The difference between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is how they see problems, solve problems and what they do with it. Killian has a great idea in developing Extremis to aide those with severed limbs and regenerate damaged tissue; it's the way Killian intends to employ this knowledge for his own gain which presents the problem; like GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra (2009), Shane Black's Iron Man 3 examines the threat of one-world rule through monopoly on creating and fighting war and the ability of regeneration (GI Joe incorporates nanotech while Iron Man 3 uses viruses, which we will also be seeing in The Wolverine with Hugh Jackman). Tony Stark has grown, matured, suffered and won, and he accomplishes this primarily through game theory. As always, this post contains spoilers so, if you haven't seen it and you want to be surprised, please, stop reading now and come back when you are ready.
Game theory provides many philosophical outlets, however it's when it's set in the context of "play" that we can understand Iron Man 3. "Games" are characterized by a certain set of rules; in a game of basketball, for example, since the rules require a team to get the ball into the basket of the other team, players who are tall hold an advantage over players who are short, being that they are closer to the basket; a team with shorter players, in order to win, must figure out a way to make loopholes in the rules, or interpret their own advantages, in a way that they can maximize their potential to have a chance at winning (this is "play," or the absence of rules); causing the taller team to commit fouls to increase the free throw advantage is one strategy demonstrating "play" (play and re-inventing baseball is the foundation of the Brad Pitt film Moneyball). Tony Stark appears to be a genius with a fabulous garage for making things, but when all these things are taken away from him (as we saw in Iron Man when he was a hostage in the cave in Afghanistan) he relies on his wits to use what resources he has available to maximize his potential in the game his enemies create for him.
But it's not that easy,...
Macgyver-esque" solutions to battling the evil facing him and the world in Killian, and why is this important?
For at least two reasons.
|Let's take a moment for psychoanalysis. A perfect example of art making the intangible, tangible. We think Tony is in the suit when Pepper comes home because he's interacting with her, but it's not until Pepper goes down into Tony's garage that she (and we) realizes she has only been talking to him "remotely" (you can view a clip of the scene here); the suit being there symbolizes Tony's own facade indicating he's there, but not there, (what we will hear Trevor--Ben Kingsley--say of the Mandarin) in other words, we could say Tony is on auto-pilot when he talks to people (and, also remember, all this is being related to us by Tony as he relates it to Dr. Banner via the post-credits scene). We could say the same is true even in the post-credits scene because Tony has only been describing the events--not really how he felt or how events effected him, so even when Tony thinks he's emptying his soul to Banner, he's just giving the facade we are used to; Tony IS improving, don't get me wrong, but Tony on the couch talking to Banner is more like accomplishing the first step; next, Tony needs to learn to reflect on what an event has done to him, instead of just saying that he experienced the event, like what happened in New York. Just as we are "seeing Iron Man" the suit, we are not seeing the man who makes the suit, the same way in which we see the Mandarin but we don't see the real terrorist Killian. Such a dichotomy reveals deeper villainy within--even villainy we ourselves could be accused of (like when we only pretend to be listening to someone we really don't care to listen to; I am certainly guilty of this)--because Tony is not participating in the "act of love" of welcoming Pepper home, he's tinkering instead, and so, in Killian's words, Tony is becoming anonymous by having his suit there but he's not, the way Killian becomes anonymous by having the Mandarin make threats while he stays in the background; such a structuring in the relationship between hero and villain deepens our understanding of both, but also our very self: we might not go around killing people like Killian, but if we aren't "present" with others when we are supposed to be--like Tony not being present when Pepper got home (and we should consider the word play on "present" as in "being there" and the "present" as in the "gift of the rabbit that Tony made such a big deal about, but Pepper made a big deal about Tony not being "present" when she thought she was talking to him--then we, too, have committed this "crime" because our "presence" is the "present" to those who love us and need to know we love them [and this definitely came through in the father-son relationship in A Good Day To Die Hard]). What takes place in this scene pictured above is probably the reason why, when Pepper is hanging and about to fall to her death, Tony tells her, "You've got to let go. I'll catch you, I promise," but he can't reach her and she falls. Now, we have all seen, in other films, the impossible rescue of the hero pulling up the victim on a hanging cliff, or just in time before they are smashed, etc., etc., and there is a reason for this: it's not that superheroes are like video games in always getting extra lives, rather, it's that video games are apt reflections on the progress of the soul, and when the soul has survived temptations and battles, it becomes stronger and as it becomes stronger it can survive greater threats; as the soul becomes stronger, it is then capable of saving other souls, and this is the model upon which the vast majority of hero films are based. Tony can't reach Pepper because he didn't do the little things like wait to have dinner with her, be there to welcome her when she got home; he didn't perform the little "labors" of love that would have strengthened him so he could--emotionally and psychologically--have reached her when she needed him the most. Tony is right about protecting the one thing he can't live without, but his strategy, we could say, wasn't complete on how to accomplish that.|
|It's not just that they are looking different directions, but that their hearts are moving in different directions (that doesn't mean, however, that they are moving apart, but--as in all our relationships--they have to grow in different ways to grow closer together). This shot summarizes the differences between Pepper as wanting a "normal," middle-class life as she looks to the TV screen showing the missile approaching Stark's house (and experiencing the imminent danger in a "removed, sanitized way,") vs. Tony looking at the danger directly and realizing he is living the danger immediately and in real-time reality. This is how Pepper poses a threat to Tony, in keeping him from moving forward and into the danger which actually gives Tony life even as Pepper thinks it will kill him. We have seen this same principle at work in another Robert Downey Jr film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows and our infamous (or at least slightly infamous) "orange scarf discussion." In the film, for no apparent reason, Holmes wears an orange scarf around his shoulders as his team tracks down clues. I argue that orange is the color of life because it's the color of vibrancy, and the shoulders refer to the weight or burden (spiritual or psychological) that we are carrying, so, wearing an orange scarf on his shoulders relates to the viewer than in spite of the burden of having to find and stop Moriarty, Holmes is alive with the challenge he has been presented with (please remember in Sherlock Holmes of 2009, after the Blackwood case is solved, Holmes falls into depression and wants a challenge and the stimulation of a good case to solve; please see Blitzchess & Chaos: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows for more). It's not that we have to make the connection because RDJ was in both films, but because we are likely RDJ fans (the implied viewers), we have seen A Game Of Shadows and are familiar with the concept so it can easily be used again for Iron Man 3. Let's just consider: how super would Batman be if he never fought anyone, if there weren't villains to overcome? He wouldn't be super, he would be a couch potato, and the same with Tony Stark and Iron Man. Pepper only sees the danger posed to Tony, she doesn't see the life (the strengthened inner-life he will gain) to be won by Tony battling the Mandarin/Killian. Likewise, Tony doesn't see Pepper being resurrected when she falls 200 feet to her "death," nor does he see her gain new life when she defends him from Killian and protect herself from the heat signature of Extremis and the remote Iron Man suit attacking her; this time, however, instead of posing a threat to Tony as she did when he was having nightmares, Pepper is aiding Tony by "walking in his footsteps" (more on this below).|
Sand Creek Massacre when a US Calvary unit murdered women and children on a Indian reservation while the braves were away; what Iron Man 3 does, however, is take this terrible incident in our history and reminds us--and the world--what really happened; several investigations were conducted into what happened and Colonel Chivington's behavior as they record:
Sadly, in spite of all this, no charges or punishment of any kind were brought against any of the men participating in the massacre; Iron Man 3 knows this, because when Killian has the president, he reminds him of an oil spill where none of the executives responsible had charges brought against them. It doesn't matter, Killian explains to the president, the oil spill is just a good excuse for public execution. This is what Stark means by the phrase, "Creating our own demons," we have set ourselves up for others to mete out justice to us since we haven't done it ourselves.As to Colonel Chivington, your committee can hardly find fitting terms to describe his conduct. Wearing the uniform of the United States, which should be the emblem of justice and humanity; holding the important position of commander of a military district, and therefore having the honor of the government to that extent in his keeping, he deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the verist [sic] savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty. Having full knowledge of their friendly character, having himself been instrumental to some extent in placing them in their position of fancied security, he took advantage of their in-apprehension and defenceless [sic] condition to gratify the worst passions that ever cursed the heart of man. Whatever influence this may have had upon Colonel Chivington, the truth is that he surprised and murdered, in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand creek, who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities, and then returned to Denver and boasted of the brave deed he and the men under his command had performed.
In conclusion, your committee are of the opinion that for the purpose of vindicating the cause of justice and upholding the honor of the nation, prompt and energetic measures should be at once taken to remove from office those who have thus disgraced the government by whom they are employed, and to punish, as their crimes deserve, those who have been guilty of these brutal and cowardly acts. (Wikipedia, Sand Creek Massacre, Official Investigations)
|Please click on the image to expand for easier viewing. On the far left is Jackson Pollock's Alchemy from 1947, currently in the Guggenheim Museum, New York; to the right of that is a detail of Alchemy. Why are we discussing this? For two reasons. First, somewhere in Iron Man 3, Alchemy is in the background (I am not sure which part, I just saw it in the credits; I haven written to the Guggenheim Museum asking for their help but I don't expect an answer; if you know, I would greatly appreciate some help; I suspect it's in Pepper's office at work because she is a fan of Pollock, but I am probably wrong). In Iron Man, Tony and Pepper have a discussion about Tony purchasing Spring by Jackson Pollock; Tony tells her that--regardless of her thoughts about its value--to buy it, wrap it and store it. In Iron Man 2, Alberto Giacometti's L'Homme quiche marche 1 (pictured above with gray background, originally cast 1961) can be seen in Stark's home; Giacometti modeled his sculpture from Rodin's L'Homme quiche marche (far right) which shows a far more robust human anatomy and framework (just for comparison). Why are these important? First, in Iron Man, there is no single work by Pollock called Spring; there is a collection of paintings Pollock did he entitled the Spring Collection, but Tony and Pepper have a conversation about a fictitious work of art; why? First, few people in general admire Pollock's work, so on one level, it demonstrates Tony's lavish lifestyle to "blow" millions on a painting few people would like, then just stash it in storage (instead of displaying it). On a deeper level, it shows how the view/image we are developing of Tony Stark is just as fictitious as the make-believe work by Pollock (this can be re-enforced by the opening song of Iron Man 3, Blue about "a little guy who lives in a blue world, and all day and every night and everything he sees is just blue, like him, inside and out," because most people--myself included--don't consider the world of the Rich and Famous to be "blue," but we have another example of art being used to communicate Tony's vulnerabilities and emotional weakness rather than focusing on having the rock song "I am Iron Man," playing and celebrating his strength; on another level, however, it's easy to see the "messed-up" Tony Stark being drawn to a "messed-up" work of art like Pollack's drip paintings (Alchemy pictured above is a good example) because Tony is "messed-up" and it's not until he has to take a stand for something does he start getting "sorted out" (Tony wanting the painting Spring to be wrapped and stored away can be said of Tony's own emotions and feelings, he wants to store them away, too; for more on how to understand and interact with Jackson Pollock, please see That's Not Art! Craftsmanship & Quality In the Plastic Arts). We can see "Tony's progress" expressed in the art from a work like Pollock's in Iron Man, to the figure of a human in Iron Man 2, although not totally human and not completely convincing. After Iron Man, Tony finally emerges as a human, like a phoenix rising from the embers, in Iron Man 2 but the events of The Avengers plummeted Tony back into a mess again with the appearance of another Pollock (Alchemy) in Iron Man 3; but that's okay, because what does "alchemy" mean? It's the pursuit of turning an ordinary material into gold so, we can also see the ordinary Tony being turned into the gold of a super hero by the process of cleansing his heart of his conceit and selfishness and making it a "heart of gold" where he loves others more than himself (Pepper and Happy, Gary and Harley). Tony getting his real heart back at the end, his vulnerable, human heart, is like the alchemical process completed, although we all are always undergoing conversion and it's a never-ending process to fulfill our potential. This concept of conversion and alchemical gold isn't just with Tony Stark: we will also see this with Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) in Star Trek Into Darkness. As we have all ready discussed, of all the things they could have changed in Star Trek, why didn't they give Kirk a more flattering, appealing wardrobe update? Because that ugly mustard-yellowish brown symbolizes gold unrefined, Kirk is destined--like Tony and America itself--to become the "gold standard," but his trials and experiences have to teach him the most valuable lessons to purge away the bad and strengthen the good.|
But now, it's time to talk about Killian.
|Why does Killian breathe fire? It's a simple question, but if we go through the stages of exploratory logic, I think we will yield some rich results from the hidden nuggets of information placed throughout the film. In the scene above, Pepper has had an awkward, uneasy meeting with Killian about his AIM corporation and what he intends to do with it (Killian needs Tony because his Extremis is still unstable and self-destructs). As he parts, he gives Pepper a kiss on the cheek. Fast forward to Pepper arriving back at Tony's and thinking she's talking to Tony but she's only talking to the suit (possibly a reference to Zack Snyder's awful film Watchmen (2009) when Dr. Manhattan sends duplicates of himself to make love to his girlfriend Laurie Jupiter as he works on something else). Pepper wants Tony to take off the mask and give her a kiss but he tells her the mask is stuck so she tells him she is going to go get a crowbar to pry open the mask and that's when she discovers she has only been intercoursing with the suit, not Tony. That is unnatural. We can say, knowing what disdain Pepper expressed to Happy before meeting with Killian, and her expression afterwards, that Killian is an "unnatural" acquaintance because Pepper owes him a favor but what he requests of her is also unnatural (weaponizing the Extremis virus). Killian gives Pepper a kiss (on the cheek) that she doesn't want, but Tony (as the suit) can't give her the kiss she does want.|
|In this scene above, Brandt, one of Killian's Extremis experiments, has come looking for Tony in Rose Hill, TN because he's on the trail and is about to figure out what is going on; in the bar where Tony sets up a meeting with the mother of a veteran who supposedly killed himself and several others, Brandt comes in arresting him using the identity that she is Homeland Security; fortunately, the sheriff who just happens to be there, doesn't buy it and that aides Tony in avoiding capture. Brandt--being a murderer but claiming to be from Homeland Security--is one part of what makes this an important character; another aspect is her name: Brandt. Where have we seen that name recently? Mission Impossible 5: Ghost Protocol played by Jeremy Renner. This is a legitimate connection because in MI5, Brandt was the exact opposite of Iron Man 3's Brandt, there to actually protect Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) instead of killing him as was feared; with IM3's Brandt, she pretends to be there to protect but she intends on killing Tony Stark. Another aspect to this comes at the very end of the film, with the post-credit scene (of which I discuss further below): Tony talks about how, in 1983, he was 14 and still had a nanny; that means Tony Stark was born in 1969, the same year (among other things) that Willy Brandt won the West German election to become Chancellor and implement his radical and controversial politics of reconciliation with East Germany; at this time, the West (the Allied Powers who had won World War II) were block aiding and isolating the communist Soviet Bloc, including East Germany, in an attempt to isolate and contain communism by rendering it unsuccessful. Willy Brandt, however, bucked that in supporting policies that sought to integrate communism ideologically and commercially (he ended up resigning from office when it was discovered one of his closest aides was actually an East German spy). Why--if at all--would Iron Man 3 take time to invoke a Cold War political figure? Willy Brandt symbolizes a high-profile figure who, counting himself smarter than his contemporaries, sought to appease communists and it ended up costing him dearly for it, not to mention damages done to West Germany as a whole and the West by watering-down the united front against communism.|
So, what about Harley?
|Maya is actually at the intersection of several important aspects of the film. For example, when Killian threatens Tony, Maya threatens killing herself by stabbing herself in the throat. What does the throat symbolize? What we are lead by, what "yoke" we wear, what leash holds onto us. Killian has Maya's leash, in other words, and she's threatening to cut that leash off if Tony is hurt; why? The film wants to illustrate for the audience how tyrants--in this case Killian--behave towards those who have been loyal to them: they, like Killian, kill them, like Maya, when they have no need for them any longer, and we are supposed to juxtapose that image against the image of Tony and Happy for example, when Tony goes to the hospital and sits with Happy in his coma and makes sure his favorite TV show is on for when he wakes up. That is radically different from how Killian treats those who work for him. Maya is linked to Tony in another way in the film. How does Killian "imprison" Tony? The way Tony imprisoned himself: bed. If Tony hadn't been intent on sleeping with Maya at the New Year's Eve party, Tony wouldn't have gotten himself into this mess, because that was the night he created the demons (and when Maya shows up and Tony asks if there's a son of his in the car outside, there is not a "son," there is a demon, however, and it was spawned that night). Tony's sexual habits, like all bad habits, and we became familiar with Tony's promiscuity in Iron Man, has tied him to the bed the same way Killian has; the bed holding Tony is stripped, or "exposed," just as Tony is stripped of Iron Man (the suit) and Tony is exposed for his weakness; in fact, we can say that Killian can only tie Tony to the bed because Tony tied himself to it (by sleeping around so much) which may present the reason Tony "can't sleep" now because it's his penance for what he did earlier in life. But there's another dimension to this, one I particularly like. As Tony is tied to the bed, and he believes his Iron Man suit will remotely find him, and he threatens the guards watching over him, he calls one of the men with long hair, pulled back in a ponytail, "Ponytail Express," after the famous and daring early American mail delivery system, the Pony Express. The Pony Express was popular just before the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 and both these historical events have in common that they occurred during the Civil War, which maybe possibly could be a commentary on the state of America today, that we are, once again, in a Civil War (consider, for example, that Lincoln was about the Civil War). A different aspect of this "Ponytail Express" is the combining of the masculine and feminine: the Pony Express is the masculine symbol of the active principle of the economy, whereas "ponytail" is traditionally a female hairstyle--as we see Pepper wearing in images above when she is in her white dress suit--linking to the traditional symbol of the passive motherland; why is this important? Well, looking at the scene, it's Tony Stark who is passive, tied to the bed, and we know--because the camera shows us--that the Iron Man suit doesn't come to Tony because it's locked in Harley's garage so, we have to ask, what part of Tony is locked up that he can't summon (because the suit is like a psychoanalytic double for Tony, so what happens to the suit we can say also happens to Tony as he tries to separate himself from it throughout the film)? Tony's "active principle"--the Iron Man suit--is locked up because he is passively tied to the bed; it's not masculine to be addicted to sex, in other words. This is how Tony Stark has to fight the "boy with the dragon tattoos" in Killian, because sex is commonly linked with Original Sin as is the serpent, so Tony not only has to overcome Killian by force, by psychologically and spiritually, too.|
But will Pepper be spending the future with Tony?
|In starting the film in 1999, Iron Man 3 intentionally wanted us to remember what kind of person Tony Stark was like (remember in The Avengers when Captain America tells Tony, "Big man in a suit. Take that away and what are you?" Tony smugly replies, "Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist"). That's not the Tony Stark of today, and--at the end--when he tells Pepper, "I fix things, that's what I do," Tony has finally found, what North from Rise Of the Guardians would call, "his center," his purpose and reason. When Tony tells Banner at the end about the cocoon and getting sick inside, ALL these things we have discussed--including the image others have of Tony and the image Tony has of himself--is probably what he means. Pertaining to this particular image, we have seen this kind of "getting back to basics" before; you can probably think of better examples, but I am reminded of Rocky IV (the one when Apollo dies and Rocky has to fight the Russian): look at how basic and dirty that garage is in the image above; it looks like my dad's garage, except cleaner, and more organized. We can't underestimate the importance of Tony using the word "tinkering" when he tells Pepper he isn't sleeping at night because that is the name of the group of Oz citizens who help Oscar defeat the Wicked Witches in Oz the Great and Powerful. What Tony builds and works on in Harley's garage isn''t great, but it's exactly what is needed to get the job done. This self-identification as a mechanic (a blue-collar worker) invokes another film Iron Man 3 might be taking issue with: The Apparition, wherein, the claim is made that people like Thomas Edison have fooled America and we believe we need electricity when we really don't (please see Entities Of Power: The Apparition & Thomas Edison for more). If you think I am exaggerating the importance of this little word "tinkering" in the film, please check out Alec Foege's book, The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers and Inventors Who Make America Great (2013). The last point to be made on this issue, at least by me in this post, is that Tony is able to find himself and hunt down the Mandarin during this distressing time; he's suffering, but that's good. A case is being made in film and public discourse that "suffering is bad," and as we have stated many times, it's not that suffering is good or we should want people to suffer, but good can often come of suffering, strength and determination come of suffering and hardship, and that's exactly what Tony's doing in Iron Man 3: bringing good from his troubles.|
Finally, our last point,...
We don't know where we are, or how long we have been there, only that it appears Tony has been narrating all the story, and there are three points I would like to make about it. First, It's possible that Tony mis-remembers things (for example, in the film Wrath Of Khan, I mis-remembered the eels as being fat, white grub worms that ate the guys' brains) and, Tony, too, might be harsh or lenient on himself as he mis-remembers events or circumstances; we only have his side of the story. Secondly, Tony mentions not being able to sleep; Tony says that when he went under to receive the Extremis treatment for his heart, that it was the best sleep he had gotten, and it's possible that he hasn't come out of that sleep "yet" in the film, but all of this film is a dream (and supporting this is the heavy psychoanalysis of identity we have been able to do because dreams are usually involved with us trying to communicate to ourselves who we are or need to become). Thirdly, we have seen a situation like this of a main character telling a story about themselves in Young Adult when Mavis (Charlize Theron) tells the story of getting pregnant and miscarrying Buddy's baby. To throw in one more point, we can say that Banner represents us, the audience, and where Banner stopped listening and went to sleep is probably where we stopped listening, too (Tony getting in the elevator in Bern; the elevator was going up, i.e., a "higher plane of thought," but Banner didn't follow and the audience probably didn't either, sleeping through the deeper meaning of the film, but not you and I).
|Soldiers about to have Extremis administered to them for the regeneration of their limbs. If you will, please notice the lights; if you were going to put someone through Extremis, wouldn't you want better lights than what you see in the image above? HOWEVER, those are basically like the lamps Tony has in Harley's garage. In other words, Killian works on humans the way Tony works on the inanimate Iron Man. Why would Iron Man 3 show a villain who has turned American veteran military combatants against the civilians of this country? Because that's what Obama is doing, quite frankly. Obama has "crippled" the military through cutting benefits to their families and demoralizing them, providing troops with only two meals a day and making them pay for them, sending troops away from the US to non-active military zones and, if he gets his way on gun control, he might just send the troops out to enforce the dismantling of the 2nd Amendment. It's something to consider. Given that martial law was declared in Boston after the recent terrorist attack, and we have clearly seen the trailers for World War Z with a little girl asking, "Daddy, what's marital law?" it's possible marital law will be declared in the US; I am not saying Killian is an Obama figure (I think of him as the perfect example of the worst capitalist opposite Tony Stark) but that doesn't mean real events aren't inspiring the film (like the cross-over of historical events into the stories of Downton Abbey). But let's consider the missing limbs of the soldiers in another way for a moment (please, remember, this is the objective world of art, and I honor with all my being and the very deepest gratitude every single person in uniform for the continual sacrifice they and their loved ones make to protect this country and its people, as well as people all over the world!). Recently, we have seen a film where human limbs had to be cut-off in the Evil Dead because the demonic spirit had spread throughout a person and they had to cut the infected member off (please see Cutting Your Face With Glass: Evil Dead for more). This illustration exemplifies socialist thinking in not cutting off businesses that haven't been able to become self-sustaining (look at how the government treated the Auto Bail Out) so we could see Extremis as a socialist type program aimed at re-generating something that has failed; case in point, all the soldiers probably weren't told anything about their faces turning to lava, like Brandt, or self-detonating, and when a company hasn't managed to float on its own and weather economic storms, it self-detonates as well. Another example of this again comes from Oz the Great and Powerful when, in the opening sequence, a little crippled girl and her parents want Oscar to make her walk again (please see Oz the Great and Powerful for more); in Iron Man 3, at the home of the Vice President on Christmas morning, there is a similar little girl in a wheelchair with only part of her leg. Capitalists, like Oscar, know not everything can be done, like Tony Stark, and the little girl probably symbolizes the opposite of Harley: a future America crippled (it's possible that this same theme runs in Oblivion with the painting Christina's World being shown because Christina in the painting was unable to walk because of a polio attack).|
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