions of the citizens, and the workers. What makes his character unique, is that he fits both forms of the bourgeoisie that Marx described. He is a leader who demands that his people fight for his entertainment, a capitalist who gains his livelihood and funds through their worth, their worth being fought out within his arena. Additionally, he is a part of the functional bourgeoisie, though he has control of the people, he does show some deference for their desires, for example disapproving of the term slave, though a small step it is a step towards any form of respect for the work and wealth that his workers produce.
On the planet of Sakarr, the rock-being Korg (perhaps not coincidentally voiced by the director himself) represents the common worker. He tried to start a revolution in the past, but was unable to muster popular support, and was thrown in jail for his efforts. Since then, he served as a reliably friendly face for the newly imprisoned to rely on. When given the chance by his comrades, he leads another revolution which allows the main characters to escape. He is always selfless, and always stands by his brothers and sisters to bring justice to the world. Korg is the image of the ideal leftist.
The Notion of the Dual Revolution:
Taika Waititi shows through Thor: Ragnarok multiple ways in which a revolution of the poor and underserved can revolt and fight back against the imperialist and bourgeois forces that keep them in their position. On Sakarr, we see an uprising against the wealthy elite, who control and shackle the people, the citizens to provide solely for them, living on pittances in a dump. This system of an oppressive economy forces the workers to fight against one another for scraps that the wealthy leave for them. They fight amongst one another, fighting over supplies, scrap, food, and people: other citizens who become enslaved in the process to act as tools of entertainment for the wealthy.
That is where the first revolution comes from, through the freedom fighter Korg. The revolution immediately hits home at where the wealthy were the most congregated, the arena of the Grandmaster. Even though our main protagonists leave the scene, the revolution carries on until the Grandmaster, who is emblematic and symbolic of the wealth at its most, is face to face with the workers who carried the very men to his arena.
Immediately, we shift through to the oppressive regime of the imperialist Hela over Asgard, and the second revolution. This is revolution of liberation against an imperialist force, drunk on its own power and held by foreign agents. On Asgard, the citizens didn’t fight amongst one another, nor did they compete with each other. Instead, they fled as their rights faded away, guided by the light of the revolution, Heimdall. This is where the liberation of Asgard not only acts as a revolution, but as the hand of the people that destroys the imperialist forces that keep society and its workers down.
When our Protagonists arrive, they are alone and fighting a hard battle, split and divided, until the workers from Sakarr, lead by Korg and Loki arrive and show Hela and her forces just what the might of the people could do. Though the revolution is unable to actually save the land, it still defeats the imperial power by turning the powers against one another, through the empowerment of Surtur, the Imperial powers of Hela and Surtur meet their match and destroy one another. These two revolutions show two sides of the revolution. The first is an uprising against a libertarian society, where, under the guise of freedom, only the truly wealthy manage to take up power and keep others down, and where everything goes within the control of those who managed to take advantage of the city. The second is a revolution against an oppressive and truly authoritarian force, who wanted to use her her citizen base as a tool.
Imprisonment as Slavery:
One of the goals of leftists ideology is to expose the prison system as an extension of slavery under the guise of law and order. The thirteenth amendment, which abolishes slavery, still allows for citizens to work without pay if they are imprisoned. This has led to the creation of the prison-industrial complex and the criminalization of black culture, driven by capitalism’s need to exploit cheap labor to produce cheap commodities.
Thor: Ragnarok perfectly encapsulates this in the most blatant parody of capitalist society in the entire movie. On the planet of Sakarr, people are captured and imprisoned for the crime of simply existing. This is similar to the way that people in America can be arrested for simply having drugs on their person, or crossing the street in the wrong place. From there, these prisoners are thrown into a situation where they are forced to fight for their lives for the entertainment of the public. While seemingly hyperbolic, the conditions of many prisons match this life or death attitude that is reflected in the gladiator battles of Sakarr.
The subtlety of the entire affair is eliminated when the slave revolt commences. The Grandmaster’s head of security alerts him that the slaves have armed themselves and are revolting. He recoils, and says that he doesn’t like that s word. She rephrases, saying that the prisoners with jobs have armed themselves and are revolting. This satisfies him. In many ways, this mirrors our society, where we are fine with great injustices as long as they are sold to us in a way that feels justified.
After going through all the evidence, there is not a shadow of a doubt that Thor: Ragnarok is one of the most potent pieces of revolutionary Marxist cinema in recent memory. It blends the themes of leftist ideology flawlessly to create a spectacle that will be the first step in organizing the workers of America to rise against their imperialist leaders and bring about a society that will truly work for all of us.