The following contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, but does NOT contain spoilers beyond anything that has already appeared in trailers or publicity for Toy Story 4. Viewer discretion is advised.
…sorry, I’ve just always really wanted to say that!
It’s been awhile since writing one of these blog posts, because despite knowing what I wanted to say, I didn’t quite know how to articulate it. But after a month of contemplating the emotional exhaustion brought on by Avengers: Endgame and seeing the most recent entry to the PIXAR oeuvre Toy Story 4, suddenly everything I wanted to say materialized out of thin air. So I am back and I’m here to say…Thor and Forky are pinnacle examples of self-love.
…okay. Now that probably all but three of you have written me off as a hack and promptly exited out of this page, let me explain.
This year, I was diagnosed with depression. Now, I would like to make something clear before I proceed. The extremely patient and caring professionals who helped me arrive at this diagnosis believe that there has been a mild depression laying in wait to pounce since early childhood, with occasional flare ups at particular moments of high stress or trauma. There are a myriad of people, some of whom I know personally, who are fighting far more prevailing cases of depression every single day, to which I have nothing but the utmost respect and support. This post is not written with the intention to compare or conflate personal experiences of depression, as they are wholly unique to each individual, nor is it intended to cement my experiences as anything rote or “standard.” I can only tell it from how I am experiencing my depression, and I write with the hopes that either of these characters speak to you in your own way like they did to me, or that maybe you can consider for yourself the way that media you love speaks to you if you are currently in a similar position.
Do you remember how in my blog post-Infinity War, I had an entire segment stating how I was so curious as to why I started sobbing like a baby at Thor’s powerful, “What more could I lose?” scene with Rocket? Oh we do love dramatic irony, don’t we? It couldn’t possibly have been that my immediate emotional reaction was because this character’s visible struggle to break down over the very real pain he was experiencing mirrored my own evasive maneuvers toward expressing vulnerability. Because in no way was I terrified about all my friends graduating college and moving away while I stayed on alone in order to get my Masters degree. Or because I had a very scary, looming thesis ahead of me. Nope. No way.
This came around yet again when Endgame came out. One of the film’s best kept secrets was Thor’s massive weight gain. At times walking the line of fat shaming (which blessedly was curtailed with the later revelation of Hemsworth’s personal insistence that Thor keep the extra poundage for the entirety of the film), I initially hated this story arc upon my first viewing because to my eye, it fully reduced Thor to mere comic relief. In fact, when asked by friends how I ranked Endgame amongst its MCU brethren, I initially put it right about in the middle. Why? Well when pressured for a reason, the only criticism I could materialize was Thor’s character arc.
It wasn’t until my second rewatch that it finally hit me why I was so strongly biased: I hated Thor’s character shift because I was looking in a mirror. In just a year, I had changed almost in stride with a fictional alien god. Like Thor, I had gained a significant amount of weight. Thirty pounds, in fact. Like Thor, I had felt the loss of many of my friends in a real way, feeling trapped in the past while watching them begin their futures. The way I combatted that was by isolating myself from the people who were still around me, convincing myself that I was a burden. I became utterly sedentary, staying in bed for hours on end, mindlessly scrolling through my phone. I let responsibilities fall by the wayside and spent a copious amount of money I didn’t have on fleeting items of temporary happiness that never truly made things better. Thor was me, and I was Thor.
I sought help at the beginning of the year, because something had to change if I was to make it out of grad school with my degree and my dignity. To my therapist Ed, thank you so much for all you helped me come to terms with, and the processes you taught me that I continue to work through day by day. Ed was right—with my thesis behind me and my diploma currently in the printing process, things have definitely improved. It’s still a daily fight to get myself motivated, and at times I do still feel paralyzed with fear in that my next hurdle is in beginning my career, a path which at the moment seems to be littered with rejection emails. But here again, there’s a lesson to be taught by our sweet pirate-angel Thor.
In the middle of the film, Thor and Rocket access the quantum realm, going back in time to the events of Thor: The Dark World. There, 2023 Thor runs into 2013 Frigga, his mother. As she is destined to die later that day, Thor takes the opportunity to have one last fulfilling conversation with his mother that he was cruelly denied ten years previous. Besides advising him to eat a salad every once and awhile, she drops the most beautiful piece of advice that I believe everyone should hear:
“Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be. The measure of a hero, of a person, is how they succeed at who they are.”
I have spent my entire life looking to others either to help determine what they believe my path should be, or looking for people I can use as litmus tests: They did x, y, and z. I should too. So, yes. I am in weird limbo state right now, but I also see it as a glorious chance to figure out what I truly love, who I am, and how I can contribute to this world in a meaningful, fulfilling way. I can’t do that if I’m preoccupied with a definition of success that I have defined according to other people’s stories. This is confirmed in Endgame via another truly awesome moment: Moments after this discussion, Thor extends his hand to summon his old hammer that he had long since lost. He is giddy when it arrives. “I’m still worthy!” he cries.
So many fans have been personally affected by this depiction, and have pointed out how beautiful it is that Thor’s depression didn’t make him any less worthy of being a hero. By embracing who he is, his character is on the path to redemption solely in his own eyes. And I think that’s a wonderful, important thing that children can now immediately identify when they perhaps feel similar feelings of crushing self-doubt and defeat in their own futures.
My second example may be rather surprising – yeah. I learned self-love from a sentient spork. I was immediately on board for Forky upon the very first Toy Story 4 teaser trailer. As he screeches “I DON’T BELONG HERE!” and runs away, I remember delivering a hearty guffaw and an utterance of “Wow, what a mood.” Hearing that my male doppelgänger Tony Hale (or, as me and my friends jokingly call him because we look so similar, “my dad”*) was voicing him solidified this character as an instant favorite without knowing a thing about him.
I had the crazy, insane fortune to see the film early at its Los Angeles World Premiere (and also definitely interacted with my da—I mean Hale, as well as was rude to Tom Hanks… but that would take too long to explain). Without getting spoilery, I will say that the character 100% lives up to the hype, and you will absolutely adore him (Last minute edit: While prepping this post, I have found that Halloween costumes of Forky have already been made, which are so horrifyingly funny that I laughed so hard, I threw up. Enjoy the nightmares to come.). But there is one central element to Forky’s character that I didn’t realize was more emblematic of my experiences than I ever anticipated.
A few days ago, I shared a video with two of my best friends of behind-the-scenes footage of the Toy Story 4 actors recording their dialogue. I was sobbing laughing over one session with Hale, who was hilariously simply saying the word “trash” over and over again in various intonations. I recorded just this segment and sent it to my friends with the caption, “Describe yourself in one word.” A funny joke? [cracks knuckles] I’d like to believe so. But self-deprecating and harmful? Yeah. Absolutely.
I can trace my self-deprecating sense of humor to fifth grade. Having just switched schools, I had entered a class of thirty-three tight-knit students, most of whom had known each other since age four. As the newcomer, I was an outsider, and I learned quickly that in order to make friends, the quickest way to do so was through humor. It’s a technique I still utilize to this day. Unfortunately, the style of humor I picked was to become the clown. My rationale was, “Laugh at yourself before they get the chance to laugh at you” – this would diminish the hurt if I were ever to discover anyone making fun of the “new girl” behind my back. The overwhelming success of this method, when matched with my lifelong disdain for braggarts, rendered this my go-to technique for daily interactions, and has ended up forming the way my inner voice has started referring to myself. The amount of times I think to myself “great job, moron,” or even call myself hurtful names like “bitch” is downright cruel.
The act of reversing this learned behavior is called “cognitive restructuring” and takes a lot of time, patience, and practice. It’s still something I am learning to put into action every day. But even in just some B-roll of an actor voicing a spork, I let another demeaning comment slip through the cracks for the purposes of cheap humor at my own expense.
Current New York Times bestselling book Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, by the hit podcast My Favorite Murder’s Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark is an ode to self-care and finding your way in the world. It brought me to tears of both laughter and genuine empathy, as well as provided me with the perfect narrative to keep my momentum moving in a positive direction. But Georgia addresses cognitive restructuring in the book by telling an anecdote where she was asked by her own therapist to envision using the same derogatory things she said to herself on a daily basis to a four-year-old version of herself. The thought of that made her want to cry, Georgia wrote, stating that that little girl didn’t deserve for those things to be said about her. So, by that logic, why did she deserve that now? What a valuable lesson — Could I honestly look at a tiny Jessica and call her “trash?” The little girl who envisioned elaborate melodramas for her American Girl dolls? The little girl who liked finding a melody of a well-known song by ear on her violin? The little girl who rode her bike down a single, straight road as fast as she could and pretended that she had wings? “You’re trash, Jessica. A dumb bitch. You’re worthless.” …no way.
In watching back some red carpet interviews from the cast of Toy Story 4 in the light of a new day today, I stumbled across a few assertions from dad—I mean…Tony Hale about Forky’s character that floored me. I’ve transcribed one here, and attached another as a video link below:
“I think he starts thinking he’s trash. And he like, you know, he thinks like he’s made to help people eat chili. But then Woody comes along and he’s like, ‘You’ve got a greater purpose. You’ve got value.’ And it’s like… I think a lot of people might need to hear that. You know? I love that.”
Yeah. I love that too. So simple. And, yes, keep in mind we’re still talking about a sentient spork here. But he’s right—a lot of people do need to hear that. Once again, much like Thor’s arc, here we have a narrative about finding one’s meaning and true purpose in life, and that can only be determined through the embracing of self-love.
I know that probably sounds very pie-in-the-sky, and I can feel a past version of myself groaning deep inside, saying, “Yeah. Easier said than done.” And it’s not easy. I’d like to say that it is and that I can just flip a switch and BOOM! Everything’s great! But that’s not at all the way it works. I will have many relapses to come and many moments of self-doubt, self-deprecation, and possibly even self-loathing. But if this blog website as a whole has served to show anything, it’s that I believe the world and the media we as a human race create are parallel, representative of one another, and wholly symbiotic in nature. When things are utterly chaotic and confusing, we can turn to what we’ve put into the world through creativity to keep us grounded and to work through very difficult issues. All I know is that I’ve got a card made by my best friend (a fantastic graphic designer, check out her shop!) with Frigga’s beautiful quote on it, and a plush Forky sitting at my side right now to help remind me to give myself a break, and to find who I am.