An end-of-the-world prophecy. Evil incarnate emerging as a person of demonic power. A large horned beast bent on destroying everyone. Tribulation and persecution against the king’s people. Hope that the hero will return to destroy the enemy and the supernatural army…even if it means casting them into a realm of fire.
This is the “story under the story” of Thor: Ragnarok. But it isn’t the only hidden narrative.
SPOILERS GALORE ahead, but you may want to read this anyway so you can use the movie as a conversation-starter in your ministry. Or so you can have better conversations with teenagers who will flock to see it. Or before you see it yourself.
Here’s what you need to know about Thor: Ragnarok.
Casual violence abounds.
It’s clearly a fictional movie that regularly pokes at itself. You’d never mistake what you’re watching as real, but violence and death are rampant. Between Rambo-esque machine guns that obliterate enemies in seconds to slow-motion impaling that resembles an intense Roman battle scene, it’s definitely not a Happy Meal movie for younger viewers. Practice discernment before inviting teenagers to see this.
- Talking point: When does movie violence cross a line for you? Why? Is Jesus for or against violence, and how do you back up your stance?
Three main characters all suffer from daddy issues.
Thor and Loki’s ongoing sibling tensions become blurred even further. An older sister named Hela emerges to conquer and claim Asgard. Driving each character is an issue in their relationship with Odin, their father. Thor is still humbled into heroism by the journey his father put him on in the first movie. Loki hungers to sit on the throne to fatten his ego, yet visibly comes alive in a moment of grace when Odin says, “I love you, sons.” Hela could easily kill everyone on Asgard yet longs to be recognized and remembered for once being Daddy’s favorite—even if she has to create an unnecessary “executioner” position so someone will visibly validate her authority.
- Talking point: What role does your relationship (or lack of relationship) with your dad play in how you live your life? How does it impact how you see God?
Church history is subtly put on trial.
Some people assume God is a war-hungry tyrant in the Old Testament but a peace-loving hippie in the New Testament. This movie unconsciously leads to that theme as Hela reveals a “mural under the mural” —a painting that hints that Odin was all about conquest in the past. In recent years, that history is being covered with something more benevolent. Our challenge is to remember that we have only Hela’s version of this; hers is a twisted understanding of the truth.
- Talking point: In the past, Odin has seemed to be a wise, good king. How might his version of events be different from Hela’s? How do you reconcile God as described in the Old Testament with Jesus as described in the New Testament?
The necessary is overshadowed by the unnecessary.
The film’s opening act immediately lets us know we’re in for a humorous ride, with witty dialogue and buffoonery. Unfortunately it’s at the expense of meaningful things. The death of a major character and the loss of an entire planet are granted just a few seconds of sadness before we’re onto the next action sequence or attempt at comedy. Curse words are randomly dropped in like a middle schooler attempting to sound mature. Then there’s an awkward sight gag involving a naked Hulk.
- Talking point: Do you have friends who never seem to be comfortable having a serious conversation? What’s behind that? In what ways do you feel pulled toward “unnecessary” things at the expense of “necessary” things?
There’s a real dignity to self-discovery.
Like the first Thor film, our protagonist is yet again stripped of his identity and hammer. What’s clearly different this time around is he has a clearer sense of who he is without it. The same is true when it’s understood that Asgard isn’t a place but a “people”—similar to how church isn’t a building but God’s family on earth. Other characters face similar tensions; for example, Hulk desires to be adored among people who love his rage, and Valkyrie tends to drown her hurts in drunkenness. Understanding who we are and what we were made to do—our core identity—is a part of Jesus’ mission in our life. It teaches us how to appropriately die to ourselves and serve others.
- Talking point: What’s one area where you’ve resisted God’s attempts to help you grow?
This is something of an Asgardian “end times” movie. Underneath all the loose improv is a true narrative about what happens in us as we consider what will happen to us. As director Taika Waititi describes it: “While Ragnarok traditionally means the end of everything, in the context of the film it means disassembling what’s already there, and rebuilding it… I love heroes that really go through ordeals and then come out the other end completely changed. That’s way more exciting and interesting. You can never go back from that.”
One final contrast.
Actor Tom Hiddleston (Loki) offers an additional contrast: “The goddess of death shows up, and the stakes are high for everybody, so Loki, perhaps more than ever, is challenged to define himself in the face of that threat. He and Thor are in such an extraordinary situation where everything is so unfamiliar that their familiarity, as family members, becomes important.”
Worth noting: At one point, when Thor looks at an image of himself that’s fallen to the ground, the painting looks a little like Jesus Christ.
What do you make of all of this, True Believer?