[Major Spoilers for Infinity War. You have been warned.]
Abusive parents, especially fathers, are super common in the MCU and have been discussed at length by both our very own Kaila Hale-Stern and video influencer Lindsey Ellis, in her review of Guardians Vol. 2, but Infinity War took it to a new level with its “exploration” of the Gamora/Thanos relationship.
Exploration is in quotes because, other than being told that Gamora was Thanos’ favorite, we really have only seen the father-daughter relationship as told to us by Gamora and Nebula.
When Gamora flashes back to her first meeting with Thanos, it established that he “saw something in her” and chose to save her both in making her his daughter, but also preventing her from seeing the full-on destruction of half her people—including, we can assume, her mother and children like her. This marks the beginning of Thanos grooming Gamora.
In Guardians Vol. 2, Gamora tells Nebula that she spent every day trying to survive, and it taught her to turn off her humanity in regards to the suffering of her sister. Under Thanos’ parenting, she became one of the deadliest women in the galaxy but also lost the ability to connect with other people. It was not until joining her new family that she was able to learn how to connect with people once more and even bond with Nebula.
Having watched G2 before watching Infinity War, it was very clear to me how rushed Gamora and Thanos’ relationship is in Infinity War. We have not spent enough time with these two characters to truly appreciate what their relationship is supposed to mean, because these two characters care about each other.
When Gamora thinks she has killed Thanos, she crumbles down to the ground into sobs as “Thanos” asks why in a soft voice. This moment of pure vulnerability between the two, while rushed in a lot of ways, shows that despite being abused by Thanos, Gamora does have some familial emotions towards him, which isn’t strange.
In All About Love, by bell hooks, she talks about how men and women who have been abused by their parents still have some love for them, because in their minds, there is still a desire to humanize that person. There’s love mixed up with that hatred and a remembering of the “good times,” as well as the bad.
We don’t see any “good” with Thanos and Gamora, but we do know she was favored. That status, while in itself a form gaslighting, also gave Gamora a sense of value. The fact that she is known as the daughter of Thanos implies something powerful about her, and like it or not, that has become a part of her identity. And there is an attachment to that.
In Gamora’s flashback, we also see the absence of an alternative father-figure—just a protective mother—so there’s also just the possibility that Thanos is the only father she has ever had. So, as much as she hates him, thinking she killed him with her own hands would be traumatic.
An article from The Globe and Mail talked about the scars that children of emotionally abusive parents bare and the struggles of trying to break away from them. One of the subjects talked about how he had to cut off his own father because of his lack of understanding about how his actions were damaging: “From my dad’s victim perspective, he did the best he could and he sacrificed a lot and he really doesn’t understand why we wouldn’t thank him for everything he did.”
Which is how Thanos acts when he decides to kill Gamora in order to obtain the Soul Stone. In Thanos’ narcissistic mind, this is love.
And that’s why it’s a shame that this storyline is so rushed.
We have spent whole movies dealing with the daddy issues between Tony and his father, Peter Quill and his father, Loki/Thor/Hella and dear old papa Odin, while Gamora and Thanos’ relationship dynamic is given to us purely in flashbacks, followed by Gamora’s unceremonious fridging for Thanos’ “anguish.”
Thankfully, Josh Brolin and Zoe Saldana are able to bring their own acting chops to these characters and sell the scenes, even if the result is an underwritten story that relies on killing a female character we’ve come to love in order to ad “humanity” to an abusive monster who pit his children against each other and basically has the same evil plan as Poison Ivy and Ra’s al Ghul, but without the cool outfits.
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