Warning: All the spoilers!
“I have nothing to prove to you”.
That was the moment that Captain Marvel may have become my favorite super hero.
Captain Marvel is a story about a woman named Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) who has amnesia. She is a noble warrior hero for the Kree, and during a mission she finds herself on Earth. As she attempts to finish her mission and reunite with her crew, she discovers the truth about her past and her current circumstance.
Her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) has been training her to be her “best” self, claiming that she must learn to control her emotions and learn to fight without her powers, otherwise the “Supreme Intelligence” will punish her.
Once on earth she learns that she received her powers during an attempt to prevent Yon-Rogg from stealing powerful technology, and that the Kree have been trying to suppress her powers ever since. Yon-Rogg has been controlling her, wanting her to stay under his power, and does so by making her question her reality and her gifts. He has her convinced that her powers are her weakness, and that if she uses her powers she will be punished.
And to anyone who has been mentally abused, this story hits a note that we can all relate to.
There are many things I enjoyed about Captain Marvel. I loved how confident and sassy Carol was. I love that the central love story was between two best friends, and that there wasn’t a trace of romance in the movie. I loved watching an alpha male (Fury) immediately trust and defer to a woman. I loved the climactic battle staged to No Doubt’s “Just a Girl”. And I loved that the true villain of the story was gaslighting.
Abuse is more than just a physical form. Many abusers use mental techniques to overpower their partners, such as gaslighting. The abuser will consistently manipulate their victim into questioning their own sanity, their own reality. And this device is extremely prevalent within the relationship between Carol and Yon-Rogg.
At the beginning of the film, we learn that Carol, known as Vers at this point, has a device implanted to her head. Yon-Rogg claims the device is giving her the powers that she has, but if she cannot learn to fight without those powers the “Supreme Intelligence” will take those powers away from her. As they train he continues to tell her that she is not strong because she cannot beat him without her powers. That her emotions are making her weak, that her desire to know about the past she has forgotten are distracting her from fulfilling her full potential.
But here is the real kicker: that device implanted on her head is actually suppressing her powers. Yon-Rogg, the Kree, the Supreme Intelligence, none of them had anything to do with giving her those powers, and have everything to do with trying to keep her from discovering them.
This is a common occurrence in mental abuse. Abusers tell their victims, “you will never be good enough” or “you are nothing without me”. Gaslighting is done to trick victims into believing they are weak and worthless, which makes the moment when Carol reclaims her power and freedom in full force a very cathartic moment.
After Carol has defeated the Kree and the battle is over, she faces Yon-Rogg one last time. And he falls back on his old tricks. He is counting on his conditioning to kick in and for her to submit to him. He demands she faces him without her powers and prove that she really is stronger than him. And she blasts him down without skipping a beat. “I have nothing to prove to you” and drags him away. No grand speeches, no huge statements. And my eyes filled with tears.
How often have women been told throughout our lives to get a grip on our emotions? How many women have been told to not act upset when they were wronged? How many women have been called “crazy” for having emotions? For centuries, the perceived unreliability of women’s emotions kept us from owning property, voting, promotions, fair wages, or having basic control of our lives. And we have internalized all of this. We believe we aren’t strong, we aren’t worthy, we aren’t good enough. We have all experienced gaslighting.
Watching Captain Marvel claim her freedom, watching her face her true enemy with a calm confidence, was such a cathartic experience for me. She saved herself, she embraced every part of herself that she was told to suppress, and she broke free from her mental prison.