Groot: The Ecocritical Superhero

 

GuardiansoftheGalaxyIn its sixth week at the box office, Guardians of the Galaxy retained its position atop the domestic box office, making it the first movie to accomplish that feat since Avatar (also starring Zoe Saldana).  While the film is entertaining for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its use of humour in concert with special effects and entertaining action sequences, the film offers something that has not been seen in the genre: an ecocritical superhero.  Ecocritical theory often examines the means through which the environment is exploited. Ecofeminism, though, has demonstrated that by examining the nature of humanity’s exploitation of nature, one can gain insight into societal ills endured by different categories of humans, or in the case of Guardians Of the Galaxy, ‘humanoids’.  It is the false barriers that that prevent people from recognizing that we are all interrelated to and interdependent on each other, and it is through the character Groot, a tree-like humanoid that is the very embodiment of nature, that the motley crew of characters realize that their fates are interlinked and join forces to overcome their mutual antagonist.  As opposed to a traditional ‘superhero’ film, where one all-powerful hero (Superman, BatmanSpider-man, Iron Man) saves the day, The Guardians Of the Galaxy frame that singular, omnipotent individual as the villain, not the hero, and it is unity prescribed by nature, not super powers, that brings victory at the end of the narrative.

 

 

grootThe film’s antagonist is a being named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), and he represents the ultimate conqueror/imperialist who obtains an ‘infinity stone’ that has the ability to destroy all the organic life on a single planet.  In his role as both conqueror/imperialist and threat to entire ecosystems, Ronan makes the link between colonial oppression and environmental exploitation explicit.  Just as he is a threat to individual life and freedom, so too is he a threat to entire ecosystems.  And as all effective imperialists do, Ronan manages to create divisions among those he seeks to conquer.  Gamora (Zoe Saldana) sees her family killed, as does Nebula (played by the radiant Karen Gillan).  The two women are ‘adopted’  by Thanos (Josh Brolin; whoever thought the older brother from The Goonies would grow up to be Thanos), who is in league with Ronan, and are then played off against each other. Ironically, though both women have a hatred for Thanos, the character Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) likewise had his family slaughter by the Ronan/Thanos duo of colonial evil, though when he aims to get revenge, he first tries to kill Gamora because he associates her with Thanos and Ronan.  The imperialist conquerors have managed to build their empire by giving degrees of privilege to the oppressed, which fosters animosity between marginalized people, and thereby distracts them from their common enemy.  Gamora, for instance, is seen as empowered by Drax, though both are under the tyrannical rule of Ronan and Thanos, and so a conflict arises between them when they should be uniting in a fight against Ronan.  These constructed division isolated each character, encouraging them to embrace individualism when success can only be achieved collectively.

 

Zoe Saldana, who stars as Gamora.

Zoe Saldana, who stars as Gamora.

Aside from fear mongering, imperialist and colonial systems place economic pressure on individuals, creating further barriers between people who actually share common interests.  In the case of Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt), he turns on his partner Yondo in order to increase profits.   The genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his partner Groot (Vin Diesel) seek out Quill because a bounty has been placed on his head.  Ultimately, though, the two anthropomorphic bounty hunters and Quill become allies once they recognize that they have common enemies: Ronan and the Nova Corp.  When Quill, Rocket and Groot, along with Gamora and Drax (the Guardians of the Galaxy) each look out for their own individual needs, they find themselves imprison, or bombarded by an assault from any number of people (the Nova Corp, Ronan, and Quill’s former partner Yondo).  When unified, the group manages to achieve their goals, demonstrating that the constructed walls that separate them into different categories act as a retarding weight to their own progress.

 

Karen Gillan, who stars as Nebula.

Karen Gillan, who stars as Nebula.

What does this have to do with the environment?  It is human constructs that have divided humanity and created a divide between humans and nature.  In our daily lives, this has allowed the colonization of people, as well as the colonization of the natural realm, which in some instances is mutually beneficial (such as is the case with farming), but in other cases creates brutal and inhuman conditions (such as we see with factory farming).  Ultimately, the colonization of nature poses a threat to not only human existence, but all life on earth.  This destruction of an entire planet is the end goal of Ronan, and he is nearly able to accomplish it as all of those he seeks to destroy are divided amongst each other.  It is only when unified that the targets of Ronan’s genocide can overcome him.  The Nova Corp and Yondo put aside their differences with Quill and the others, and all of them unite against Ronan.  This unity is not immersive though, and proves ineffective.  True unity is achieved only when Groot, the representative of the natural realm, physically links each of the Guardians of the Galaxy together.  As an interstellar battleship that Ronan brought to the Nova Corp’s home planet is about to crash and kill the Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot huddles around them all and allows his branches to grow into a protective dome around all the guardians.  The branches grow around each person and holds them tight within this makeshift cocoon.  They physically all become one being, but Groot’s life is sacrificed in the process, though the remaining guardians survive.

 

Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana

This unity is reinforced by Groot who famously has only been able to say three words the entire film: “I am Groot.”  In this moment, though, his vocabulary expands as he introduced a new word, changing his catchphrase: “We are Groot.”  This may come across as a line that borders on the kitsch, but it is a central ideology in ecocritical thinking that frames the ‘self’ as a false construct and the ‘community’ as the true identity.  Groot’s concept of unity if the very antithesis of Ronan’s individualism.  When Ronan emerges from the ship unharmed, Quill confronts him and takes hold of the infinity stone which nearly kills him, but just as he appears ready to succumb to the power of the infinity stone, the other guardians take hold of Quill and share the burden of the stone, making it possible for all of them to overcome the stone and in turn Ronan.  It is by adopting such selflessness, as Groot did, and by embracing the unity that he demonstrated that the guardians are able to overcome their antagonist.  The lesson on unity provided by nature as embodied by Groot, overcomes the traditional ‘superpower’ of the omniscient individual.

 

 

groot1Whilst Groot has a relatively small role in the film, it remains a critical one.  He exudes a number of key elements to ecocritical theory.  He is an anthropomorphic extension of nature that humanize the natural realm, making it more relatable, whilst his inability to speak is reflective of nature, which likewise cannot speak in the same manner that humans can.  To understand Groot, and by extension nature, one must observe the actions of Groot, and his actions reinforce the lesson that the fate of every living creature on the planet is interlinked.   The film’s narrative is propelled by the need to remediate those who have been divided by constructs.  In the prison, the guardians find safety in unity, as they do during the descent of Ronan’s battleship, and again when handling the infinity stone.  The Nova Corp and Yondo’s band of salvagers likewise find that in order to preserve themselves, they must work in unity with those they see as ‘other’.  It is Groot who exemplifies this concept of unity more than any other character, and by showing humanity that its link with nature is necessary to humanity’s survival, the humans (and humanoids) recognize that the constructed divisions that separate them are hindering their survival.  It is only by transcending imagined walls that survival can be secured.  Humanity can only succeed when it recognized and embraces that it is part of nature.  When each character identifies as ‘I’, they fail, but when they adopt Groot’s mentality of ‘we’, they are able to succeed.  It is the ecocritical super hero, then, that saves the day; unity over power.

 

If you enjoyed this review, be sure to get updates on my latest posts by following me on Twitter @JasonJohnHorn.

 

 

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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