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Guardians of the Galaxy: identity and nostalgia

Nostalgia is an innate human personality trait; it helps us find and place an anchor on which to base ourselves on.

In the opening scene of the Guardians of the Galaxy, we see the biggest change in Peter Quill‘s life – the death of his mother. As his mother puts out her hand towards him on her dying bed, peter refuses to acknowledge this present time which in turn has ultimately shaped his character and personality as the Star-Lord.

This scene and being of Peter have summarized that the movie is about the exploration of people who are dislocated with time.

The etymology of the word nostalgia is derived from a Greek word called Nostos which means to return to home and Algia, whose meaning is a painful condition. What separated nostalgia from any other sort of remembering is the sentimentality or the innocence one remembers from their time.

And the change that Nostalgia creates is a continuative reaction to change, which is beautifully captured in The Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Walkman that Quill’s mother had given him is not only just a retro visual decoration but also works as a metaphor for Star Lord’s identity. It binds him to the past.

We see Star-lord in the next scene of the movie-going to a new planet or place and immediately taking out the Walkman to play an old song.

As Shirli Gilbert said

“Music is an important vehicle for the transmission of memory”

Therefore, the Walkman and its solo song, helps Peter close the distance between his past and the present he is in right now.

Since music exists where ever you bring it, star lord has chosen to bring his past everywhere he goes and therefore created a timeline for himself even if it is not like the reality he is currently in right now.

This is when Peter is just a big kid because his whole life and every activity he does is deeply tethered to a different place and time and is a sanctuary he has created for his mind.

From all the references he makes to the reality that Star-lord makes, his attitude and his ideas are all shaped by a place that does not exist. That is why he cannon connect to Yondu or the ravages and initially refuses to have any moral ground because he is not invested or interested in his present.

Even more than captain America, star lord is the absolute product of nostalgia because the nostalgia Steve feels is unavoidable while Peters is deliberate.

It is similar to Rocket, he never asked to be made into what he is now and therefore is always resentful that he was. Drax wants revenge for the death of his family and because they are all lonely and they can’t help but judge the present negatively in order to boost their identification with the past whether it be for one person or family for another.

This is why the humor from each of the characters is so important, it’s not to bring fun to the movie as a space adventure but to show how comfortable these characters have become with their sense of miserable emotions and the dislocation of time.

It is representative of this sanctuary they have built-in their minds and their connections to the past.

Rocket and Star-lord have both become so used to this gap and void in their personalities that they have become lonely and bitter and use humor to shield themselves from what is happening now in the present.

The one character that is different from the rest is Gamora, she is oriented more towards the future as she seeks to leave her current home and future.

This also brings us to the infinity stones which not only act as the main plot of the movie but also as an opportunity for the characters. The team was not motivated originally for the morality of obtaining these stones but for the material risk.

But the whole chase of the stones for the movie is so dramatic and severe that it forces the characters to reconnect with the present in order to emotionally accept what is happening.

This is symbolized by the times they choose to act heroically to save one another. Star-lord was willing to sacrifice himself in order to save Gamora and Rocket went back to save both of them from blowing up.

Drax has a vulnerable moment with Rocket and Groot, and when Rocket is very drunk, he spills his guts out.

“ I didn’t ask to get made, I didn’t ask to be torn apart and put back together over and over, and turned into some kind of little monster”

Star-lord is also in love with Gamora, so here he can’t help but also anchor himself to the present. The experience that these both create, shows us that he is now imagining a future that isn’t inferior to the past.

They are found family and become each other’s sanctuary, but crossing to the other side also means losing the connection to their past.

Rocket loses Groot, which was his loyal friend who sort of acted like his emotional outlet. Without him, he is forced to look after himself and also to share his life with new people.

While Drax gives up his revenge for his family in order to make a new family which in turn gives him the opportunity to finish his revenge off.

Star-lord loses his ship, his greed, and his casual attitude towards life by committing to moral beliefs that are impactful in the present.

Nostalgia is a process because people aren’t just subjected to it, it is something that subjects to the individual, because like any other form of remembering, Nostalgia is an activity since it takes a level of creativity to build a vision of the past hat is not shaped by accuracy but by the logic of love and longingness.

It can be painful to change that image or sanctuary because it requires a new level of vulnerability and more importantly, it demands an unflattering confrontation with one’s self of identity, but in the end, all you need is the will and strength to do it and the big moment of reconciliation comes in the scene of his mother holding out her hand once again when he has to share the pain from the power stone as Gamora and the rest of the guardians. He reconciles with that unfinished moment in his mind by giving it a new ending.

Therefore his perspective with life and his past is given new meaning from that connection onwards.

This is why Peter gives Yondu the troll doll in the sphere, not because he is trolling him, but because he is giving him a piece of his past to his father-like figure. This is why Yondu opens it and smiles because he knows what it truly means.

This is made even more impactful in volume two.

In the end, Peter Quill is given a new ship and music which he shares with his newfound family. His nostalgia has room for a new creative identity shaped by a sense of satisfaction. Now his identity has room for other things, and not only as a son who couldn’t let go of his mother.

This is why I think the movie works so well, it is an entertaining space adventure but at the heart of the story is something deeper and more personal about the characters. It makes something uncomfortably funny and joyful.

Nostalgia can become a home to oneself, but it can also be painfully restrictive and can bury you because when it is ideal, its brightness can become an illusion since people need more than just comfort.

There’s a need to travel, to build and make new things, new memories. Star-lord shows us with Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot that these things can just be found in relationships with others.

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