On a whim I decided to re-watch this film the other day and as I was watching it, I had an idea about what Odin, Thor and Hela indirectly represent. Now this could be seen as me forcing a reading onto the film. But as the author is dead, I am going to try to present my case anyway.
In this short essay I shall be arguing that the history of Asgardian rulers is a metaphor for colonialism. Hear me out.
After Odin’s death and Hela’s return, we learn that long ago, before Thor, Odin with Hela, set out to rule over the nine realms. They plundered the lands, taking all its gold, subduing and uniting the people under their rule. However, overtime, Odin grew peaceful and wanted to stop while Hela wanted to continue. So be banished her into Helheim and began a new rule. In this age, Odin re-wrote the history of his past, describing himself as a peaceful savior who stopped evil from spreading across the realms. Then Thor came into the world and Odin demanded that he carry on his legacy. Thor was judged harshly whenever he did not live to Odin’s ideals but kept trying to rise to his standard.
Simply put, if we consider the original Odin, the one who plundered lands and stole their gold, as the equivalent of the Dutch (fitting considering the origins of the mythological equal) or even the British, then the rest falls into place. Here is this white male who in his youth set out to rule over the world. His strength was great and many realms fell under him. So far, that sounds a lot like colonialism.
Now we don’t know why exactly Odin changed his mind and stopped his expansion. Colonials didn’t change their mind so much as just hit the limit. After all, few places on earth can boast having remained independent of colonial rule.
After most of the colonies got their freedom, former colonial powers, recovering from the losses of the world war, opened up to treating their former colonies as equals. They needed the trade and this way they could remain at the center of power. Geo-politicians will forgive me my gross simplification. But what I am trying to get at is that colonials changed their tune. They went from powerful, ‘superior’, ‘destined’ rulers, to wise old men who could usher in an age of peace after years of conflict. This re-branding was substantiated by their stolen wealth and power. The colonies needed their former rulers to work with them to be relevant on the new world stage. WTO, and the IMF implemented many rules on many countries to this end. OK I am getting sidetracked. But basically, Odin and the colonials did a re-brand and though their past actions were not easily forgotten, the world’s reliance on their aid was key enough to make the former a secondary issue.
Meanwhile, there were those who refused to give up their old colonial ways. Apartheid South Africa comes to mind. Hela represents this old hunger for power, the greed that refused to adapt to the new world. She could not be allowed to show face and so the re-branded Odin banished her, just like the colonials boycotted and pressured others to give up their colonies.
Then came the age of Thor. The new colonial who did not know or care for his father’s previous crimes. Who only wished to live up to the re-branded image of a peace bringer. No matter that he brought peace by constantly raining down fire on those who would oppose his father’s rule. Our world sees parallels to this in the USA. They did not pose as superior to other countries like its former ruler, Britain, but rather presented the image of a righteous, powerful and ‘worthy’ force that kept villains at bay. Villains include north Vietnam, north Korea, and Afghanistan. Of course it was all justified because the alternative was letting the communists expand their rule (I wouldn’t have wanted Soviet Rule either but that doesn’t justify the Vietnam war or the arming of the Taliban in Afghanistan, does it?). Since then their list of enemies has only grown and it’s always been in the name of bringing them freedom.
OK so that’s the age of Thor. Are we still good? Then Odin dies and Hela returns. Hela hates Odin now because he banished her and pretended she didn’t exist. But she never left. And just like Odin who never warned Thor about her. The old colonials who believed in building a new peaceful age never taught their children their true history and about the ‘mistakes’ they’d made.
So like Thor a whole generation of people grew up thinking their parents, and by default them, had earned their power by right, not might. Sounds familiar right? Suddenly Thor’s shock at learning that his father has a dark past that has benefited him greatly, is very relatable.
OK so last stretch. What does Ragnarok then say about colonialism. If you agree with the parallels that I am drawing, Odin= Colonizer who ‘reformed’. Thor= New World Order born from the powers of the Colonizers, and Hela = Colonizer who refuses to reform, then the film has a very clear message but you don’t learn it till the end of “Avengers: Endgame”. Thor realizes that he is not right to rule and hands the throne over to a former subject, Valkyrie, understanding that her experience being a subject has better equipped her to build a better world than Thor who was raised on a pedestal and only knows the view from there. You get the idea.
Anyway, I don’t know if this is what Watiti intended but I thought it was a cool way to consider the saga of Asgardian rulers. Let me know your thoughts @lore_garden