Deadpool and vulnerability

I expected Deadpool to be funny. It was laugh out loud at points, although a little tired in others.

I expected it to be a little violent. It was more violent than I expected.

What I didn’t expect was a story strand that centred on vulnerability, and a character’s need to show it.

Deadpool is a little smarter, funnier, and has a little more heart than your average superhero flick.

Ryan Renolds plays Deadpool, a wise-cracking, lethal killer in a movie that enjoys breaking the fourth wall, and making jokes about superhero movie conventions. That’s all to the good.

Many of the lines are funny, if a little dependent on too many sex jokes at points. The action is a little more violent than I would have liked, but it’s beautifully choreographed. The meta-reflections on superhero movies are on point.

The thing that I found interesting, though, was the gender politics and the vulnerability. As Deadpool says, this isn’t a superhero movie. It’s a love story. [He also says some other things, but I’ll leave that for when you watch the movie].

The movie signals that the gender politics are a little different early in the piece. Deadpool (pre superpowers transformation) uses his mercenary skills to threaten a pizza boy, telling him not to stalk someone. The message is a good one. Later, in the romantic montage where Deadpool meets his love interest, there’s a sense of both of them being active agents, of it being a two-way connection rather than a one way attainment of an object.

What I particularly liked, though, was the fact that one of Deadpool’s challenges is to be vulnerable. He acquires superpowers, and a facial disfigurement. It’s described as horrible, but it’s just a set of lumps on Ryan Renold’s face.

He’s scared of showing her his face, and so he hides. The fact that he then spends an extended period following but being afraid to talk to her isn’t, I think, a good thing. But that a crucial plot point turns on Deadpool taking off his mask, showing his face, and asking for care/affection/love/feelings, is, I think, a really good thing. It’s not often (that I can think of) that an action movie features a character being actively vulnerable, and I think it’s great.

The bit where Deadpool tells his taxi driver to kidnap his romantic rival and kill him is less great.

On vulnerability, multiple people have recommended this 2010 TED talk by Brene Brown on vulnerability. It’s a good one. If you’re like me and prefer to read things, there’s a also a transcript. It’s very good:

Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language — it’s from the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart” — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.

The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees … the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.

… 

We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability. 

You can’t numb those hard feelings [vulnerability and other negative emotions] without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.

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