A feint within a feint... That's how it feels when you try to understand Loki's intentions in Thor. But I think I'm beginning to understand. The more I re-read the script, the less he seems like a mischievous trickster and the more he seems like a clever, lonely child whose plan goes terribly awry. Here's my interpretation of what was going on.
"And here we remain as the beacon of hope. Shining out across the stars...
But the day will come when one of you will have to defend that peace."
When Odin tells his sons the history of their ancient wars, Loki's first question is whether their enemy still exists. His brother Thor doesn't wait for an answer; he says that he'll slay them all! One son is thoughtful, but fearful, while the other son is courageous, but lacks caution. Their father patiently teaches them that being a ruler isn't about initiating fights or being afraid. It's a matter of defending the people with courage in the face of struggle.
"You saw how he was today. Is that what Asgard needs from it's King?"
Years have passed and today is the day of Thor's coronation. His father is prepared to pass the kingship onto him due to his own old age and declining health. But brother Loki is nervous. He sees Thor as reckless and a threat to the peace that they were raised to uphold. Also, he's not-so-secretly jealous. He's always envied Thor and the favor that Odin has for his firstborn. Loki longs to be Thor's equal - mighty, respected, and honored. Thor, the fearless warrior, whose friends have loyally followed him through many dangers, and who is loved and adored by all of Asgard.
Loki's not the only one concerned about the day, though. Their father has his own doubts about whether Thor is ready to become the king of Asgard. In an early script, there's a scene showing Odin and his wife discussing whether they should hold the ceremony. In the end, they decide to do so in the hopes that Thor's bravery will be tempered by Loki's wisdom and that together the two sons will lead the people in peace.
But Loki decides to take matters into his own hands. "Hiding, as cowards always do", he attempts to manipulate events to ensure that the peace in Asgard will continue and that he will be regarded, too. He will trick his brother into doing something rash - something that will reveal that Thor is not yet ready to become king - and then he will come to his brother's rescue. He'll be the wise, brave hero who saves the day. But what would be something serious enough to convince their father that Thor is acting out of line? How about if Thor decided to march into the ancient enemy's territory and try to conquer it all by himself? Loki would then step in to prevent it and so save Thor and the kingdom from his impulsiveness.
That's what he decides to orchestrate. To do get things started, he leads some of their enemies into the citadel right in the middle of the coronation ceremony. Afterwards, he quietly speaks to his brother and convinces him that he needs to take action. And Thor falls for it.
"We should have never reached Jotunheim."
Unfortunately, things don't go according to plan. It seems that Loki expected to stay behind while Thor and his companions marched off toward battle. He probably intended to tell Odin himself after Thor started on his way. I'm guessing that based on this exchange in the extended scene:
Thor: "My friends, trust me now. We must do this. You're not going to let my brother and me take all the glory, are you?"
Thor: "You are coming with me, aren't you?"
Loki: He turns and looks up at his brother. "Yes, of course. I won't let my brother march into Jotunheim alone."
Except that Loki hadn't been planning on going with Thor. No one was actually supposed to reach Jotunheim. There's still time, though. Since Loki couldn't reach Odin, he stopped and delivered a message to one of the palace guards on the way out. (That's also included in the extended scene.) He expects the guard to notify Odin right away so he'll intervene before they actually go.
When they approach the observatory, Loki steps forward to talk with the Gatekeeper, probably in an effort to delay their departure. However, Heimdall cuts him short. He already knows where they're headed. And to their surprise, he is with them. He wants them to find out how three frost giants slipped into Asgard past him. Thus agreeing on their mission, the company hurries onward to the bifrost bridge. But Loki hesitates; and one of the warriors jabs fun at him for it. He must have been wondering...
Will he find out?
And where is that guard?
Where is our father?
Isn't someone going to stop us?
He looks nervous as they're waiting for the bridge to open. And the next thing you know, they've been transported to Jotunheim.
"You're unworthy of the loved ones you have betrayed."
Now, this is definitely wasn't part of the plan. This is serious. Here they are, a band of Asgardian warriors in enemy territory with no one to help. And if they do anything to threaten the security of their home, the gatekeeper will close the door for them to return to Asgard.
They wander for a while in the wastes of Jotunheim before they meet the frost giants. As Thor engages their king in an escalating argument, Loki tries desperately to mitigate the situation. He accepts an offer of peace from Laufey and tries to drag his brother away. But then Laufey mocks Thor and his brother can't resist. They all start fighting! Oh no...
Something else disturbing happens in the midst of the fighting. One of the warriors is injured by the frost giants, and his skin is gravely frozen-burned. Loki is fighting hand-to-hand, too, when his arm is suddenly grabbed by a frost giant. He watches in panic for it to freeze...but it doesn't. His skin turns a shade of blue, then gradually back to normal. And there is no sign of injury. How could that be? But there isn't time to figure it out. Their enemies were too many and coming too fast.
"Through your arrogance and stupidity, you have opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and desolation of war!"
After a vigorous battle, they begin to lose ground. Volstagg's arm has been frosted and Fandral has just been impaled through the chest with an ice spear. "We must go!" The Warriors Three, Lady Sif, and Loki all turn to run, but Thor is just getting started and remains behind to fight. "You cannot even protect your friends!" is what his father tells him later. His friends are nearly killed by a giant beast, until Thor arrives in time to slay it. But now... they're surrounded. They call out for help, but the gatekeeper is silent. Is that it? As the giants draw near, a bright light appears. It's Odin! He apologizes for his son's behavior and tries to restore peace with Laufey, but it's too late. The truce has been broken and the war rekindled. Odin accepts this and dashes his people away.
Back in Asgard, the battle-worn soldiers shuffle away. But Odin isn't done. He must hold his son accountable for his actions. He rebukes his dear son Thor and banishes him to earth. What he says to Thor could easily have been said to Loki, too. Thor was eager for battle, but it was his brother who spurred him on this disasterous mission.
It's only a moment and Thor is gone. Forever. Loki appears to believe that Thor has been permanently cast off with no hope of ever returning. What had he done? Loki had only wanted to delay his brother's coronation, not see him banished. He had just wanted to show that he, too, was valuable... to have a bit of fun... Now, as the only remaining son of Odin, Loki has the burden of upholding the kingdom together with his father. Where Thor failed, he would need to prevail and prove himself to be a worthy son.
"It all makes sense now. Why you favored Thor, all these years! Because no matter how much you claim to love me, you could never have a frost giant sitting on the throne of Asgard!"
Back in the palace, Loki, the Warriors Three, and Lady Sif are mending and talking. They can't believe that Thor was banished and are surprised to learn that Loki is the one who had warned the guard. They don't take the time to thank him for that, though. Their immediate response is to tell Loki that he should go talk to his father to bring Thor back. "And if I do, then what?" His friends had left before they heard the argument between Thor and Odin. How Thor had continued to defy his father to the point of refusing to heed his command and even calling him a fool. No, Thor had betrayed his father and them all. Loki can't stand it and leaves.
While the other warriors had been talking, Loki had his own concerns. About his hand. While the others have serious injuries, he still has no mark, no scar at all. It bothers him, but he doesn't mention it to them. He will figure it out himself. Loki goes down into the treasure chambers and approaches the Casket of Ancient Winters - the source of Johtunheim's power. And he takes hold of it and finds that he is not burned with frost. Not only that, but his skin takes on a blue hue and his eyes a red cast. He appears as a frost giant.
Just then, his father stops him and Loki begs to know what is going on.
Is he cursed?
Is he...a Jotun?
Was he not Odin's son?
As he learns the truth, he becomes even more jealous of his brother. No, Thor never was his brother. Thor was the son of Odin while Loki was just an abandoned, captured enemy. How could Odin ever truly love him as much as he loved his only true son? "I...I'm the monster that parents tell their children about at night?!" I think Loki sees that he will never be able to prove himself worthy, no matter how devoted or how careful or how hard he tries. As he's crying and shouting at his father, Odin falls into a sort of coma. Loki's expression suddenly changes and he quietly falls at his fathers side. Now, he's crying for help.
Meanwhile, on earth, Thor has finally found Mjölnir - his hammer, his precious weapon. But when he tries to take it up, he cannot. Banished, powerless, he's cast down and mournfully looks up at the raining skies. Have both sons been lost?
"Thor is banished. The line of succession falls to you. Until Odin awakens, Asgard is yours. Make your father proud, my king."
By their father's bedside, Loki speaks quietly with his mother. Why did his father not tell him about his adoption before? How long will he sleep? There are so many questions, so many things that are still unknown. The extended scenes continue the story, showing the palace guards arrive and present to Loki his father's staff, Gungnir. Loki stands speechless. His mother tells him that he must take the staff and rule while his father is ill and his brother is banished. Loki takes on a brave, determined expression as he slowly takes the staff and turns to his parents. "Asgard is yours. Make your father proud, my king," his mother tells him.
Whatever motive was originally at the heart of Loki's scheme is unclear. From what the Other tells him in The Avengers, his "ambition is little, born of childish need." But by Loki's jealousy, fear, and selfish ambition he has caused incredible harm to those he loves - to his brother Thor, now exiled, to his father, now unable to be woken, to his friends, who are still recovering from their injuries, and to the entire kingdom of Asgard, which is now at war with a formidable enemy. But for some reason he can't see the part that he has played in it. No, he blames Thor. It was his arrogance that started this war. It was his foolishness that got him banished. And it was his rage that overwhelmed their father and sent him into this Odin-sleep. As he goes forward, he tells the gatekeeper that he is working to repair the damage that Thor had done.
Now, during his exile, Thor is learning to accept responsibility for what he has done. He grows in humility and wisdom until he is finally restored. But Loki refuses to accept responsibility for his actions and falls into greater mental and emotional collapse. He casts the blame elsewhere and tries to figure out some way of restoring things on his own. In the process, though, he grows increasingly reckless and arrogant.
I think it's at this moment that there's a fundamental shift in Loki's character. You can see it as he takes up the staff. His desperate desire to step out of his father's and brother's shadows transitions into a cruel determination to do so. Jealousy toward his brother for making him feel so small, anger at his father for lying to him, the pressure of the throne - all of this pain and anger reaches an extreme which sends him spiraling out of control.
I think this is also the point where his motivations shift. He tells Thor later that he never wanted the throne. Never wanted it...until then, I think. I think that before, he saw it as an impossibility. All he could hope for was to be Thor's equal. But now, he was the one called upon to rightfully take the throne. The protection of Asgard was now his responsibility. Not only Asgard, but all of the 9 realms. Where he had been powerless, forgotten in the shadows, now he was the one given all the power. I think that sudden granting of power was too much for him bear. In The Avengers, he says that he's been burdened with a glorious purpose. I think that is how it felt - a glorious burden so great that it crushed him under its weight.
"I saved our lives. And Thor's..." "When [father] wakes, I will have saved his life. I will have destroyed that race of monsters. And I will be true heir to the throne!"
As Asgard's new ruler, Loki crafts a plan that will save everyone. He'll wipe out every last trace of their enemies the frost giants and at the same time awaken his father. He'll free the people from the fear of war, free his father from the clutches of death, and free himself from the terrible truth about his origins. As for Thor... well, "What hope is there for Thor?"
Their mother said that Odin can see and hear what's going on around him even while he's in this coma. So Loki decides to do something in Odin's presence where he can hear it with his own ears. He'll do something heroic. Something so dramatic that it will jolt Odin from his sleep. He'll bring the enemy king right here, to this room, and then slay him in his father's presence. He'll even use his father's spear, Gungnir, the one that he used in the ancient wars when he first conquered Jotunheim. And so Odin will know that Laufey's death "came by the son of Odin." By renouncing this terrible birthright and bravely facing the enemy, there will be no doubt that Loki is indeed a worthy son.
Meanwhile, his friends come and ask again - bring Thor back. Is that all they can think about? Odin had already made his decision and Loki must uphold his father's last command. Why were his friends so loyal to Thor but so resistant to listen to Odin and to him?
"Father is dead."
There's a snag in the plan, though. Loki's mother tells him that there is indeed hope for Thor - perhaps he will return. Return? To Asgard? Would he ruin this plan, too? Would he come in that same arrogant attitude, that same reckless aggression - would he be even more angry after everything that has happened? Is he worried that Thor will find out that he was the one who started all of this? Or worried that he'll find out that he is really a Jotun and keep his vow and kill him? He was so enthralled in battle when he fought on Jotunheim...would he have the same zeal to strike down his brother Loki? Or is he just worried that Thor will prevent him from receiving his father's approval, which he has craved for so long?
Loki takes steps to ensure that Thor won't return. He travels to earth and lies to his brother to discourage him from ever returning. After this, he visits his real father. He lies to him, also, luring him to travel to Asgard where he can kill him. But that's not enough. Loki has plans to destroy all of the frost giants. He recalls what the gatekeeper had originally told him about the bifrost bridge and its destructive power if it were left open. He will attend to that next. In all of this, he will have protected Asgard from Thor's dangerous behavior and from the danger of the enemy, as well. But he doesn't consider the people who are being hurt in the process, the people who happen to get in the way of this crazed pain and anger that's lashing out. Not a few citizens of Midgard and Jotunheim get caught up in the midst of the drama. Did Loki consider that? When his mother rebukes him for it, he attempts to justify himself by pointing to his father and brother and all the fighting that they had done in their times. His mother, though isn't convinced, and tells him that a king must be willing to admit his faults, not excuse them.
Loki's lies now are worse than at the beginning. If only he had spoken up in the first place instead of secretly trying to manipulate matters. If only he had confessed what he had done and sought to redeem the situation before his father fell ill. (I wonder if that's what he was trying to do in the observatory when Odin silenced him?) If only Loki had believed the truth that his father and brother had loved him all along.
"I never wanted the throne! I only ever wanted to be your equal."
Shortly after Loki's travels to earth and Jotunheim, his friends and the gatekeeper decide to betray him. As he stands in the palace, he watches the bifrost open as it transports the Warriors Three and Lady Sif to earth. Loki had commanded that the bridge remain closed and that Thor not return from exile. He turns in a fury and hurries down to the treasure chamber to summon the Destroyer.
Thor loved to battle and loved a challenge, so how about a real challenge - a battle with the Destroyer of Asgard. I wonder if Loki felt that he had to match his brother's aggression with a form of his own?
Loki must have been surprised when his brother refused to fight and simply surrendered. What? Is this really the same Thor as before? Loki commands the Destroyer not to blast him, but to give him a hearty smack. Did he forget that mortal bodies can't handle quite that much impact? Thor nearly dies, but his father's words of promise come to life and Thor is revived, his power restored, and his hammer back in his hand.
"I could have done it! For you! For all of us!"
Loki succeeds in killing Laufey, but Odin still slept. And then his brother returned. This plan is going awry, just as the first one did! There's only one thing that Loki has left - to defeat the enemy. And he'll do it. All by himself, like his brother vowed to do. Loki will destroy Jotunheim and at least in that, he will have achieved something.
But Thor won't allow it. They fight on the rainbow bridge as Thor searches for some way to save Jotunheim. "Look at you? The mighty Thor! With all your strength! And what good does it do you now? Do you hear me, brother? There's nothing you can do!" There is one thing. Thor takes up his hammer and begins to destroy the bridge that they are standing on. That will end the destruction, but in the process it will take both of their lives. Loki feels betrayed - would his brother sacrifice both of their lives to save those cold, heartless enemies on the frosty banks of Jotunheim?
That's when Odin awakes! He rushes to the bridge and throws his staff as a lifeline to his sons, who take hold, dangling over the void. Loki implores his father to see all that he has done. Odin has seen; but his expression is sad. This isn't what he wanted of his son. In all of this, Thor is the one who has done what is right. The favor that Loki sought so desperately is lost. He lets go and falls away into the starry darkness. And even after all of the pain and chaos that Loki created, his brother Thor mourns bitterly for him.
What a sad ending :'( It's still not the end of the story, but it is the end of the movie Thor. As I'm writing about it, I'm struck by how much it reminds me of the parable of two sons in Luke 15:11-32. I wonder what I'll see the next time I read through that parable? For now, I'll leave the reflection here.
Here's the music that I've been listening to while working on this post: Best Melodic Dubstep Mix 2016