Iron Man 2: How Does Knowing You’re Dying Lead to Self-Destructive Behaviors?

“What would you do if you knew this was going to be your last birthday?”  That was the profound question Tony Stark asked, which was the riddle that explained his self-destructive behavior in Iron Man 2.

Yes, this movie was criticized for being slower than the first installment, having less action and feeling slightly more boring with an anti-climactic final fight scene.  But as I recently watched this again for the second time and focused more on the character with less expectations for the action, I appreciated the question the story posed: what would you do if you knew you were dying?  For a millionaire playboy with a military grade super suit, he had a lot of options.  But the oxymoronic irony for Stark was that knowing he was dying led to self-destructive behaviors – drunkenness, lack of control, loss of judgment, brawls… and he was potentially harming others around him in the process.  The baffling contradiction is when people desperately attempt to feel more alive when faced with inevitable death through self-destructive activities.  It logically doesn’t make sense.  But when one is trying to grasp for life to escape the inevitability of death, logic is not usually at the forefront of a one’s mind.  It was like what Jack Bauer illustrated in 24, a dying man is a desperate man.

Being here in Hollywood at night-time, I see people lining up the clubs, coming out of limos, and screaming down the streets as they cheer and party.  Then, I also see young men in blazers urinating in open parking lots, young adults puking on the sidewalks, grown men fighting in the streets, and young girls in tight dresses urinating in our church driveway.  And that’s just what I see from the outside.

Stark reminded me of a young man who walked into our church service one morning after partying all night, was fully intoxicated and was ditched by his supposed-friends.  After the service, I spoke with him and he said with bloodshot eyes, “It had been years since I walked into a church.  I told myself I never would.”  I asked him, “What brought you in here today.”  He said, “Brokenness.”  There was a silence between us.  Then he said, “Brokenness brought me in today.  All this stuff that I do – clubbing, partying, drinking – it’s just stuff, you know, to cover up the brokenness.”

I believe the character of Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 posed a profound philosophical question of humanity that is relevant to so many today: How do you live when you are dying?  It is an age-old question.  I think there are thousands of people in the world trying desperately to live it up – wanting to feel alive – because they sense the inevitable death within them everyday and they honestly don’t know what to do about it.  Unless we can resolve death, we are desperate people grasping for ways to feel alive but the measures we undertake are self-destructive ones.  These measures are self-destructive because they are not solutions to dying but are exaggerations of living, that is, extreme lifestyles to help us not feel like we’re dying.  When in reality, we know that with each passing birthday, we get one birthday closer to the last one.  The solution?  Stop trying to live it up and discover what it really means to have life.  Find the solution to death so that you never have a last birthday.

Every religion offers an answer for death but not all of the answers are the same, which is one of the reasons why it is superficial and folly to say all religions are the same. Assuming that there is an answer out there, it is crucial to do due diligence in investigating the religions for what they are.  Feeling alive won’t stop death.  Actually finding life stops death.  John 14:6.

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