Guardians of the Galaxy part 1

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For a big-budget, gee-whiz, goofy-space-opera summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy begins surprisingly quietly.

A boy sits in a hospital corridor in 1988 cradling his Walkman. “Awesome Mix Vol 1” reads the label. He’s listening to “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc. “I’m Not in Love,” from the summer of 1975, was instrumental in launching the career of 10cc. Originally written to a bossanova beat, it was reworked to feature an all-choral backing, made up of hundreds of overdubbed voices. Whether this was on the minds of the makers of Guardians or not, but the strength-in-numbers / linking together vast chains of individuals theme resonates throughout the movie. The subject matter, oddly, is a young man refusing to say he’s in love, until finally he’s deluding himself.

What does that have to do with the boy in the corridor? Well, his mother in dying in the next room, and he’s intent on holding in his feelings. His Walkman here is his shield, his way of holding the world and its horrors at arm’s length. And we will find that, in a way, the whole narrative of Guardians, with its reluctant hero who eventually joins society and does so, successfully, on his own terms, is about a boy who insists that he’s not in love until he finally admits that he is.

(“I’m Not in Love” is also a song from an album titled Original Soundtrack, which is a fine enough joke in its own right.)

On top of all that, “I’m Not in Love” sets the tone for Guardians‘s meta-narrative of “modern” humanity and its relationship with culture, especially culture of the past. A pop song from 1975 is an odd thing, I think, to find on the Walkman of a boy in 1988, until you realize, much later, that the “Awesome Mix Vol 1” was a gift from his mother, the same mother who’s dying in the next room. It’s not “his” music the boy is listening to, it’s his mother’s. The “Awesome Mix” is a kind of parting gift from mother to child, an invitation to popular culture and a sweet sampling of “adult” emotions, to guide a son through the rockier moments of life. The culture the boy’s  mother has chosen to share is unabashedly popular, populist, “fun” (as opposed to “serious”) and life-affirming, all of which adjectives describe Guardians as well. Just as the boy’s mother’s mix-tape is designed to guide and celebrate, so is the movie.

The boy, Peter, is coaxed by his grandfather (Gregg Henry, who usually plays bad guys, most famously for Brian De Palma, postmodernist extraordinaire) to go talk to his dying mother. He takes his headphones off (“Let’s take these fool things off,” he says, either disgruntled with this newfangled personal stereo thing or else unhappy with Peter’s decision to retreat behind his shield) and guides him to his mother’s side.

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Peter, we soon learn, has been fighting with other boys who killed a frog “who ain’t done nothin’.” So we see that Peter is a natural-born defender of the weak, “So like your daddy” as his mother says, elaborating that Peter’s father was “an angel composed out of pure light.” Which, for those of you unfamiliar with the tenets of Christianity, would make Peter’s mother the Virgin Mary and Peter the Only Begotten Son of God. Which, if you’re naming your savior son, Peter (“the rock”) is off by only one.

Peter’s mother gives him a gift-wrapped box. It will take until the end of the movie to find out what’s in that box. “Your grandfather is going to take such good care of you,” she says, “At least until your daddy comes back to get you.” What the mother doesn’t know is that that event is already at hand.

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Speaking of which, the mother’s last wish is for Peter to take her hand. Peter, still hiding behind his shield (“I’m Not in Love”) refuses, and his mother slips away before his eyes. Distraught, Peter runs outside, with his backpack and Walkman, and is promptly captured by a large spaceship. We don’t know it yet, but this ship was, indeed, sent by Peter’s father (whose identity we do not know) to fetch him. The question then is, did Peter’s father know his mother was dying, or did he plan to get him when his mother was still alive? (For that matter, was it the conception of Peter that gave his mother cancer?)


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2 Responses to “Guardians of the Galaxy part 1”
  1. BenjaminJB says:

    Yay! Very excited to see what you think (at length) about the sequences in this movie.


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  1. […] In other news, are you reading Todd Alcott’s blog? You should be. He’s a screenwriter and amongst occasional shorter posts, he writes looooong breakdowns of movies, talking about why they work and how they’re structured. He just finished his Guardians of the Galaxy writeup and it’s very interesting indeed. Here’s part one. […]