I’ve talked about a number of superheroes on Think Spiritual Podcasts. I’ve gravitated heavily towards Thor Odinson from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I’ve heavily criticized Batman at times – don’t worry, a positive commentary on the Dark Knight series is coming.
And before anyone yells at me about this video’s thumbnail, let me emphasize that I understand Ang Lee’s Hulk is not canon to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For the purposes of my talk today, however, 2003 Hulk and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk tie together very nicely. 2003 Hulk ends with Bruce Banner in South America. 2008 Hulk begins with Bruce Banner in South America. This is enough of a crossover to allow me to show you the complete cycle of Bruce Banner’s personal Hero’s Journey.
Hello Spiritual Seekers and welcome to yet another episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts. As always, I’m your host, Mark and today I want to take a different approach to my Deeper Meaning of Movies series and focus on a single character’s arc throughout multiple movies.
I’m hoping to take this approach with a few characters as I continue to produce these videos and podcasts. I’ll let you know right now that the MCU version of Tony Stark is my primary target, but today I really want to talk about Bruce Banner as he appears in Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, and in The Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.
And remember, Dear Listeners and Watchers, I can’t emphasize enough that you are the Hero. This is not only Bruce Banner’s story, it’s also your story.
First, let’s take a closer look at Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk movie. Honestly, I like this movie. I always have. It fits my penchant for liking movies that many others hate. I like the comic-book style editing and I like the methodical pace.
But I will admit that the movie is very strange and if you’re watching it for entertainment value, well, you may wish to look elsewhere.
This movie is slow, dark, somewhat depressing, and every single character is entirely emotionally flat.
And, yet, every time I watch it, something niggles in the back of my brain that this is an important movie. There is depth here. There is a specific reason for it being the way it is.
So, a few months ago I watched Hulk again and the answer finally hit me: Ang Lee’s Hulk is not a superhero movie. Bruce Banner never becomes a Hero to anyone else in this movie except for himself.
Ang Lee’s Hulk is all about dealing with buried trauma – or any trauma for that matter, but forgotten childhood trauma definitely and inherited trauma more specifically.
This is why Bruce’s father, David, is always obsessed with what he genetically passed onto his son after he used himself as a human experiment in his super soldier studies.
And all of this childhood and passed-down trauma is why everyone is so emotionally flat in the movie. All the characters are archetypes of Bruce Banner’s persona and Bruce has essentially cut himself off completely from his Eros, from his emotions, from his very joy of living.
This is why there is so much imagery of closed doors in Bruce’s nightmares and when one of those doors finally opens, look who’s standing behind it: Hulk.
Hulk was born in Bruce’s mind long before manifesting as the physical form of his anger.
But, you see, Hulk isn’t just Anger. He never has been only Anger. No, Hulk has always been a complex ball of every single human emotion, but Anger tends to be the most powerful and easiest to feel.
It’s easy to be angry. It feels really good to be angry and actually be able to unleash it from time to time.
But Anger is almost always a mask for other deeper and more complex emotions and it takes Bruce Banner a long time to figure this out. A long, long time.
And this isn’t unusual. When we have anger issues, it almost always takes us a long time to work them out as well. And all of that work starts by beginning to feel our emotions and dealing with our various traumas.
We do have to be careful though, because our traumas can become all-consuming if we constantly dwell on them and allow them to control our lives. This is what Bruce’s father, David, in Hulk represents and why Bruce must overcome him at the end of this movie.
Once we remember the trauma, once we acknowledge how angry it has made us, are we going to allow it to take us over completely, or are we going to work towards defeating it? We have to own and control that trauma, not allow it to own and control us.
So, okay, that’s a very compact and nut-shelled analysis of Hulk, but it wasn’t my purpose today to give you a highly detailed breakdown. No, I want to talk about the first of Bruce Banner’s personal Hero’s Journeys – and, yes, we are talking about Journeys, plural.
As I’ve been insisting for the last number of paragraphs, Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk film is all about dealing with past trauma. This is where we see Bruce Banner’s first Call to Adventure. The Call is to open the doors of his mind, remember his trauma, and begin to genuinely feel his emotions once again.
Which Bruce obviously does. He Refuses the Call by fighting down his memories and by shutting out his Feminine archetype – in the form of Jennifer Connely’s portrayal of Betty Ross.
However, Supernatural Aid shows up in two ways: first, Bruce’s father, David, seeks him out and second is the lab accident that causes Bruce’s genes to mutate.
The Crossing of the First Threshold moment is Bruce’s transformation into Hulk and rescuing Betty from the mutated dogs. He didn’t truly remember his very first transformation, so the second is what I consider as that Threshold moment.
The Belly of Whale is definitely down within the military bunker, but we also have to consider Bruce’s visits to his childhood home as significant Belly of the Whale moments. This is truly where he begins to recall specific traumatic childhood memories.
However, the military and authoritarian figures in this movie – and in almost every movie – represent the Ego, they represent the desire for extreme and rigid order and the incessant desire to simply obey the rules and have life all “make sense”.
Hulk is dangerous and chaotic and causes too many problems. The Ego wants to take him down. If only it understood that the Hero is indestructible!
So, Bruce has a long Road of Trials ahead of him to fight for his freedom and for his absolute right to feel his emotions.
Since the military can’t stop Hulk at all, they finally allow Betty to work her Feminine magic and Hulk Meets with the Goddess and allows his all-powerful Self to be subdued once again.
Which leads Bruce to Temptation. The Temptation of allowing his father, the embodiment of all his past trauma, to take his power and his life. Who’s going to be in charge? Bruce or the trauma? Will Hulk take the path of the Hero or the path of the Villain?
[insert new clip]
Sorry to interrupt the current flow, but while I was editing this episode I discovered that I needed to make some adjustments to my analysis and it was a single scene of less than 10 seconds in length and made me pause and think.
Also, I had originally forgotten to mention the Ultimate Boon stage of Bruce’s Hero’s Journey. Which, lucky for me, comes at the exact same moment as Atonement with the Father.
You see, after Bruce wins the battle with what is really a corrupted version of his father and the battle with his past trauma, he is left with one good memory of his father tucking him into bed when he was a child.
David Banner was a good man at one point, but his obsessions drove him mad. Bruce is making the choice here to let go of the pain of his traumatic childhood and to remember his father as that good man. That, my Dear Heroes, is a genuine Atonement With the Father moment and a desperately needed Ultimate Boon for our friend, Bruce.
Okay, and now back to the script. I got the rest of my analysis right.
[back to original take]
Oh, and just look what happens here. Bruce slash Hulk seemingly drowns. That, my Dear Listeners, is the most common symbol of Apotheosis that shows up in films. How many times have I talked about that very thing? The Old Bruce has died and a New Bruce will be reborn from the waters.
And now we come to the Return Stage of Bruce Banner’s first Hero’s Journey. Like many first turns of the Hero’s Journey wheel, it’s a truncated Return stage. For one, we don’t see it happen on screen and for two, Bruce hasn’t actually become the true Hero yet.
Obviously he has attained some form of Freedom to Live, but he definitely isn’t a Master of Two Worlds. No, as is required of all of us, there is still a lot of work and personal development to do.
Ang Lee’s Hulk ends with Bruce Banner having run to the jungles of South America in order to stay hidden from the military – or, as I called it, the Ego.
But he’s still out there and a new Call to Adventure is beckoning him onward.
Please join me next time on Think Spiritual Podcasts as we continue to explore Bruce Banner’s personal Hero’s Journeys that continues in the 2008 film, The Incredible Hulk.
Thank you so much for listening and/or watching today. Please like, share, comment, criticize and subscribe.
I have been your host, Mark, this has been a partial deep dive into the 2003 movie, Hulk and an overview of Bruce Banner’s first Hero’s Journey, and I know that if you choose to deal with your trauma and feel your emotions, that it will not only change you, it will absolutely transform you into the powerful Hulk that you are and your world will have to change along with you.
You have all the weapons and knowledge you need within you. I will see you on the next episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts.