The philosophy of the Eternals (part one)

So, I watched the Eternals and am now literally obsessed with every character. I could go into detail about why you should see this movie and why you shouldn’t listen to the bad reviews, but your boi isn’t here to review films normally. As a Frenchie, I also had to take philosophy in high school for two years so the need was there as soon as I left the theater. The need to philosophize unnecessarily about a film. Apologies to every philosophy student in Durham because it’s been years since I’ve taken a class and I don’t have the attention span necessary to reread pages of dense theory for an article about Marvel superheroes. Consider this a love letter to philosophy, my mistress who I have been progressively ignoring completely despite her many calls.

Just to be clear, I’m assuming if you’ve read this you’ve seen the film so expect many spoilers. Just as a reminder for the frequently forgetful, the Eternals are a team of immortal superbeings with varying powers who were created to fight the Deviants. They serve a Celestial named Arishem. It’s revealed (again spoiler alert!) Arishem has been resetting the Eternals every time they leave a world and has also been using every world the Eternals save as a birthing place for new Celestials (destroying those worlds in the process).

The leader of the Eternals, Ajak, was always aware of this but began to doubt Arishem’s plan the longer she lived with humans. This in of itself is interesting for the philosophical point I’m about to make. That point is that every member of the Eternals represents a particular position on human nature or identity. Some of these positions are proven wrong in the film while others are left unchallenged. The way each of these positions are represented in the film helps exemplify the overall argument the film is attempting to make about humanity.

We start off with the obvious four: Ikarus, Ajak, Sersi, and Sprite. Ikarus represents the old Christian view of human nature: humans are fixed being and every human becomes who they were meant to be. This is supported by Ikarus’s view of humanity as destined to be the egg the Celestial hatches from. His powers and personality reflect this idea of a fixed destiny as well. Ikarus states that this is “all he’s ever known”, revealing his fear of change. His power set is perfectly copied from Superman (this is remarked on within the actual film), his powers are fixed to be Superman’s and nothing more.

Ajak and Sersi exist then as foils to Ikarus as they both embody change in different ways. Ajak represents the vision of human nature as one that isn’t fixed. This is represented through the tension between Ajak’s power and her function within the narrative. Her power is to restore, to heal, and yet she is the improbable one who fights back against a status quo she has accepted for so long. Despite having known about Arsihem’s plans for even longer than Ikarus, she shows that destiny isn’t fixed and even she can change her opinions after having lived for millions of years. This challenges the fixed destiny Ikarus represents and reveals that Ikarus has as much of a choice as any other Eternal.

Sersei goes even further than Ajak and represents the idea of humans as self-determining creatures who create meaning in their own lives. This is first and foremost supported by her power which is to convert matter, essentially imposing her views on reality. This can be compared to the optimistic nihilist view of humans as existing in a meaningless universe and yet creating meaning in their lives. Sersei’s fascination with everyday human life and her integration into human society is representative of her love for the way humans give meaning to life so easily. Her eventual triumph over Ikarus and her converting Sprite both literally and metaphorically to their side represents her vision of human nature triumphing over the visions of human nature these two represent.

Speaking of, Sprite is even more interesting in terms of what she represents. Her existence as a child frozen in time contrasts with the humans she lives with who are all able to age. This also becomes the experience that shapes how Sprite sees humanity as she envies their ability to change. Sprite therefore represents the belief that humans by nature are constantly evolving and changing. Her power is illusions, the superficial manifestation of change. Within the narrative, Sprite is also the character who changes the most literally as she is transformed from an Eternal into a human being.

Image: Mario Jr. Nicorelli on Flickr.

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