We are going to continue our Cinema and Psychoanalysis series with Part II of the Psychological Analysis of “Guardians of the Galaxy” guest post by my Bulgarian colleague and psychologist Mihail Mihaylov. The question of fatherhood and the role of fathers in the psychological development of children has been a topic of interest for psychoanalysis since its very inception. In this analysis of the “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol.2,” you will see how we can apply complicated psychoanalytic concepts of Freud and the French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan to issues of everyday life as depicted in films.
The Question of the Father
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes out in 2017, three years after Peter Quill and his friends have rescued us from the sick conspiracy of Ronan the Accuser. The sequel keeps the implicit promise from the first part and makes the question of the father its central topic. Its pompous introduction into the movie should be definitely mentioned. Peter’s mysterious “papa” makes his debut on the back of a giant egg riding in the open space. It’s not clear whether it was the World Egg of Orphic Cosmogony or some futuristic furniture, but still the chic hors d’oeuvre is richly decorated with the following minor storylines: the tree-like humanoid Groot is trying to grow up, thus illustrating the cycle of time; Racoon Rocket is trying to work through the lack of parental love in his early childhood; Yondu Udonta pays with his life to obtain recognition; Gamora and Nebula are trying to resolve their sibling rivalry; Drax the Destroyer is trying to convince an empathetic lady bird that it is very ugly while the lady bird is doing its best to please the team. While watching this lavishly garnished starter, we have no other choice but to pour a glass of dry white wine and think of the main dish and the desert.
As a matter of fact, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 presents an in-depth Freudian-Lacanian interpretation of the question of the father. The plot conveniently follows its development. Around the 20th minute of the movie, the question of the father is storming in under the mask of God, riding an egg. Around the 30th minute the topic will hide behind David Hasselhoff’s smile. In about an hour and a half, it will confront us with our past, and thirty minutes later it will vanish in the dying eyes of Yondu Udonta. The diverse representations of the question of the father show in how many different ways it is presented in our psychic world.
The first two manifestations of the father – God and the idealized hero – become evident in a couple of minutes: God Ego reveals himself as Peter Quill’s biological father. He rescues his son and his companions from the pathologically narcissistic Sovereign, who are preparing to send our guardians to hell. The kind-hearted Ego will invite his son to his planet a moment before relieving his physiological needs. If we fast-forward the movie and go to the planet in question, we shall suspect Ego in blood relation with Krang from the “Ninja Turtles”. This considerate God is hiding in the centre of his planet in the shape of a giant brain preoccupied with his idea fixe to control everything around (well, at the end of the day this doesn’t turn out to be very helpful).
Going back to the normal course of action, we will find out how Peter Quill introduces Gomora to the second incarnation of the image of the father – the idealized father. When he was a young boy, he imagined that his father was the star of the 80s and 90s David Hasselhoff. At the time, the actor had a part in the TV series “Knight Rider” and fought crime. Peter kept a photograph of David and claimed that David was his real father, who was absent due to work. Although the focus is put on the father figure, it must be pointed out that the dimensions of the divine and the idealized here refer to the parental figures in general. These two characteristics of the parental figures are described in detail in Freud’s Totem and Taboo (1913) and The Family Romances (1908) – all in five pages.
From the first work, we understand that at a certain point in childhood parents – and more precisely the father – are being seen as divine and represent a prototype of God: ‘… God is nothing more than an exalted father’, Freud claims in 1913 in Totem and Taboo while trying to explain how religion comes to life from the totem.This infantile idealisation is so strong that it will come back shortly before adolescence in the shape of fantasies when parents start losing their extraordinary glamour. By imagining the possibility of having better parents, the child is trying to restore the happy times when the father appeared to be the strongest of men and the mother – the kindest and the most beautiful of women. This is the most romantic of chapters in Freud’s Family Romances. The logic is as follows: due to its development, the child will discover that its parents are not the superheroes they have earlier thought. Shortly before adolescence finally dethrones them, the child will invent a fantasy, replacing them with more refined figures in order to restore the lost time of their grandeur.
Idealization and restoration fantasy are two key concepts here and the idea – be it conscious or not – about using David Hasselhoff as an imagined idealized parent who must save Peter from the lack of his real father, is both comic and genius. Idealization here is in the fact that Peter Quill did not choose an unskilled worker to represent his imagined father, but a superstar of the 1980s and 90s of the last century. The phantasy is secured not only by the fact that Peter Quill has dreamed, but also by the character itself of David Hasselhoff in the “Knight Rider”, who is described in the intro of each episode to be “a person who doesn’t exist”. Restoration is related to the imaginary filling of the absence of the real father, but it is also associated with one word which goes hand in hand with David Hasselhoff – saviour (“Baywatch” TV series). Comic and genius. Ten minutes imbued with Freudian interpretation which can be summarised in a single concept: the Lacanian Imaginary father. It’s a fiction which substitutes the person acting as the father in reality for an image, that we may like or dislike, we may want to be just like him or to be different.
An hour and a half after the beginning of the film, childhood is being replaced by adolescent disappointment and the deadly battle between generations. The reason for this has a rather Stalinist character. God Ego has overcome his weakness by killing the person who had caused it – Peter Quill’s mother. This is an incredible solution for an omnipotent God millions of years old. Unfortunately, we will not tackle this particularly interesting aspect of the movie. But let’s not distract from our subject!
Torn by bullets, the third manifestation of the father comes on stage: the mythical, the Real in Lacanian terms, predecessor of the primal Darwinian horde. This time he does not ride an egg or something but is flying over an especially designed myth – the myth of the patricide. In the above quoted work from 1913, Freud relies on the existing psychoanalytic concepts and the anthropological research in order to create a myth which is meant to explain the origin of religion (out of the totem) and society (out of the taboo). The myth is in the following: in ancient times, people lived in small hordes led by a brutal and jealous father who possessed all females and chased away the young sons. His arbitrary power was unlimited. At a certain point in time, his sons – torn by a mixture of feelings – hatred and fear on one hand and admiration and love toward the father on the other hand, stood up against him. Their hatred will push them towards murder. Their admiration and the desire to possess his strength will result in cannibalism and the love for him will be transformed into guilt and remorse. Led by the last two feelings, the sons banned murder (patricide). In order to guarantee that they will not become victims in the competition for women, they will also prohibit incest. So, according to Freud, religion and society were born out of the forbidden sins of King Oedipus.
It is this totem-like manifestation of the father killing his children, that Peter Quill and his brothers in arms will fight against. Finally, they manage to bomb the selfish God, following the Freudian myth. Yet, in the myth, the existence of the father does not end with his death. Quite the contrary: he comes back even stronger, as Freud says, in the form of the totem, and later – as God. Everything he had banned while alive is now respected as the Law. In fact, the dead father who has become the reason for the ban and “is to be killed”, as another psychoanalyst states, is known in the Lacanian perspective as the Symbolic father.
The Lacanian Symbolic father is much more active and has two main tasks: to legally recognize the child in order to allow the child to gain identity and to introduce the Oedipal bans and to limit the mother’s enjoyment (jouissance) related to the child. Yet, a lot from the above is missing in the film. In the film, the Symbolic father and his function are introduced by Yondu Udonta. In the first episode of the series, his relationship with Peter Quill resembles the relationship between the primal father of the horde and his sons. Yondu Udonta declares reward for the capture of his disciple, persecutes him with the intention to kill him and almost manages to do so. It is very hard to believe in some warm father feelings on his part. Peter Quill on the other hand, pays back: he openly confronts and betrays Yondu.
In the second part of the movie, the warm father feelings are no longer so bashful and become more evident. It turns out that all the time Yondu has watched Peter in order to protect him. Shortly before he dies and is reborn into the Symbolic father, interesting events in accordance with the above-mentioned myth follow:
- Pretty much in the Lacanian perspective, Yondu Udonta recognizes Peter Quill as his son with the words: “He might have been your father but he had never been your Daddy. (…) I am lucky that you are my boy”.
- As in the Freudian theory, Peter gets along with his guardian in the same fashion as the guilty sons from the myth do: they will seek reconciliation with their dead father through their totemic system.
- The Testament (Law) of the Symbolic father is represented by Cat Stevens’s song “Father and son”.
- The continuity of the Law across generations is introduced by the relationship between Peter and young Groot.
- Only after the establishment of the Symbolic father and his function that is meant to regulate sexuality, what has been unsaid between Peter and Gamora will wink at us in a new way.
This is how a Light- hearted Hollywood production actually manages to reveal the different dimensions through which the father exists in our psychic world: as a God, as a hero, as a monster and as the Law.
Author: Mihail Mihaylov
Translation from Bulgarian: Kalina Yordanova
Edited by Mihaela Bernard
Please, share your thoughts, comments or questions in the comment section below. I will forward your inquiries to the author so that he can respond himself.
About the author:
Mihail Mihaylov is a psychologist in Sofia, Bulgaria since 2007 and completed his degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology at Sofia University. His research interests lie in the field of psychoanalysis and between 2006 and 2012 he was a co-therapist in two groups for psychoanalytic psychodrama. During that time, he encountered the problems of adults, adolescents and children, deprived of parental care and served by the Centers for Social Support and the Local Centers for Psychological Support of Juvenile Offenders. He also works with children and adolescents, raised in their biological families. He is currently working in private practice as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in Sofia, Bulgaria. You may find more information about him on his website: http://www.zapsihichnoto.com which means “for the psychic.com”