Artist: グアガミ Discovered By: ShuOuma

Avengers Endgame, Shawshank, and Facing the absurd

Even in the toughest and most hopeless situations, life is worth fighting; freedom is worth owning; passion is worth rendering.

Anmol Mohan
"The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart." - Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

There is a scene in the climax of Avengers Endgame where Thanos has resoundingly beaten the three leaders of the Avengers. His vast army has just reached the earth. There is no hint that the Avengers' time travel plan has brought back the ones who disappeared. Nothing was standing between Thanos and his goal of eliminating the universe.

Except that a half-dead Captain America with half a shield realizes. He laughs at the face of this Absurdity and stands up. He is all set to grind it till his last breath. He was not waiting for any help. He knew very well that this would be the end of him. Yet he limps towards Thanos like there is no other option. Some might call it suicide.

I always wondered why he would do that. I know it is fictional, and writers have no obligation to stick to the reality of our universe. But I don't think anyone will deny that it doesn't seem plausible. In fact, most of us relate to facing dire misery head-on. Because only when contrasted with those moments can we really appreciate togetherness, relief, and love.

In 1942, in the middle of World War II, the french philosopher Albert Camus wrote a book called 'The Myth of Sisyphus.' There he talked about how many people face the absurd and question whether life is worth living. In this article, I explore how Camus would explain Captain America's absurd act of facing Thanos' army alone.

Media Title Titian: Sisyphus

The Absurd

According to Camus, Absurd is a condition where an individual finds a large gap between their understanding of life and the response they receive from the world.

For example, a person might spend their whole life chasing after money and fame because they think it is essential to have a successful life. But after achieving everything, they might find themselves lonely, surrounded by people who are only interested in their wealth. That is an absurd condition since all the world's riches cannot fill the hole of their emotional state.

Absurdity may even arise due to external factors outside the control of an individual. For example, despite living a strictly moral life, someone can be diagnosed with a terminal disease, leaving them questioning all the morality in this world. Other examples of the Absurd, like the untimely death of a loved one, are pretty common in our lives. Camus also wrote this in the middle of WW2, when millions lost their loved ones in a war forced on them through external factors. Probably, it was the Absurdity of the situation that inspired the book.

Captain America was facing an absurd situation. He lived his whole life believing a code that all lives are sacred. But now, a tyrant, who believes that killing is justified for the greater good, is about to win the ideological and actual battle.

Logical Suicide

According to Camus, when people do not get a response from the universe in the face of Absurdity, they question whether life is worth living. A lot of people conclude that it is not. And that is logical suicide.

It is a condition where people have mentally given up on life. They do not have any ambition to achieve something or make sense of life's mechanisms. Their despair mostly blows them, and in some cases are contemplating actual suicide.

Logical suicide may not result in actual suicide. Some people will continue to live their lives despite giving up on them. But the issue that the book wants to address is logical suicide and not actual suicide.

Captain America would be facing the same choice in his situation. He can choose a logical suicide in his condition by giving up on the inevitable. But, instead, he rebels against it. That's the position that Camus recommends in his book as well.

Image: IMDB

The Shawshank Redemption

Another absurd hero was Andy Dufresne from the movie The Shawshank Redemption. He was sentenced to 40 years for murders he did not commit. That is on top of his revelation about his wife's affair. Everything he built in his life came crumbling down in an instant. He is visibly confused at the situation's Absurdity and the lack of response from the universe.

But his response was rebellious, creative, and passionate, much like what Camus suggests about Absurd freedom in his book. He did not spend much time pitying himself. As if he was saying that if this is what life throws at him, so be it. In his mind, he was much stronger than his hardships at the prison. He was happy, like the Sisyphus of Camus.

It was not like he had a plan all along. He could not have predicted that he would be hired as the secret accountant of the warden. He wouldn't have anticipated if the warden had let him hang his posters. He had nothing to lose, so he kept pushing his luck. Eventually, his endeavors would inspire him to execute his final plan. But it would not be before going through the hardships, taking chances, building relationships, and just keeping himself away from a logical suicide that other inmates committed a long time ago.

According to Camus, my revolt, freedom, and passion are left even if you lose everything:

  1. Andy shows his rebellion against the prison gang, the sisters. It highlights his unwillingness to give in to the ways of the prison.
  2. Andy delivers his freedom when he strikes a deal with the captain to get beers for his friends. His happiness at that instant was just a realization of his achievement.
  3. Andy shows his passion by digging a hole in the wall with just a rock hammer.

Like Camus suggested about the artists, Andy's art is not just the chess pieces but chiseling his fate.

Image: IMDB

The Shawshank Library

One example I would highlight from the Shawshank Redemption is the library revamp by Andy. I am choosing this example because this is particularly relatable. Most of us do not live in prison, and most of us are not facing life-threatening situations like Andy's daily. So I wanted to pick something that can be used as a template to bring this philosophy into our lives. And I believe this is it.

Shawshank Library was a mess, as expected in prison. However, Andy took a keen interest in improving the condition. Indeed, he was proud of his critical thinking abilities and valued books greatly, possibly attributing his achievements to his reading habits. Not only that, he showed incredible leadership because he knew that improving reading conditions would help inmates use their energy in a productive hobby and reduce other adverse incidents.

However, the point here is that Andy would have started with no hope. Getting new books for the prison was an arduous task. There would be no precedence for it. And it is different from Andy was an expert in prison operations. He would have started from the point of no knowledge, optimism, or support. But as usual, he had a rebel inside him that set the target to enforce his freedom for his passion for compiling his fate.

Just as Camus paraphrases Dostoyevsky in his book - "If there is no God, then I am God."

Image: IMDB


So why did Captain America stand alone facing Thanos's army?

  • Because he rebelled against the situation's Absurdity, he decided not to commit a logical suicide. Instead, he demanded his freedom for his passion - his values.

What made him do that?

  • The realization is that no matter how ridiculous his situation is, he is still the master of his fate. "Thanos might be very close to becoming master of the universe, but he will never be the master of me."

What is the point when you cannot win?

  • The point is not winning or the universe's other gains, including the continuation of his life. His strength lies in the fact that there is nothing to lose. There is no hope, and that gives him a perfect canvas to display his art one last time.

Why does this matter to us?

Tragedy has a very subjective definition. We do not live in an era of World War. But that does not stop us from feeling despair about trivial inconveniences.

We may find ourselves in hopeless situations once in a while. We can absorb them and come out stronger. But such feelings are common in our modern world.

Camus tells us that even without hope, life is worth living. He advises that we can rebel against the Absurdity of whatever situation we face. Assert our freedom but focus on our passions and ultimately carve our fate.

That's our way out. Arguably an eloquent, glorious, and pacific way.

Movie Analysis

Anmol Mohan

I am just trying to make sense of this world. I am interested in the hardest puzzles like Consciousness, Humanity and Multiverse. Sharing my honest learning during this journey.