So, About Bucky Barnes Sleeping on the Floor in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Some spoilers for the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
In The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, we first meet Bucky Barnes in a flashback nightmare he’s having to his days as a brainwashed Hydra assassin. He awakens in a sweat from the violent scene, and that’s when we see that he’s sleeping on the floor of his near-bare apartment, the television on for some light and sound. His hall lights are also on.
This is a wrenching tableau and a vivid depiction of PTSD from someone who’s experienced non-stop combat for nearly a century. It’s also a direct callback to moments from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the movie in which Steve Rogers befriends Sam Wilson and learns that Bucky, his best friend from the 1940s, is alive but not so well.
The new Disney+ series introduces us to a Bucky who is haunted by his many involuntary years as The Winter Soldier and attempting to navigate what comes after. He’s driven to make amends, whether that means taking down corrupt people he assisted or trying to help those that he wronged. In conversation with his therapist—meeting with her is a condition of his pardon—we hear how Bucky is grappling with post-traumatic stress, how isolated his life in Brooklyn is at current.
Yet all of that quiet and ostensible freedom is equally new and unsettling to him, and he isn’t sure what to do with himself. He explains to his therapist, “I didn’t have a moment to deal with anything, you know? I had a little … calm in Wakanda. And other than that, I just went from one fight to another for 90 years.”
But why Bucky is on the floor of his apartment is probably best explained in a conversation between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson when they first meet and connect over serving in the military in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Sam says it must be hard for Steve to be back home “after the whole defrosting thing” and Steve admits that it takes some getting used to.
Then Sam says, as Steve turns to leave, “It’s your bed, right?”
“What’s that?” Steve asks, surprised.
“Your bed, it’s too soft,” says Sam. “When I was over there I’d sleep on the ground and use rock for pillows like a caveman. Now I’m home lying in my bed and it’s like…”
“Lying on a marshmallow,” supplies Steve at once. “Feel like I’m gonna sink right to the floor.”
This conversation is a point of real connection and understanding for Sam and Steve, which will eventually lead to a deep and lasting friendship and partnership. And Bucky avoiding a mattress in order to sleep on the floor would seem to be a reference to this moment in Winter Soldier, as well as demonstrative of real experiences and circumstances that soldiers can face. He’s still wearing his WWII dog tags like a reminder of who he is, and they also serve as a reminder of how difficult war is to leave behind.
Many combat veterans have shared stories of difficulties sleeping after returning from tours, with sleeping on the floor a not uncommon report. The American Sleep Apnea Association has compiled some of the many reasons “why our veterans can’t rest,” while the U.S. Army has written about “sleep issues bedeviling soldiers’ health,” stating that “sleep problems are the absolute No. 1 military disorder when people come back from deployments.” Some soldiers have said that it can be difficult to sleep without some form of noise or white noise, as silence has the reverse effect of jarringly awakening them if an unexpected noise intrudes. This could also point to why the TV is on in Bucky’s living room.
There’s another potential callback to Captain America: The Winter Soldier in this scene that is more sentimental. Bucky appears to be using a cushion from his armchair as a pillow. In Winter Soldier, we see a flashback to Brooklyn when a younger Bucky has gone to comfort Steve after the death of his mother. Bucky doesn’t want Steve to be alone thereafter and tries to persuade Steve to come stay with him.
Bucky says, “We can put the couch cushions on the floor like when we were kids. It’ll be fun. All you gotta do is shine my shoes, maybe take out the trash. Come on.”
“Thank you, Buck, but I can get by on my own,” Steve replies.
“The thing is, you don’t have to,” Bucky tells Steve, and then says the words that will come to be of great importance at the movie’s climax: “I’m with you to the end of the line, pal.”
So, whether it’s a conscious choice to use the cushion or not, Bucky has warm childhood memories of his best friend and camping out on the floor. Maybe there’s a sort of safety in the act, and connectivity to Steve from a lifetime ago.
This scene only lasts for a few seconds, but it fast grounds us in the realities of Bucky Barnes’ current existence and prompts Captain America fans to remember discussions from movies past. It’s my hope that as the series progresses, Bucky will find ways to bond with and open up to Sam. Sam can empathize with Bucky’s state of mind, while at the same time he has a background in assisting soldiers with the readjustment to civilian life. When Sam and Steve meet, Sam is working at the VA and runs a support group where he counsels other veterans.
“Some stuff you leave there, other stuff you bring back. It’s our job to figure out how to carry it,” Sam tells the group in The Winter Soldier. Much of Bucky’s character arc no doubt centers around just this—figuring out how to carry what he brought back. And lucky for him, in Sam Wilson he’ll find a partner who can understand where he’s coming from, starting with that too-soft bed.
(image: Marvel Studios/Disney+)
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