By: Troi Watts
While most people would associate the film, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) with apocalyptic themes, the film contains multiple examples of utopias and dystopias. When Thor initially fails to stop Hela, the film’s antagonist, he ends up on the planet of Sakaar. Sakaar is an excellent example of how a society can be both a utopia for some and a dystopia for others.
Sakaar has two layers: The Grandmaster’s city and the junkyard outskirts of the planet. The Grandmaster’s city is, when compared with the outskirts, a utopia; It is a technologically advanced society with seemingly adequate amounts of food, stable shelter, and exciting entertainment. Sakaar is first introduced to Thor as “the collection point for all lost and unloved things. Like you. But here on Sakaar you are significant. You are valuable. Here you are loved. And no one loves you more than the Grandmaster… Where once you were nothing, now you are something” (“Thor: Ragnarok”). This introduction sets up new arrivals to see Sakaar as a utopia compared to their old homes. The ending of this introduction destroys that utopian image, though, when we discover that “[the new arrival] is now the property of the Grandmaster” (“Thor: Ragnarok”); in truth, they are now slaves, who will be forced to fight to the death in the Grandmaster’s gladiator games.
So, who actually gets to enjoy Sakaar as a utopia? That would be the Grandmaster. He is in control of everything: the Contest of Champions – the gladiator games in which Hulk and Thor compete; the fighters themselves – controlled by “obedience disks”; and the financial lives of Sakaar’s citizens – the only payment seen in this film is when fighters are captured and sold to the Grandmaster, as Valkyrie, one of the Grandmaster’s bounty hunters, does with Thor. Because he controls so many aspects of Sakaar’s society, the people of Sakaar fear the Grandmaster’s wrath. This is demonstrated when Loki refuses to help free Thor. Loki explains that “[He has] made friends with [the Grandmaster]… [and he has] gained [the Grandmaster’s] favor” (“Thor: Ragnarok”). Loki has cultivated a relationship with the Grandmaster for weeks and has been enjoying that time, as shown by his popularity in the scene where Thor finds him. If Loki, a powerful god in his own right, is afraid of losing the Grandmaster’s favor, how must the ordinary citizens of Sakaar feel?
The outskirts of Sakaar do not appear to be regulated by the Grandmaster. They are essentially dumping grounds of the galaxy, with portals to space dropping pieces of ships and, occasionally, people from other lands onto the planet. The people that live in these dumping grounds are shown flying in spaceships, implying that the ground is uninhabitable due to all the junk and they do not appear to have a stable source of food. When they first encounter Thor, the people ask him if he is “a fighter or food,” which demonstrates that these people are desperate enough to resort to cannibalism (“Thor: Ragnarok”). They decide that Thor is food and attempt to capture him, only to be thwarted by Valkyrie, who obliterates the entire crowd with her ship’s weapons. This violent scene shows the cutthroat conditions for not just the people of this junkyard, but also for Valkyrie; she cannot afford to lose this payday even if it means slaughtering several, essentially innocent people. The desperation of these acts shows the destitute lives of the people of the junkyard and the bounty hunters, making this portion of the planet anything but a utopia.
How could so many people be living in these dystopic situations and not do anything about it? People like the Grandmaster manipulate them into thinking that this is the best that they can do, that this is in fact their utopia, and if they rebel or question authority, they will only make things worse for themselves. In reality, people like the Grandmaster thrive on the suffering of others. Thor’s time on Sakaar is an intense journey that should leave audiences wondering, what is the real cost of utopia?
Thor Ragnarok. Directed by Taika Waititi, Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Studios, and Screen Queensland, 2017.