Tony Stark: The Civil War Between Himself and PTSD
When Tony Stark made his first appearance and kick-started the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he came through as the embodiment of Intelligence, Charisma, and Success. Not everyone is blessed with all of that, yet he became a relatable character for many of us. He’s a billionaire in his mansion, building gadgets – what’s so relatable about that, right? Well, once we move past the material side of it and glance into Tony Stark as/is, it starts to feel like he is one of us.
So what makes him one of the most relatable superheroes?
First of all, he was not blessed with any super-power. Well, he was, if you consider intelligence a super-power! And he is not the morally perfect protagonist that we normally see. He is conflicted in many ways, and he is flawed. Inside his confident demeanor, he was insecure and anxious. The series of Iron Man movies projects the struggles of Stark as he suffers one traumatic incident after the other – implying that he is just an ordinary human being going through extraordinary consequences.
The Marvel superheroes are like soldiers in a battle. And it is popularly known that soldiers must suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after they survive a battle. While every Marvel superhero portrays their own struggle, Stark is a brilliant portrayal of PTSD and how it can affect a person.
Some common symptoms of PTSD are:
- Flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening again)
- Nightmares of either frightening things or of the event.
- Extreme physical reactions to reminders of trauma such as nausea, sweating or a pounding heart.
- Sense of not leading a normal life (not having a positive outlook of your future).
- Intense feelings of distress when reminded of a tragic event.
You can clearly identify all of these symptoms across the movies that feature Tony Stark.
But why did these memories of battle affect him so much more than the others?
First of all, Stark was not equipped or trained for any form of battle or defense. He was put into a dangerous situation in the first movie. He literally had to build his way to escape. He had never imagined getting abducted by terrorists or his home getting attacked. He found himself in a strange situation and had to adjust his way into it.
Once he survived his first ‘battle’, he became obsessed with building the Iron Man suit, to protect himself and the rest of the world. Nobody around him understands this obsession and the need to ‘protect’. For someone in his life trying to get through him, he could have seemed apathetic and insensitive. But, he was not in the position to see what others were feeling.
As his story progresses, he talks about ‘putting a shield around the world’, as he gets visions of a devastating attack coming towards the world. He starts getting nightmares about the battles where his loved ones die, and he isn’t able to protect them.
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He is also not able to share the stories of his night terrors and anxiety with anyone – which shows the societal conditioning of men having to act-in their emotions. He finds himself alone and misunderstood. He is restless, obsessive with building more advanced suits – and shield the ones he loves.
There was nothing that could save him from what was happening within, as he became more and more anxious. To add to that, he suffers a great guilt of not being able to protect Peter Parker and the trauma of being left alone in space.
That guilt and trauma is repressed as he settles down with Pepper and has a daughter. We see a calmer version of Tony with his daughter. Every scene of them together resembles that the little soul healed him. He was in peace.
Yet again, his need to protect is triggered when the avengers come to his house to ask for help. He doesn’t want to lose what he has, but he also wants to bring back the people they lost.
Iron Man embarks on the journey to save the world, yet again! His traumatic flashbacks and the anxiety associated with it, go with him. Behind the humor and intelligence, he reflects a deeper wound – which nobody helped him heal, expect for his need to protect.
As he is taking his last breath, Pepper says to him, ‘You can rest now!’, which means – the only way he could have achieved peace, after all the trauma he had been through, was to sacrifice himself to save others.
Tony Stark is often termed as ‘selfish’ and ‘egoistic’. If anyone had seen through his selfless and anxious heart, and helped him express and heal, we would probably have had a happier end to his story!