The Incredible Hulk

3 Stars - Engaging

During the early 1900’s, Freud’s studies of the primal emotions (fear, anger, happiness, love) opened a window for us to better understand our passions. The observation that these emotions often function at a level below our conscious awareness yet still greatly influence our behaviors captured the imaginations of many creative minds. Two creative artists were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby who imagined what would happen if a person were to be taken over by their anger such that it dominated his or her conscious mind. Would such a person lose touch with the other primal emotions and become a vicious monster, or would he or she be able to feel love and happiness as well? To explore this question, Lee and Kirby first published their Marvel Comic of “The Incredible Hulk” in May of 1962. After a 70’s TV series with the same name, it has been brought to the screen four decades later by director Louis Leterrier and screenwriter Zak Penn.

Going back to the original tale, this latest film version ignores previous attempts to bring the story of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) to the screen. Using a montage of images in the opening credits, we realize that Banner was an experimental subject at a university lab in which Gamma radiation is being used to enhance human physical capability. When a lethal dose of the radiation is accidentally or unpredictably given to Banner, he experiences a complete cellular transformation in which he becomes a green-eyed monster of personified anger. With a physique that matches his rage, Banner harms his beloved Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and kills several others. When he comes out of his tantrum, Banner goes into hiding to try to discover a cure. It is at this point that the film begins its tale and it is Norton’s portrayal of Banner’s brooding loneliness in isolation and deep love for Betty that humanizes the Hulk and takes the film deeper than merely a comic book story.

Though mostly an action film, the moral lessons in the tale are told on several levels. The question of whether a person can control his or her anger is ambiguously answered, but the question of whether a person loses his or her other primary emotions is not. Love can be present even when anger is throwing a destructive tantrum - if the person has love in their heart. But if there is no love, if a desire to fight is the primary passion of a person, then they would lose their humanity and become an Abomination – the name given by Lee and Kirby in the original comic books for the archenemy of the Hulk.

Though in the original series, Abomination was a KGB agent who intentionally exposes himself to Gamma radiation to gain the Hulk’s powers, in this film Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) is presented as being “born in Russia and raised in England.” Having distinguished himself as a fighter, Blonsky is on loan from England to serve the special needs of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt). When Blonsky realizes that the General is in charge of a secret program to mutate humans into super-soldiers, he asks to become enhanced himself.  Although it is Blonsky who becomes a monstrous human, it is clear that the General is also an “abomination.”

Leaving the film open to sequels that can tell the classic tales of the Hulk, this first film is an entertaining study of anger, love and relationships that is too graphic for children but engaging for adults.

 

Discussion:

  1. What do you think happened to the General that would cause him to become such a heartless person?
  2. When Samuel Sterms (Tim Blake Nelson) is willing to take his science experiments wherever they take him, he creates an “abomination.” How do we protect ourselves from science which has no moral compass?
  3. The risk that Betty is willing to take in order to express her love for Banner comes from a selfless place. Have you ever experienced such a love that you would be willing to die for someone? How has such a primal passion affected your relationship?