Before I start this blog about the latest superhero movie, I just wanted to start with a sincere thank you. I am blown away by the positive response my last blog received. Thank you to my friends for your love and support, and to all the strangers that my story might have resonated with. An extra thank you to Anytime Yoga for sharing the post on r/BodyAcceptance and to everyone who was linked to here from there. It’s currently one of the top posts on that particular subreddit and because of that, this little blog bypassed 70,000 views today! So again, thank you to everyone who read it!
Now, I’m going to start talking about Iron Man 3 now. It’s been out for a week and I’m sure many of you have seen it at this point. However, if you haven’t, there are some serious SPOILERS ahead. Read ahead at your own risk!
When I saw Iron Man 3 the first time, I had a lot of thoughts I was trying to process at once. About Tony Stark as the audience grounding in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the relationship between him and Pepper, how Pepper used the weapon Killian tried to use against her and Tony to destroy Killian, the full circle aspects between this film and the first Iron Man movie, how it is impossible to really separate Tony and Iron Man, and how the Science Bros. can never truly die (seriously, stay for the credits).
However, it was on my second watch and noticing only one article from NPR touching upon it that I really focused on Tony’s anxiety and how it directs everything he does in the film.
When I was very young, I was diagnosed with a panic disorder. For a while, I had almost daily panic attacks. Sometimes multiple ones in a day. As I’ve gotten older, the attacks happen less frequently, but they’re still something I have to live and deal with. When a panic attack occurs, you feel like your brain has betrayed you and sent you into a nosedive. I once compared it to being stalked by a bear. You know the bear is there and you do everything you can to protect yourself from the bear on a day to day basis. But then there are days you let your guard down and the bear attacks. You then spend time fighting it and trying to get it to go back into the shadows, and people who don’t have bears stalking them on a daily basis look at you strangely and treat the fight you’re having like an overreaction.
And I saw a lot of that in Iron Man 3. And I want to give Robert Downey Jr. all of the awards for the way he portrayed it.
Tony makes it very clear that things have not been the same for him since the events of The Avengers. He doesn’t get a lot of sleep and he’s haunted by the wormhole that nearly swallowed him up. Because of this, he’s made 35 new suits since he returned from New York and he’s begun to have panic attacks.
Maybe this is a result of some sort of undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maybe this is something that has already existed for Tony and became exacerbated after his near death experience. That is rather unclear. Either way, Tony has put his defenses up to compensate for those moments he feels like his brain has betrayed him.
When I saw Tony having his panic attacks, I suddenly felt more connected to Tony than I had in the past. Even though I didn’t have my heart stop in an alien wormhole, I know what it’s like to break down at inopportune times and suddenly not be able to see clearly. The moment where Harley reminded Tony that he’s a mechanic in the middle of one of his panic attacks took me back to so many moments of clarity during those extreme moments of anxiety.
For those moments of panic, it was just a further reminder to me that Tony is the focal point for which the audience views the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was the first person we met in the MCU. Despite his genius, riches, and high powered toys, he really is the most human of all the heroes. He doesn’t have gamma radiation poisoning, super soldier serum, mystical powers, or years of tactical training. It’s all him. He’s snarky and self-centered, but tries his best to use his genius to save the world and protect those around him. He compensates for those moments of self-perceived weakness behind bravado and new toys to save the day. There will be moments where that veneer cracks though, and you feel like a vulnerable and exposed nerve without an Other Guy to save you.
I’m not sure how true it is for others with similar issues, but I know that when I’m coming down from an attack or a near attack, I need human contact to ground me back in reality. Especially from those who either know me well enough to know how to talk to me during an attack or those with a kind of energy that makes me feel calmer just from being around them.
Pepper is that kind of grounding for Tony in this case. She has always been there to drag him back to Earth while he’s off being the Playboy Tony Stark, but her ability to stay down-to-Earth makes her even more important to Tony while he feels likes he is falling apart. After New York, Tony realizes how truly important Pepper is to him and then tries his best to protect her. Or at least in his own brand of it. Something that Pepper labels as a distraction.
So are all the suits a distraction? Is the ending justified?
Tony admits that the suits served as a cocoon. They were protection for him during a point of high vulnerability. A protection that didn’t always work out the way he planned, but protection all the same. The anxiety and the shielding shaped Tony’s experience up until that point. He’s still Iron Man at the end of the day with or without his suits, but sometimes, it is essential to take a step back and reshape your world to keep yourself from falling into the patterns that caused the reoccurring panic. The anxiety is always there, but maybe stepping outside of the suit for a bit keeps the bear further back in the shadows for a while.
Besides, if Tony wanted to stop being all about the tech, why would he bother to save Dum-E and You?
No matter how Tony returns, I know he won’t be gone from the suit for long.