The Hulk, Bette, and Forgiveness


Mister D: Horrible review of the movie (no I haven’t seen it and won’t) but the message of forgiveness that is talked about is right on…I know a few people who have just held on to their grudges and like this article points out…it is so unhealthy, and indeed, almost cowardly…a sad commentary on our times…and a bad movie from what I hear:-)

An unforgivable sight:
a psychobabbling Hulk drowning in a vat of cod science
The Times
July 16, 2003
holly finn

You know something is wrong when Betty looks lovingly at Bruce, a sweaty wreck who has just crawled home from hulking, and says softly: “The nanomeds are responding to your anger.” Bruce, struggling to understand, says: “How could they? We designed them to react to physical trauma.” Betty is very patient — she used to date Bruce — so stays calm as a nun and enunciates clearly: “Emotional damage can manifest physically. Physical wounds are finite, but with emotions, who’s to say that it won’t go on and on, start a chain reaction?” At this point, any thinking person starts to crave a Happy Meal.
The new Hulk movie, we are told, is where comic books are spliced with psychodrama, where Marvel meets Shakespeare — or Sophocles, depending on whom you listen to. “This is a story that’s Shakespearean,” said Ang Lee, its director. “It’s really a Greek tragedy,” said Jennifer Connelly, who plays Betty. Actually, it’s Hollywood’s latest and lumpiest excusenik movie.

In A Beautiful Mind, Connelly’s Alicia Nash tolerated everything about her brilliantly schizophrenic husband, John, and it made a messy kind of sense (he’s a genius, it’s a somewhat true story). But when the actress turns that same tolerantly tearful gaze on her 15ft-tall green monster former boyfriend, sense becomes nonsense. Alongside our heroine and hero, we are invited, in the spirit of ongoing psychotherapy, to understand and, most important, to excuse all the Hulk’s offensive gestures, even his hairdo. Psychobabble, of course, has always featured in film, recently in tricky scripts such as Fight Club a few years ago and Identity, out now, both of which use split personalities to prompt, and tacitly excuse, seriously antisocial impulses. But here, the excusenik flick has reached the blockbuster of lows.

Lee, who made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is a wise and wonderful director who has fallen into a vat of old pseudoscience. If only he’d paid a visit to the Freud Museum in North London — the nice brick house where Freud’s son Ernst designed the skylights dispels all notions of the psychiatrist as exotic and believable — this Hulk might not have been hijacked by so much metaphor. As it is, every piece of wood in the Dalí-like desertscape of Hulk is gnarled, like the subconscious. Dogs, when they appear, come in threes with ridiculously big teeth, like that mythical guardian of hell, Cerberus.

Background music is hauntingly beautiful, and hauntingly similar to the soundtracks of the mystic circus troupe Cirque du Soleil. Sentences such as “He’s his father’s son, every single molecule of him” and “I’m requesting a national security override: Angry Man is unsecure, Angry Man is unsecure”, only enhance the tragic obviousness. All this might be swallowable if, right now, audiences weren’t in such need of something new and subtle.

When world leaders find it easier to forgive debt than each other, you know the topic is, or should be, hot. Lee could have directed a movie about something really difficult. Instead of regular old rage and our excuses for it, forgiveness perhaps?

Last year, at the University of Wisconsin (UW), a doctoral candidate filed a dissertation called The Psychological and Physiological Effects of Forgiveness Education in Male Patients with Coronary Heart Disease. In it, she cited studies — there are dozens — suggesting that letting your anger out makes you sick, not the other way around (in 1997, Siegman and Snow found that experiencing anger-making events outwardly — shouting, smashing helicopters, etc — increases heightened cardiovascular reactivity levels, but experiencing them inwardly does not). The author’s own research at UW asked subjects to recall anger-making events before they were taught to forgive, and after. The results are mostly fuzzy, but one is notable: “Stress-induced myocardial perfusion defects during anger recall in the forgiveness condition decreased from pretest to post-test.” That is: forgiveness makes your heart stronger.

So why is it still considered such a hokey concept? Why, unlike the ancient Greeks, do we consider forgiving someone the last, weakest resort, rather than the first line of offence? When the Hulk fights his father at the end of the film, Dad, played by Nick Nolte (looking here exactly as he did in Down and Out in Beverly Hills which, sadly, makes you think not of the tragic father-son bond but of Bette Midler), says: “The more you fight, the more of you I take.”

Conversely, of course, letting go of rage and resentment, you free yourself. That’s standard forgiveness theory. Bruce doesn’t need to heed it, though. The film ends with him in the middle of a jungle, excused from accountability as no Shakespearean hero ever was, safe in the ultimate excusenik flick. If only it were over.

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