I watched Iron Man 3 in 3D the other day.
This was bombastic, over the top fun. A nobly constructed third outing, rising higher than the second instalment but lower on the podium than the bar-setting first film in the series.
Right. But I realized something along the way:
Tony Stark is us. Or me, anyway.
True, we’re not all billionaire playboy geniuses. Thank God. But the dis-integration of Tony’s identity should give us pause.
He begins his public hero stint as the first film closes, declaring to the ogling media, “I am Iron Man.” And then he milks it for all it’s worth. Over time, though, the pressure gets to him. He suffers a milder meltdown in Iron Man 2, but seems to fare well against Captain America’s soul-baring jab in The Avengers:
“Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away, and what are you?”
“Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” Zing.
Whew. Dodged a bullet there, Stark. *Spoiler alert.
But in Iron Man 3, our cocky hero is forced into a knock-em-down, drag-em-out identity crisis. When Pepper confronts him with his love affair with his tech, Tony responds by saying his suits are part of him. That they are an extension of who he is. In other words, Tony admits his soul is fractured, his identity dismembered and farmed into the multiple metal fragments of his iron empire.
When Tony’s Malibu mansion is bombarded by the Mandarin, he barely escapes with his life. His suit fizzles, Jarvis melts down “for a nap,” and he’s left with… uh… just Tony, dragging the shell of his power and celebrity through the swirling snow. Panic attacks manifest with increasing intensity, and we worry that our genius will have the strength to hold himself together.
With Jarvis out of commission, access to his multiple personalities—er, Iron Man suits—is impossible. Tony is forced to collect himself, to discover what happens when “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” are replaced by “panic-stricken, homeless, lonely, needy.” Perhaps the most telling moment of all is when Tony Stark, tech giant of the universe, calls home using a public phone booth. Did he have to beg for the quarter?
Stark’s foil for this film is a plucky and resilient kid in small-town wherever who helps him see the truth: Tony Stark, when all is said and done, is a simple mechanic. He builds things. And so, Tony returns to his birthright, to his Eden, building his whimsical counter-attack much like he did in the first film—”in a cave, with a box of scraps.”
His high-tech creations, he comes to realize, are not him. With this epiphany, Tony’s fractured soul, humbled into the deep valley of truth, begins to collect itself, to heal. Which is why, as the movie closes, he commands Jarvis to unleash the “clean slate protocol,” systematically detonating all the suits that had formerly claimed a piece of his identity. He had to take this step to break their spell.
Sometimes I hold my God-given gifts and what I can make with them too closely to my identity. When I do, my soul fractures and I begin to lose myself. That sermon I preached with heart and soul injected into every word… is not me. My children, whom I love as my own self, are not me. My online profiles are an extension of who I am, but they are not me. I can live separate from this online self. And I must.
Every once and awhile, I need to detox. To collect myself. God invites me to declare a “clean slate protocol,” to delete my multiplicity, to become delightfully human again, to start over with the right perspective. I pull away from social media, take a break from preaching, let my kids make their own choices.
When I strip away all the titles—”Preacher, Pastor, Writer, Leader”—what am I?
I am Brad. A child of the Most High God. Beloved. Called. Centred in the Way, the Truth, and the Life.