We all know that comic books, and therefore movies made from comic books, aren’t meant for children. Yes, they’re fun, and the pretty pictures are pretty, but that doesn’t mean that that’s all you get out of a graphic novel or a comic book or one of said movies. Or at least, that’s not all that goes into it.
Exhibit A: Guardians of the Galaxy.
I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you’ve watched the movie, because it’s been over a month since it was released and it’s just too epic to not be watched.
I don’t know about you, but the layers I saw in that movie were insane.
Let’s start with Groot, because he’s clearly the most interesting character. I’m not even going to talk about the beneath-the-surface romance, because there’s other, more interesting things at play here.
What is he?
His answer would be “I am Groot”, which is not particularly helpful. The movie tells us he’s the last Flora Colossus, which again tells me next to nothing. He’s the companion slash houseplant of a cybernetic genetically modified raccoon… OK, that’s interesting, but still tells me nothing of what he stands for, literarily.
(That makes for a nice little tangent, by the way. Is Groot even a he? Or is that assumption just a superimposition of heteronormative values upon a being that has no such preconceptions? If s/he [he for convenience] is a plant-like organism, can human gendered pronouns even apply? The movie itself suggests that genders mean nothing to Groot.)
Groot is a plant – but he’s a plant that walks, talks (albeit with limited vocabulary), is auto-regenerative, self-aware, and capable of higher cognitive functions such as emotion, friendship, kindness, and love.
Plants are producers. As my ninth-standard Botany teacher told us, they are the only living producers in this world. They take the energy of the sun (the true producer) and create a usable form of energy out of it. That’s why plants are special. That’s why trees represent Mother Nature. Because the mother is credited with the act of creation. Mother Nature is the Creator.
The easy way out is to label Groot as the personification of Nature. Because Nature destroys as much as it creates, is as scary as it is protective. (This isn’t anything remotely like an academic thesis, so I won’t bother quoting examples. If you’ve seen the movie, you can plug them in. You know how wonderful Groot is to his friends, and how terrible to his enemies.)
But there’s one big problem with Groot as Nature. And that’s his conversation. “I am Groot”. What does it mean? Why can Rocket understand it? There is a possible answer – is it because Rocket, as an animal, is closer to Nature and more attuned to Her (his) unspoken message?
If so, why does Rocket carry around a gigantic gun and enjoy killing people? Doesn’t seem very Nature-like…
“I am Groot”. “I”. Does Nature deal with the self? Ego – isn’t that something that comes with humanity? Or is the movie, which is after all cheerfully irreverent to laid-down convention, arguing that Ego is Natural? It is possible, and I am certain this dialogue comes straight from the comic books, which are definitely written after thinking through the first layer of meaning, the second, and the third.
I don’t know if you’ve read my other posts. If you have, you know I’m somewhat fond of a certain author by the name of Ayn Rand. She, as you may be aware, has rather strong views on the Ego. But I kind of doubt she would call it natural. Another favourite of mine, Terry Pratchett, says rather charmingly in one book that many things are natural, including hanging from trees and flinging faeces in the air (I paraphrase). Not everything that is natural is good; not everything that is good is natural. If Groot represents Nature, he certainly proves this statement with his willingness to skewer guards.
And yet I believe that he doesn’t. I believe that he represents a civilisation so closely aligned to nature that they cannot be separated from their environment. He represents the civilisation and its environment at the same time.
Pre-linguistic, of course. “I am Groot” suggests awareness, the first glimmerings of rational thought expressed verbally. Rocket understands what Groot has to say – two-way communication is possible in spite of the limitations of the language in its nascent stage. “I”. That “I” is so very, very, very important. The legend of Narcissus speaks of man discovering his own potential, of man discovering himself.
I still remember the first time I looked in the mirror and didn’t see my hair, my face or my clothes – I saw myself. It was a thunderbolt moment. I stopped and I stared, not because I thought I was particularly good-looking – I don’t remember what I looked like that day, but I’m guessing ordinary – but because I had just discovered myself. I wanted to stay staring at myself forever, because I saw a bundle of potential – a living, breathing miracle – a human being – life – myself. I try to carry that soaring feeling with me, every minute of every day, but of course it’s attenuated with time. I understood Narcissus that day.
Narcissus is a tale from Ancient Greek mythology, pre-dating the Christian era by probably 5,000 years. (Honestly, I don’t remember this detail and I’m not looking it up. Suffice to say it was a really long time back.) It’s a tale that came from civilisation at its very origin. (Though don’t believe those who tell you that modern civilisation was born in Greece. It was obviously in Atlantis.)
What’s the point to all this? Think of Narcissus, stuck at that pond. Now think of an entire village of Narcissi. Everyone suddenly realising that they exist. Everyone coming to terms with their own frailty – their own mortality – and the spectacular fact of their own existence. You stop, you stand, you stare, you can’t move past it. Because you’ve suddenly realised how important your name is. Your face. Your body. Your ego. You. “I” is a word that matters. And you can’t move past it.
(That’s why Narcissus was turned into a flower, I believe. Because if everyone ran around appreciating their own existence all the time, the world would never get anything done. So really, the flower-turning was only practical. [Oh my God, what if Groot represents Narcissus in toto?! He's a plant too!])
“I am Groot”. What “Groot” means, I couldn’t tell you. It was probably the result of a tired writer deciding at the end of a long day that there’s no better way to express “tree” than “green” + “root”, which equalled “Groot”. (I said that comic books have layers, not that all writers are masters of subtlety.) It might represent a name, an idea, or a race. If you buy into the first argument, that Groot is Mother Nature, then “Groot” probably stands for Nature. And it works, honestly. When the Flora tells the fauna “We are Groot”, that works with that explanation. I personally believe that that statement shows love – that Groot is saying that he and Rocket are one – but yeah. Hard to be certain.
For my theory to work, “Groot” could be a personal name or the name of a race – an identifier. A marker. Something that shows that Groot is unique. Names matter, in a civilisation that is just learning the uniqueness of each individual. This ties back in to my Narcissus image, and tells me something more important.
The “I” is all that matters in “I am Groot”.
Why? Because “Groot” is nothing but a placeholder for “me”. Just like all names are.
And that, right there, makes Groot my favourite character in this movie.
The Flora Colossus understands something so basic and so very, very important – something that slips so many humans by, and that Colossus communicates his idea without any of the people involved in the daily rush of regular activity (you know, saving the world, holding Infinity Stones, it’s gruelling work) remotely understanding the message he’s trying to convey. No one has the time to stand back and notice the magic of the world they’re trying to make a better place, or of the people they want to save.
And so to return to my thesis statement. Groot is an arbromorphic representation of a pre-linguistic civilisation at one with nature. I really don’t think I need to justify arbromorphic representation, though I should probably apologise for coining the term. Arbromorphic is of course a play on anthropomorphic; arbro coming from the French arbre, meaning “tree”.
I’ve explained why I think he represents a pre-linguistic civilisation. Because, for one thing, his language is not developed enough to be from a civilisation that uses words to communicate. For another, the Narcissus metaphor fails when applied to a civilisation that is already mature enough to have developed language. To a large extent, mature civilisations are beyond that point of startled wonderment, as seen in the complete lack of comprehension of Groot’s words in any of the more advanced species (except for Rocket, who doesn’t seem to think much of the words – just understands the communication).
And finally, we have “at one with nature”. You cannot separate Groot from Nature, no matter how hard you try to analyse ad absurdum. The degree to which the “Groot is Nature” analogy works – in all honesty, it works pretty much as well as the one I’ve chosen to defend, it’s just that I have a personal bias to this one, being as it is all about Ego – indicates this. Considering that he’s a tree – arbromorphic, remember – it would honestly be one hell of a stretch to say that he isn’t one with nature.
Groot: More than just a dumb tree. If there are any such.
And with that, I conclude my first post back after I don’t know how many months. It’s like I’ve added a word per day. (sigh) Some day I’ll figure out how to write short posts. Some day…
If you want to discuss Peter’s Oedipal Complex, Rocket’s Napoleon Complex, the relationship between Rocket and Groot, Gamora’s and Nebula’s motivations (especially Nebula’s), or any other topic, I’m available on email or in the comments section any time. Especially if you can contribute with comic book insights. Hell, in that case I’m available on phone.