We’ve seen Bruce Banner take one Hero’s Journey in Ang Lee’s Hulk – a movie we decided is not a superhero film after all, but, instead, a portrayal of how we can deal with and heal our past and/or inherited traumas.
Go take a look or listen to that episode if you haven’t already because today’s episode is all about the deeper and more complex Hero’s Journey of the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Bruce Banner in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk and 2012’s The Avengers.
Hello, Spiritual Seekers, and welcome to a brand new episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts. I, as always, am your host Mark and today we are continuing our character analysis of the MCU version of Bruce Banner – played first by the extremely talented Edward Norton and later by Mark Ruffalo.
You know,I have nothing against Mark Ruffalo, but I have to say that I’ve never quite understood the choice to cast him as Bruce Banner. He plays the part well enough, but I’m not convinced that he pulls off the super-cerebral nerd that Banner is supposed to be.
That’s an entirely inconsequential side-note to this episode though.
Before we begin, I do have one other side-note and this one is very important to remember: you are the Hero. All of this action and adventure is happening within you. You are Bruce Banner. You are Hulk. Try to envision yourself as the Hero as we examine these stories and this Journey.
In the last episode I made mention that Hulk ends with Bruce Banner hiding from the American military in the jungles of South America. The Incredible Hulk begins with Banner still in South America, so, in my mind, this is the same Bruce Banner whether Hulk is canon to the MCU or not.
Bruce has dealt with his past trauma and completed his first circuit of the Hero’s Journey. Living on the run is his new “Normal Existence”. This is how he lives now: always looking over his shoulder, afraid of being found out. Make a note of this. We’ll find out that this constant running away is Bruce’s “default” setting when things begin to get uncomfortable for him.
However, now is the time for Bruce Banner to become the true Hero. A new “Call to Adventure” beckons him onward and, of course, it’s the one thing that he is most afraid of: letting go and truly becoming The Incredible Hulk. Because he is terrified of losing control, Bruce constantly refuses to answer his “Call to Adventure” throughout this film.
That’s what The Incredible Hulk ultimately is: a film that exemplifies the “Refusal of the Call” step of the Hero’s Journey. Even though Bruce Banner becomes Hulk many times throughout the movie, each time he is reluctant to do so.
Banner’s personal goal throughout the film is to actually be completely rid of Hulk. He’s essentially trying to have Hulk “killed” by making it impossible for him to become Hulk ever again. You don’t get any closer to “Refusal of the Call” than that.
And one of the methods he uses to accomplish this is to suppress his “negative” emotions through breathing and meditation. This is interesting to ponder.
Breath control and meditation are often considered to be synonymous with spirituality. They are considered to be “good” and “positive” practices and, sure, they are, but we have to remember that breath control and meditation are merely tools. There is nothing inherently spiritual about them.
If breath control and mediation are used to suppress your emotions, I would consider that as improper use of the tools. I also consider emotions themselves to be tools. In my opinion, emotions are not positive or negative, they simply are.
What Bruce also doesn’t understand is that if he has to suppress his anger and fear and his so-called “negative” emotions, then he also has to suppress his passions. We get the rather awkward and humorous scene of Bruce and Betty becoming intimate and when Bruce becomes too excited he realizes that could be a pathway to transformation into Hulk as well.
Do you really want to live in a flat-lined state where you feel no intense emotional peaks and valleys? I don’t believe that’s a good way to experience our human existence at all.
So, what happens when you do try to live in that flat-lined emotional state? What happens when you constantly refuse your “Call to Adventure” time and time and time again? What happens when you keep running from your destiny? What happens when you try to kill your inner Hero rather than integrating it into your life?
You create an Abomination, that’s what happens.
All of those emotional extremes have to go somewhere, Dear Listeners, and when we suppress and suppress and suppress, ugly things get created within us. Ugly things that are spoiling for a fight and if we don’t fight back, those ugly things inside us will make us commit suicide or they will lash out at the rest of the world.
This is why we end up with incidents like Columbine and 9/11 and the Boston Marathon and Oklahoma City bombings. That unfocused anger and rage has to go somewhere and whether it’s turned inward or outward, it’s going to kill someone.
This is what Bruce Banner learns after Abomination is set loose. He needs to let go of his hope of ever having Hulk completely under control. He can do his best to focus Hulk on the task that needs to be done, but that’s as far as his control goes. He has to let go and allow Hulk to be.
So, before Bruce can even truly accept his Call to Adventure, he has to deal with the Abomination that he has created. In fact, Abomination could be considered both Supernatural Aid and Threshold Guardian as he guides Banner towards the Threshold and must be defeated before it can be crossed.
And that Crossing of the First Threshold doesn’t happen until the very end of The Incredible Hulk. Once again we see that Bruce has run and hid himself away in some remote location and here he is meditating once again. But this time he is not attempting to suppress Hulk. This time he is purposely calling Hulk to the surface.
This is actually a really good example of sitting and being with your emotions. It’s exactly what Banner needs to be doing, but as we discover in The Avengers, he didn’t necessarily stick with this practice.
And in one sense, this is okay. It’s pretty normal behaviour for us to get scared and go back to our comfortable habits. However, once we accept our Call to Adventure, it’s impossible to go back. We have to move forward. We have to take more steps and complete our Hero’s Journey.
Which MCU Bruce Banner does, but it takes him a long time to even begin to move forward. Because, you see, he pretty much becomes stuck in his Belly of the Whale step until the end of Thor: Ragnarok.
Well, I suppose it would be most accurate to say that Bruce gets stuck in a Belly of the Whale slash Road of Trials loop, but I don’t feel that the true Hero is born until he chooses to transform into Hulk in order to battle with Fenris.
Look at it this way with me. In 2012’s The Avengers, Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, is ordered by SHIELD to track down Bruce Banner in India and talk him into joining The Avengers Initiative. So, once again Bruce has reverted to old habits and run away to some remote location in order to avoid his problems.
Once Bruce agrees to join the Avengers, he is truly thrust into his Belly of the Whale stage of his Hero’s Journey and it is here that he meets Tony Stark – probably one of the best people he could meet at this point in his life.
Tony always wants to know what makes Bruce tick. He wants to know how he keeps Hulk in check. He doesn’t do this out of morbid curiosity either. Ultimately Tony is impressed that someone like Bruce has the capability of keeping a beast like Hulk at bay. Tony wonders if he would have the willpower to not be Hulk all the time.
It’s also interesting that Tony has more faith in Bruce Banner than Bruce has in Bruce Banner. Tony believes that Bruce can keep Hulk under control and he keeps believing that Bruce will show up when the chips are down and Hulk is truly needed.
It surprises everyone when Tony’s faith turns out to be well-placed and Bruce shows up in New York City to battle the Chitauri with the team. And it’s at this moment when we all find out Bruce’s secret of keeping Hulk suppressed:
“Dr. Banner, now might be a really good time for you to get angry.”
“That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.”
My friend, Jay, always talks about what a great moment this was in the theatre when The Avengers was first released and I can completely understand why. It is a well-delivered line, a secret revealed and an amazing, triumphant moment. Hulk, the Hero, is truly born at this moment.
But we should think about it deeply and consider how tragic it is as well. We have to think that at some point shortly after the end of The Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner has been waging an internal battle. Banner and Hulk have been fighting for supremacy and the only way Bruce feels that he can win this battle is to be angrier than Hulk is.
And while I had planned to make Hulk’s Hero’s Journey only 2 parts, I’m going to take a break here and move the rest of this episode into a part 3. I think these approximately-10-minute episodes are working well.
Thank you very much for listening and/or watching today. Please like, share, comment, criticize and subscribe at your leisure.
I have been your host, Mark and this has been the beginnings of a deep dive into the second of Bruce Banner’s and Hulk’s personal Hero’s Journeys.
While we take a break between this episode and the next, take some time to imagine what it would be like to be that always-angry Bruce Banner. Imagine being Hulk-level-rage-filled either at yourself or at the rest of the world. In my opinion, there are a lot of people in that very situation during this worldwide pandemic.
I’m guessing that this was even the mindset behind the mass killings in Nova Scotia, Canada on April 19, 2020. At the time of this recording the details haven’t been released, so I don’t know if I’m right, but that is my presumption. Nihilism and unfocused – or wrong-focused – anger creates that Abomination we discussed earlier in this episode.
This is why I’ve always veered Think Spiritual Podcasts away from discussing the endless problems in our world. I want to focus on solutions and, as far as I’m concerned, changing your Self first is still the best way to promote change in your world.
You do have all the weapons and knowledge you need within you. I will see you on the next episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts.