So, I’ve seen quite a few memes and some commentary on Marvel Studio’s version of Odin in Thor, particularly with the resulting unbalance of Loki’s psyche as displayed in the recent Avengers film. Now, I’m not going to go and say that Odin is father of the year, but I think many of these complaints arise without a proper understanding that though Odin is a father—to both Thor and Loki—he is also a king on a divine level.
This is a point that was emphasized in one of the deleted scenes quite well, and I am a little disappointed it didn’t make it to the final version. In any case, it goes something like this:
Frigga: But banishment? You would lose him forever? He’s your son!
Odin: And what would you have done?
Frigga: I would not have exiled him to a world of mortals, stripped of his powers to suffer alone. I would not have had the heart.
Odin: That is why I am king. I, too, grieve the loss of our son, but some things even I cannot undo.
Frigga: You can bring him back.
Odin: No. His fate is in his own hands now.
What Odin shoulders is a responsibility as the All-Father that forces him to sacrifice all personal desires for the furtherance of fate; his lack of an eye signifies that he has already sacrificed part of himself to drink from the Well of Wisdom. Now, while Odin has had access to aspects of the past, present, and future, he does not appear to know everything at all times (particularly in the comic book universe), but he has gained understanding of both the inevitability and the necessity of the sorrows and troubles that befall men and gods. He knows the general course fate must take, and through his decrees, acts, and manipulations, he attempts to guide his people and those of the other nine realms toward an outcome that creates stability in the universe.
It ain’t easy. He has to make tough choices, very often at the price of his loved ones. In the comics, his relationship with Thor is not that much better than what was displayed in the film with Loki—Odin is accused of manipulating his sons, both of them, to keep his position in Asgard stable. Thor, like Loki, will never live up to the expectation Odin has for what will make a good king of Asgard: Thor is not willing to sacrifice dear ones to ensure the stability of a kingdom. This is touched on in Thor’s banishment, but I’m not quite sure viewers fully realize the profound shame an exile holds in a pantheon like this. While we watch Thor meet pretty girls and smash drinks, we forget that he is not meant to come home until he has become worthy (a fact which Thor helps us forget in his own arrogance and confidence while strutting around diners in New Mexico, and of which he eventually reminds us when he cannot lift Mjollnir).
Now, Odin’s treatment of Loki is tragic, of course, in its result, but it is a combination of both the actions of the father and the son that lead to this. Odin took Loki for “a reason” which is not fully disclosed to us.
Odin: I thought we could unite our kingdoms one day, bring about an alliance, bring about a permanent peace, through you. But those plans no longer matter.
Loki: So I am no more than another stolen relic, locked up here until you might have use of me?
Odin: Why do you twist my words?
Assuming the intended alliance was to have Loki sit upon the throne of Jotunheim, it makes sense that Odin would be angry at Thor for breaking the treaty between Asgard and Jotunheim—essentially, Thor destroyed Loki’s chances of kingship. Or, well, Loki destroyed his own chances by trying to “ruin Thor’s big day.”
Odin: Both of you were born to be kings.
Certainly they were. Of course, one might argue that Loki upon the throne of Jotunheim would be unfair when compared to Thor upon the throne of Asgard. You know, ice and chill and giant things. However, this is not to say that Jotunheim must remain an icy wasteland. Apparently it did hold some form of “former glory” as Loki sardonically puts it, and with Loki’s magic and Asgardian training, he could potentially manage a rule over the place, particularly if Odin has set up the treaty carefully and he has full backing from his family in Asgard. With the whole Casket of Winters and Frost Giant hunting party, however, “those plans no longer matter.” Odin must try to guide the realms to a more stable destiny without his peaceful plan.
Odin: In the aftermath of the battle, I went into the temple, and found a baby … small, for a giant’s offspring, abandoned, suffering, left to die … Laufey’s son.
Loki: Laufey’s son?
Loki: Why? You were knee-deep in Jotun blood. Why would you take me?
Odin: You were an innocent child.
Loki: No, you took me for a purpose …
Most would like to disregard the first reasons Odin states for taking Loki—just as Loki does because—let’s face it—we love Loki. I would claim that Odin loves Loki too, and this is symbolized in the film by his embrace warming the body of the baby to change from blue giant’s skin to human (or really Asgardian) flesh. It’s an over-the-top symbolism when we see the change in the infant and in Loki when he touches the Casket of Ancient Winters, but we forget that this transformation is so ingrained into Loki’s being that he is pretty much permanently Asgardian. This change came from the compassion Odin had for the child, acceptance of the child as his own, and the love he had for him, all wrapped up in a physical manifestation, and it remains with Loki even in his darkest moments—Loki is literally covered in his father’s embrace.
As such, if we accept that a Frost Giant can come to resemble an Asgardian both in appearance and in demeanor (check out the attitude on the Frost Giants and then look at Loki’s—there is definitely a difference in the degree of volitility and subsequent savagery), and makes this change due to his Asgardian childhood filled with warmth and love, it could be possible that with Loki and Odin’s combined skills in magic they could create a new temperate world out of the cold and craggy Jotunheim, current circumstances not withstanding.
This one bugs me simply because it is a circumstance that Odin cannot fully control. Odin must succumb to the Odin Sleep during the Asgardian winter (agreed to be once a year in the comics, but it is less clear in the films, and even then we could fudge things when determining exactly how long an Asgardian year is). He is stated to have put it off for a long time, so it should not be all that surprising that it happens suddenly—perhaps even triggered by the emotional stress of the moment. Certainly Loki is having a critical moment, but so too is Odin. But his emotions don’t matter because we don’t get to see them (since he is forced to push them aside for his duty as king), right? Right.
Seriously, it’s like blaming your grandfather for having a heart attack in the middle of an argument. Low blow, guys.
Okay, so I won’t ever commend Odin on his timing for this scene, but seriously—did we all just forget that Loki committed genocide? Like, not ten minutes before? Now, Loki claims to have done it for Odin, for everyone—you know, exterminating not only the Jotun, but their entire world—but he has effectively destroyed a major branch of fate that Odin had been trying to manage and control. Loki destroyed his own future kingdom that Odin had planned for him.
Likewise, it’s unclear whether or not Odin knows beforehand that Loki’s own type of painful “banishment” is necessary for the future (it’s certainly necessary for the Avengers film to happen). It’s entirely possible that Loki’s actions have set off a chain of events that Odin feels he must correct, and part of this is no longer indulging Loki’s mischief. Odin must draw the line somewhere, and apparently that line is mass genocide. What is he to say to Loki when he tells him that he annihilated the Jotun, biologically his own people, his future subjects, for his father to show his worth as a king?
I’m not saying we should forgive Odin—we shouldn’t. He’s manipulative and tyrannical. He is, however, the All-Father, and he has knowledge that we don’t. I don’t want to get all religious here or anything, but I would think Odin sees himself at least somewhat in this way, as a guide for the nine realms, ensuring a stable fate for his kingdom. His sons, both children of two worlds (Thor’s parentage connects him to Midgard, and Thor often feels bound to that realm, much to Odin’s dismay), are agents of change, and they both clash in their own way against Odin’s goal of security. Isn’t that the way with all families?
In short, everyone in the house of Odin is as complex and torn as Loki is. Loki’s complexity is simply placed more on display for us to see. I will admit, my feels for Thor and Odin rival my feels for Loki. Loki claims Thor is the favored son, but Thor is incapable of performing the sacrifices Odin would feel necessary to make a proper king. Odin loves both his sons and yet must set his feelings aside for what he conceives of as the preordained and proper path of the universe. Add Loki’s inferiority complex and his box full of cats into the mix, and the dynamics there work as well as any Shakespearean plot.
Which is why I am so sad Branagh isn’t directing Thor 2.