People tell me Thor’s storyline is about trauma but I don’t think that’s it at all. I think Hemsworth may answer what Thor’s theme is about best when talking about the ideology behind Centr in this Men’s Health interview:
“The whole thing was about not becoming stagnant. That’s when your emotional and physical problems occur, I think. I wanted to create some-thing that embodied the three main elements of healthy living—the movement, the nutrition, and the mindfulness—and present it in a way that’s entertaining, functional, and also accessible.”
Consider Thor’s storyline from this angle. Consider how he starts in the stagnant spot of “King of Asgard” and consider how he breaks out of that as “new member of the Guardians of the Galaxy” by the end. Consider how Rocket, when we first see Thor says that he’s failed and that’s why he’s upset. Consider Thor’s mother saying he can’t be who he is supposed to be, he should be who he is instead. (Then remember her telling him to eat a salad again because GOD I HATE THIS FUCKING MOVIE.)
Thor’s storyline is about failure and stagnation manifesting on the body and Thor’s fat suit exists to remind us of Chris Hemsworth’s body beneath it.
Let me explain the anatomy of a fat suit to you.
The fat suit operates in different ways on different bodies. On an already fat unknown extra, it exists to push the body further into the carnivalesque grotesquerie, a marginalization of the “superfat” over the fat, but one that many audience members may view without prior knowledge of the extra’s actual body size beneath the padding. On a known celebrity’s body, the fat suited body comes tethered to its thin counterpart in the “real” world. In an age of instant media, it is impossible for us to not know that Chris Hemsworth is not fat, not really. We know the “real” body is the thin one, and we hold that body in our mind, helpless to do anything but privilege it because we know the fat body we see is only temporary on screen. To paraphrase Thanos, the thin body is inevitable.
Before we go further in this conversation, a warning: I am assuming you already know that fat hate is bad in ways that don’t involve just the personal feelings of fat people. I am assuming you already know that there’s a wage gap and I am assuming you already know about the medical malpractice. I am assuming you already know many, many things right now. So when I talk to you about the systemic fat hate that fat suits reinforce, I am assuming you understand how that hate is systemic, how it works to oppress, marginalize, and even kill. I am assuming you have learned all of that already. I am assuming you know already what you would have learned in the beginner’s course.
There has been some argument as to the disruptive potential of fat suits in the past, the idea that they may denaturalize fatness the same way drag denaturalizes gender (K LeBesco, Situating fat suits: Blackface, drag, and the politics of performance, 2005, Women and Performance), but I disagree with this strongly. A material analysis of fat suits reveals plainly on their face that they do not benefit fat people as actors or as audience members. In those cases where a fat actor is made fatter by padding, those with similar bodies are denied place and agency on the stage, and made othered often by the narratives that employ these. In the cases of thin actors donning fat suits, as in the case with Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor, 1996), Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal, 2001), and, in this case, Chris Hemsworth in Endgame, a fat actor is denied a role while a fat narrative is embodied by a thin actor the audience simultaneously beholds as they view the fat suited body (KR Mendoza, Seeing Through the Layers: Fat suits and thin bodies in The Nutty Professor and Shallow Hal, The Fat Studies Reader, 2009, New York University Press, New York). In the context of ever-present news, Hemsworth’s fat-suited Thor is juxtaposed with the “hot promo photos” in the release of the Centr app. This creates a distance from the “real” for Thor’s fat body that allows the audience to both laugh at it even as they identify with it. Within Thor’s fat body, chiseled Chris Hemsworth awaits to emerge, just as many fat fans want to believe that within their own bodies rests the aspirational hyperreal beauty of a comic character just waiting to be unlocked and unleashed. Thor’s fat body is inextricably linked to his failure and stagnation within the narrative, but the promise of Hemsworth’s thin body waits, lurking within (and perhaps, it tells the viewer, in you too). This is not a story about trauma. This is a story about a guy in a rut with a gut. The hopeful ending is that Thor will return to his old body in GotG 3. Marvel movies do not function as discrete entities but as a franchise narrative and pretending that the lack of a weight loss montage in Endgame will mean anything going forward is, I hate to say it, laughable.
“The stakes were sort of as high as they could be but I think we found a great way to kind of have another version of- more growth (laughs) in the character,” said Chris Hemsworth punchably in an interview with The Cutaway. Then he goes on about how he thinks Thanos’s ecofascism is “a valid point”. Cool.
In a film focused on the transformation of the body, either from dead to alive or alive to dead, or short blonde hair to long red hair with blonde tips, or to a half Hulk and half Banner merged into one, fat Thor stands alone as condemnation, a parable of failure and stagnation readable on the body, to be laughed at, a pathologizing of fat as the consequence of ‘giving up’. Why anyone would want to defend this to me is beyond me.
The audience has extraordinary power to create meaning in a film and is often the arbiter of what a movie ‘says’ in the end. But the context of Hemsworth’s app and the apparent parallel development of it and the fat Thor storyline is troubling and throws into question for me any nobility read on the screen. The body on screen is a symbol for the audience to fill with meaning, but the intentionality of its placement shouldn’t be elided. The fat suit creates the sensation of a before and after image, and behind it waits Chris Hemsworth with the fantasy of that transformation acting as a brand foundation for his app.