September 11 and Iron Man, discovering a “traumatized superhero”?


September 11, how the tragic attack affected Hollywood cinema, the case of Iron Man, the “traumatized superhero”

September 11, 2001, the attack on World Trade Center forever changed the world with heavy historical repercussions.

The attack, conducted by the terrorist group al-Quaeda, aimed at targeting the United States after two previous attacks on embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. After this terrible event, American history took a different turn; “They tried to follow an alternative path to the US hegemony of previous years.” The event also influenced Hollywood cinema; among the films that were best able to tell the story of post-9/11 was Jon Favreau’s Iron Man.

He is the Italian journalist Tommaso Ceruso to explain it with the essay “Iron Man, a traumatized superhero” contained in the collection “Shooting from Heaven” (2012), published by Bulzoni Publisher.

The catharsis of Tony Stark and American society before and after the attack on the Twin Towers

The film dedicated to the well-known Marvel superhero tells the evolution of American society after the traumatic event of September 11th. Even before he was the victim of an attack by a terrorist commando (the group is known as the Ten Rings and will return in the films Iron Man 3 And Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings), Tony Stark is the symbol of an America that “Morbidly pursues the appearance”, a “Genius who donated his skills to war”, “the representative of capitalism in the stars and stripes” and attached only to material things. In short, the genius, playboy, billionaire of the House of Ideas represents the vainglory of the USA that pursued its successes in the field of technology at the end of the twentieth century, all with the contribution of wars.

“Tony Stark’s mind, like American culture, reasons by archetypes, divides into good and bad, right and wrong without reflecting in the least on the essence of things. The protagonist talks about the enemies as bad guys, assuming that the good guys are the Americans, but he doesn’t know that he is the first supplier of weapons to the terrorists. “

When the protagonist is the victim of the terrorist attack in the middle of the desert of Afghanistan, Tony has the “Its 11 September” as well as for the USA, the omnipotence of capital, the virtual and the military turns out to be fragile and inadequate. Right in the den of the Ten Years (clearly inspired by the Taliban), the billionaire understands that the weapons of Stark Industries are also bought by “those he considered enemies”. After the trauma of having discovered that he was the architect of the death of many people (as Plato would think, the slave freed from the chains recognizes the shadows of the objects in the cave and understands the true nature of things), the protagonist’s catharsis begins.

Now Tony Stark “Represents the fallacy of the American model that led to individual annihilation for a society with a pre-established order.” In the lair of the Ten Rings, the future hero must build a model Jerico missile to use for new attacks but makes armor powered by a generator implanted in the heart after a sliver of bomb is lodged in his chest. All with the help of a captive physicist, who sacrifices himself to save the protagonist’s life.

Iron Man: the character from Stan Lee to that of Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr

The character played by Robert Downey Jr differs from his comic counterpart for many reasons, first of all the comic book Stark was born in the sixties and is involved in the Vietnam War. He is kidnapped by a local warlord who bought several weapons from Stark industries; the latter captures the shipowner to help him build new bombs.


L’ The original Iron Man represented the praise of the American model, the stars and stripes super-hero after Captain America who fights the enemies of the USA, embodied in the Communists who led several revolts between Asia, Africa and Latin America. Despite the trauma and the desire to change the “Stark Industries from arms factories to high-tech products “, the American supremacy of those years against the enemies of democracy was reaffirmed.
Unfortunately, after 9/11, this supremacy no longer exists; like this the film counterpart is forced to face the need for a new America, now traumatized by the al-Qaeda attack.

Tony Stark and Obadiah Stane represent the “two Americas” fighting each other

Thus we arrive at the clash between two different models of America embodied by the protagonist and the antagonist; Tony Stark is the new America, reborn from trauma, who wants to change and live their existence, instead Obadiah Stane (played by the actor Jeff Bridges), the executive president of Stark Industries and Tony’s mentor, represents old America. This is insensitive, he just wants to get rich and has no feeling for others, he is selfish and reincarnates the myth of unbridled capitalism.

Halfway through the film, Stane recovers the armor model used by the protagonist to escape the Ten Rings, so he wears the high-tech armor and then becomes Iron Monger. It is the clash between two models of different armor that embody two different Americas, the idea of ​​technological and scientific progress (Tony Stark) against the blind faith of capitalism (Obadoah Stane).
“The real antagonist of the film, in fact, turns out to be the old US socio-economic model, implicitly accused of being responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center.”

September 11 and the Marvel super-heroes, looking for a change for American society

In fact, already in the original comics of Sten Lee and Steve Dikto (which contributed to the success of Marvel), it is possible to find the element that contributed to the success of the film transpositions. It is about the myth “Super heroes with super problems”, in fact thePost-September 11 America has welcomed these figures of characters with inner conflicts, to then metabolize them and use them as a wish for change.

The examples are many; Spider-Man / Peter Parker who finds himself between being a hero and a student with everyday problems, the scientist Bruce Banner divided of his own inner conflict that transforms him into the Hulk, Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer of Hell’s Kitchen fighting the underworld with the name of Daredevil, Thor condemned by his pride to an earthly life in exile from Asgard, the X-Men and all the mutants victims of racism, as if they represented the ethnic and sexual minorities, divided between Professor X (inspired by the peaceful ideals of Martin Luther King) and Magneto (instead inspired by the ideas of Malcolm X).

These troubled heroes, with their own inner conflict, represent the weak American society after the attack on the Twin Towers and have struck the American collective imagination in search of new myths. According to the judgment of Tommaso Ceruso, this factor allowed the Marvel heroes to dominate the pop cinema of those years, while in the case of the rival house, DC, the only case was only the Batman by Christopher Nolan.

THEThe super hero redesigned by Nolanhe is divided by his own inner labor, this has allowed the success of the movie Batman Begins (2005) while Brian Singer’s movie Superman Returns has been a disappointment at the box office (2006). The film, dedicated to the superman Kryptonian conceived as a sequel to Superman II and ignoring the third and fourth installments of the saga, follows the superhero model proposed by Richard Donner in 1978 and continued by Richard Lester in 1981, therefore a model now outdated by the most recent historical events.

Cover image source: Pixabay

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