10

This is really a dumb question but as a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I have watched Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame so many times. One of the most interesting things that popped out were Thanos's quotes. His quotes have gained so much popularity in the MCU fandom that an entire subreddit (r/ thanosdidnothingwrong) was originally made for MCU fans to make memes out of his lines. Thanos's statements are not only used in the context of the MCU; they are like general, "philosophical" quotes that memes have seem to have used in almost any situation.

I might just be blinded by the recent popularity of the MCU (due to Endgame) and thus Thanos's consequent popularity ( since he is the biggest villain the MCU had so far), but to me, his lines seem so powerful in conveying a message and yet hey are not even very sophisticated.

For example,

"I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail nonetheless. It’s frightening. Turns the legs to jelly. I ask you, to what end? Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same."

"Going to bed hungry? Scrounging for scraps? Your planet was on the brink of collapse"

"You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me... As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those, that are unable to accept what can be."

"Your politics bore me! Your demeanor is that of a pouty child"

There is just a few of my favorites. If you watched the movies, you can tell that Thanos's writer didn't forcibly slap some large complicated words into his lines; rather, the lines are carefully crafted and straight to the point with no extra filler words.

I am taking an advanced English/writing class where we write a lot of essays. And again, this sounds dumb, but I really wish to convey the same powerful messages like Thanos does. Is there a specific style of words or writing Thanos's screenwriter was using? Is there a different way to format the sentences or use certain diction to make my writing compelling?

  • Honestly, just practice. That's all it boils down to. That, and having the "vocabulistics" to speaks succinctly. – J Crosby Aug 2 at 22:47
  • For clarification, you write "I really wish to convey the same powerful messages like Thanos does." Do you mean that you, the author, want to convey messages in the same powerful way that Thanos does? Or do you mean you want to write a character that conveys their own messages in that way? I took your question to be the former, but I'm guessing from voting pattern that others did not. – Thing-um-a-jig Aug 3 at 4:45
  • 3
    I'm getting rid of your fiction tag in order to make room for the rhetoric tag, because your question is all about rhetoric (the art of effective or persuasive writing). His statements are simple at face value, but they're structured using several rhetorical devices and appeals. – wordsworth Aug 4 at 8:10
  • Love this question. Also love the way Thanos talks - his vocabulary is both simple and sophisticated, his demeanor intimidating. This isn't large enough for an answer, but I'd recommend watching all of his scenes and reading his dialogue in the comics! – weakdna Aug 17 at 14:48
  • Also, there's no such thing as a dumb question :) – weakdna Aug 17 at 14:49
15

Thanos is a master of rhetoric.

Some of the earlier answers hint at this but nobody is really getting to the crux of the issue: Thanos is a powerful and persuasive speaker because he carefully uses rhetoric. This is the art of effective or persuasive writing/speaking, the basic principles of which were identified and defined by Plato and expanded upon by everyone since. Historically politicians, orators, and anyone intending to be in the public eye would be trained in rhetoric, though that part of modern education has become more inconsistent lately. If you want to write compelling essays, it would be helpful to learn some fundamentals of rhetoric so you can benefit from these well-attested tactics of persuasion.

Without turning this into an exhaustive lesson on rhetoric, here are some tricks he uses in the quotes you cite:

He uses the Appeals/Modes of Persuasion.

Persuasion, according to Aristotle and the many authorities that would echo him, is brought about through three kinds of proof (pistis) or persuasive appeal:

logos The appeal to reason.

pathos The appeal to emotion.

ethos The persuasive appeal of one's character.

--- Silva Rhetoricae

That first quote uses all three!

  • "I know what it’s like to lose."
    • ETHOS-- he is establishing himself as an authority*
  • "To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail nonetheless. It’s frightening. Turns the legs to jelly."
    • PATHOS-- he is identifying and sympathizing with your fear
  • "I ask you, to what end? Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same."
    • LOGOS-- he makes a logical claim and appeals to your ability to reason

*Ethos also includes being a respected authority figure, from a politician to a celebrity spokesperson, so this includes some ineffable combination of charisma, name recognition, and actual power. Thanos has much of this power in his own sphere, but when he shows up on Earth people don't know him and don't respect his political authority, only perhaps his charisma. They take him seriously as a threat but don't really heed his ethical** appeal.

**not to say moral or just.

He uses stylistic devices to drive his points home.

There are nearly countless stylistic rhetorical devices out there, but here are a few I noticed from your quotes:

"Going to bed hungry? Scrounging for scraps? Your planet was on the brink of collapse"

"You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me... As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those, that are unable to accept what can be."

The first three quotes you shared all contain rhetorical questions that use the device anthypophora, asking questions and answering them yourself to demonstrate reasoning. Therefore they also appeal to reason (LOGOS). Note that the structure strongly implies that the logic follows, and that can be enough to pull your audience across to accepting your statement even if the logic doesn't bear scrutiny.

"Your politics bore me! Your demeanor is that of a pouty child"

This one is a statement of refutation. He rejects whatever protest the humans were making by dismissing both their arguments and their comportment, using apodioxis, the rejection of an argument as invalid, and antirrhesis, the rejection of a person's authority by shaming them.

Quote 3 also has this notable device/figure of speech: "As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those, that are unable to accept what can be." This may be repotia, repetition of a clause with only a slight change, or there may be a better term for it I haven't found.

Thanos has something to say.

Finally, while Thanos is a particularly effective speaker because of his rhetoric, it works well because he has something bold to say. (See Invention.) Thanos is philosophical, thoughtful, and reasoned (or, alternatively: obsessive, sociopathic, and a crackpot). He has an idea, and he uses rhetoric to persuade people to understand and agree with his vision.

Be like Thanos: study rhetoric.

You may want to take a class on rhetoric to really power up your essays, or you can ask your professor for some advice. Chances are any English teacher/professor will be happy to help a student explore a more advanced topic!

To learn more about the basic concepts of rhetoric, Brigham Young University has a nice website on rhetoric, Silva Rhetoricae (Latin for "the Forest of Rhetoric"), which I've cited here. It has a couple dozen pages introducing various concepts of rhetoric, and a long dictionary of rhetorical devices with examples.

4

It is not only what he says, but how he says it. And who he is as a character.

Why do you like Thanos? Because he appeals to your fantasy of an alpha male, an ideal father figure: he is big and strong, but also a gentleman. He can be very soft and caring without seeming unmanly, and he can unleash righteous fury if needed. He regrets having to be cruel, but is cruel if the situation calls for it. He is dark and brooding, but also thoughtful and determined. You aspire to be like him.

What he actually says is only part of the whole package, and it is that whole package that makes his philosophy stand out and seem bigger and more interesting than it is.

"Going to bed hungry? Scrounging for scraps? Your planet was on the brink of collapse"

Imagine this line was delivered not by Thanos, but by Vizzini from The Princess Bride, in his angry nasal voice. Doesn't sound nearly half as philosophical now, does it? It just sounds like an asshole justifying himself - unconvincingly. But the brooding dark tone of Thanos, as he looms over you and calmly and patiently explains to you why his goals are for the best - that is what sells it to you. You want to believe that guy. Despite standing for something you're against, he still embodies a trustworthy father figure.

So how can you sound like Thanos in your essays? That is going to be difficult. You can emulate some of his style, which I believe you have identified quite successfully (not too sophisticated, to the point, using ellipsis as a stylistic device). But that is not going to make your writing seem powerful. What you need is a whole persona. If you wrote a novel, you could make your narrator or a character seem like a Thanos kind of guy by giving him situations in which to explain his philosophy while also giving him enough scenes to show his imposing character. You cannot do that in an essay.

Also, picture Thanos writing an essay for a moment. It would not work! Even he will fail to be convincing, because when reading an essay, the reader does not know who is talking. Thanos' presence is absolutely essential to his persuasive abilities. Without it, he is just some lunatic.

By the way, I remember a similar hype about Bane when The Dark Knight Rises came out. It was the same thing. And there's a reason memes usually add a cool picture of the movie character to the quote.

2

As you say, they are philosophical; and they seem powerful because they seem true and momentous.

I ask you, to what end? Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same.

He is explaining the futility of fearing failure; at least from somebody that firmly believes in destiny. Do what you must, if you fail you fail.

"Going to bed hungry? Scrounging for scraps? Your planet was on the brink of collapse."

Sounds like evidence (in the form of concrete examples) followed by a conclusion, succinctly stated.

Of course it is idiotic logic; people have been going to bed hungry and scrounging for scraps for 200,000 years, without our planet being on the brink of collapse. Hardship and pain and grief are what motivates us to avoid them in the future, they are the fuel of progress, for 200,000 years they have been more predictive of humanity's advancements than of their collapse. We're still here, bigger than ever, more comfortable and safer than ever.

"As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those, that are unable to accept what can be."

In this case, perhaps resonates with the current world case, in which racism, bigotry, misogyny and religious conflict (the old world) still struggles to fight a future without those things. Thanos may have a darker vision than that, but the statement cuts both way.

"Your politics bore me! Your demeanor is that of a pouty child"

I think this is not "philosophical" at all, it is just a succinct dismissal and put-down of an argument.

Screenwriting is very much the art of being succinct, packing a great deal of meaning into a few words of dialogue.

All of these examples sound like something a person could say in conversation without being interrupted; the death knell for a screenwriter is having an opponent on screen just waiting while somebody makes a speech.

Smart and daunting villains are often driven by philosophies that excuse the harm they are doing as they pursue some goal. Thanos has clearly thought about what he is doing, and has excuses for his behavior.

I recognize these as good lines, but I don't find them particularly profound; more megalomaniacal and poorly reasoned. Your infatuation may be personal.

In your own writing, if you want to emulate this, you need to work on being succinct, getting your philosophy (or your villain's) condensed into standalone lines you can state in a single breath. Or roughly under 10 seconds.

Take your favorite lines, and stopwatch yourself speaking them, as delivered. Make sure you don't run out of breath, and see how long they actually are. That will give you a metric for acceptable lengths, then figure out how to say what you want and reach that goal. Without cheating by going over, or speaking faster. When getting across any idea, the fewer words it takes, the more punch it will have. I think what you are looking for is punch.

(I don't do it here, in my answers, because it is hard work! But I have done it, particularly in ads, for radio and TV, where (like film) you have a very strict time budget and must get concepts across in a few seconds, and even in print ads, where you have a strict space budget with zero leeway.)

0

I'd like to add to Thing-um-a-jig's answer.

The written "voice" of a character has at least three components.

  1. The character's lexicon. This is the unique way a person/character uses words. This is what Thing-um-a-jig is talking about.

  2. The character's sound. This is narrative description that gives the reader an idea of what the character's voice sounds like. Is it gravelly? musical? flat? hoarse? or any of a thousand other words. Thanos might sound "booming," but it also is (to me, anyway) a baritone sound with rich depth, like it was spoken in a Cathedral.

  3. The character's basic mood. This is separate from the immediate emotion of the scene. Is your character naturally angry? happy? cheerful? sardonic? Thanos has remarkable self-confidence, combined with an odd amount of compassion. He believes what he's doing is right, but understands the pain it causes. While many fans might disagree, I suggest his basic mood is humble. Like the character's sound, this is something you need to provide in narrative description. However, to give you an idea of the difference, the basic mood could be thought of as something that affects others. In other words, a character may sound like they constantly inhale helium, but their basic mood may make you nervous. Very, very nervous. In the case of Thanos, I would feel a sense of awe standing in his presence, but unless I'm challenging him, I would feel at ease, almost at peace (even while getting zapped by his cohorts, who never seem to be on the half-who-need-to-die list).

Unfortunately, writing a character is quite a bit more complex than this. Those three are the basics, but they are consistently modified scene-to-scene to accommodate how the character reacts to different stimulus. If I recall correctly, George Lucas had entire folders describing the principle characters in Star Wars, and the script/story had to be written according to the descriptions (aka "rules") found therein. In short, he wrote books to produce the foundation for writing the book he actually wanted to write.

Developing a complete character voice is an important part of writing fiction. Doing it well takes practice, like any other skill. But in your case, let's start with the basics: lexicon, sound, and basic mood.

0

Thanos is a narcissist of the highest order.

He speaks in such a commanding way because he believes unwaveringly that his every idea is superior to that of any other being. He twists every action, every event, every failure or victory or random coincidence into evidence that he is right. Because that's what narcissists do!

It sounds to me that you want to convey yourself with the incredible confidence of someone who can't conceive of the idea that they may be wrong. So now you have an idea of where to start. Write your paper as if you were the sole authority on all things. I would urge caution if you go that route. It may give you a powerful voice, but academics don't always appreciate people who never admit that they may have made a mistake (Thanos would never admit that!)

0

I once recall way back when Spider-man II (Toby McGuire) came out reading an article talking about what made the webhead the most sucessful comicbook hero in the industry (yes, Superman was not always a reliable seller). What they concluded was the reason is that Spider-man was successful not because of the character, but because he had one of the best rogues galleries of any character. The article had the thesis that in any story, the character that is the most important is the antagonist, and that the truly great bad guys stand out because they think they are the heroes.

Every element of Thanos on his big screen debut was crafted to make a CGI ten foot tall alien something the audience could empathize with, even if they don't agree with him. From the degree of emotion on his face, to the way he spoke, Thanos was meant to be human. And why he was so effective was because we are so quick to attribute bad faith to people who do bad things, we do not stop to consider they may not be evil... they just think their doing good. Thanos' character is asking a very simple question: Is someone who is capable of doing so much evil incapable of loving others and thus irredeemable? And the film gives us the all too correct answer: No! Evil people are still capable of love.

Thanos is at his core, a good man, who does terrible things. A fitting final conflict for phase three of Marvel, which opens with a film where the antaganist isn't a villain at all. It's another hero. More importantly, it's another hero who believes he is right with as much conviction as the hero of the film.

Thanos isn't wholly wrong. In principal, he is right. Over-population is a real problem. It's a very natural problem. There are limiting factors on population growth in the wild. There is only so much water, or food, or any other necessary elements in a given environment and when those limits are allowed to reach, those competeing for the same resources are forced into conflict. And this is very much a human condition. There is finite land, finite water, finite comodities. Famine comes in this lack of wealth. Over abundence of predation leages to plagues. These are conditions largely out of our hands leading to the inevitable choice: Fight for me and mine, or roll over and die like the rest. The four horsemen of the apocalypse. The Biblical End of the World, summed up into one problem: There are too many consumers and not enough consumables. A very simple, very real, and very deadly solution man has faced since before history was recorded.

In reality, the logical answer to the suffering of all is of course, less consumers. This is something that does happen in the world all the time. Deer culls, the killing of a quota of deer in the enviroment so that they don't overcrowd and strip all the resources is common, as is the hunting and killing of invasive species. Australians have a hatred of both the rabbit and the cane toad to the point of psychosis because there are too many in their land. But it's something different when humans learn that they too, are reaching a thresh hold of population that cannot support. After all, one of the worst figures in the past century of human history was the who realized that the Germans needed more "living room" and went about a similar cull of the "problematic" population. And sadly, any environmental claim is dashed by the methods of selection... which is why the solution to human overpopulation is difficult because in our own competition with each other, we cannot help but question if the motives of someone we don't care about choosing out of some reason that is wrong.

Thanos thusly proposed a modified compromise solution to this problem: Overpopulation can only be corrected by culling some of the living. We agree that we cannot do this because no one should have control over who lives and dies. So we remove any control and leave it up to chance. Each person flips a coin, heads they live tails they die. The king of the mightiest nation will have no greater chance of living than the poorest man in the poorest nation. Nor the oppressor over the oppressed, not the man over the woman, the elder over the child, nor anyone with power over anyone else. This horriffies us for a number of reasons. First, the problem with the solution, for many, is not that it could be implement unjustly. It's that it is one person making the most life changing decision for everyone. And second, because as has been discussed, the other cold truth of reality is that in that moment, some people are in fact more important than others... but for reasons that are unbiased. Half of every thing will die. As the film shows, that's half of all pilots... both those on the ground and flying helicopters. Half of all doctors, including surgeons plying their craft, and half of all drivers, including those driving 18 wheelers in rush hour traffic. Thanos' plan is evil because it's impossible to kill off an even split of people. When potential evidence of bomb fuel was found at the Oklahoma City bomb investigation, the press asked the lead FBI explosives expert if the fuel was powerful enough to damage the building. The investigator, fed up with the questions so early in the investigation, explained that the power of a bomb's fuel was unimportant when compared to the location of the bomb and if that he was so inclined, he could bring down a 747 passenger plane with a cherry bomb in the exact right place. The reporters, curiosity getting the better of them, stopped asking about the very real bombing and started questioning him about how a thing that was more associated with juvenile delinquents could be the tool of terrorists. After much relenting, the investigator finally explained exactly where he would put a cherry bomb to completely destroy a sophisticated machine like the 747: Right under the pilot's ass.

Thanos is right in identifying the problem. No one argues "it's not too crowded" with him ever. Thanos fails because in his attempt to remove his or anyone's biased, he fails to consider that bias is the entire reason why it can never be properly solved. To the survivors of Thanos on that plane, the pilot's life is still more important than the entire passenger manifest. His motivation is noble... and he makes no mistake that he knows that he is not going to be praised for doing this. But he sees himself like Batman: He is the hero the people need, not the one they deserve.

This is why he is effective: not because he is a bad person, not because he didn't have all the pieces of the puzzle, not even because he miscalculated. It's because to his own mind, there is no other solution that will cause less pain. And we no he is well aware of pain. And that he's already in great pain.

And this has nothing to do with what Thanos says, but his own actions. The Red Skull says that the Soul Stone is unique because it displays wisdom and will only work for a fixed price: the love of the seeker's life. It's a lofty price, but it's a valuable judge for the soul stone, which has power over life and death. It will grant it's power to someone who seeks it not for their own benefit. If they are going to use it to return people to life, it will not be for their benefit. When the Avengers restore the lives, they still lost Natasha. They can make everyone else happy, but they cannot erase the grief of loss. If they intend to kill others, they will know the true scope of each death on everyone. And it is through his acquiring of the soul stone that the audice comes to see why Thanos is an effective villain. Because to everyone's horror, he's not a heartless monster. He does no what it means to truly love someone unconditionally. As much as Gamora and Nebula hate his guts and wish to see him dead... he still loves them. Thanos adopted his children, which to many is a sign of immense love... they aren't his own flesh and blood... they are strangers who are treated with all the respect and affection of a biological parent to their kids.

And when the snap comes at the end of the film, Thanos is granted a brief vision of a young Gamora, as innocent as the day she first entered his heart asking him if all his pain was worth it. To the father of six, who has just lost five children, he tearfully admits he is worth it.

This is as human as you get. It's always sad when someone dies, but its seen as a great tragedy for a parent to bury a child. Thanos is burying five in one day. And he is in terrible emotional pain. And despite all that suffering, all that grief, he still believes that his crusade is so important that he would be willing to lose so much to save people you do not know, but will always know will hate you and curse your name... well, it's hard to say that a character seen in that light would not seem heroic.

What Thanos did, was wrong. No one argues this point. But it's hard to say he is evil because as much as we know Thanos did something wrong, we still know his heart was in the right place. We still no Thanos was a good man, who did a very terrible thing. It is a description that, though the scope may not be as grand, no one in the audience can truly say they haven never experienced the feeling of being a good man who did a terrible thing. It's a very human condition.

Thanos was an effective and quotable character because he was handled as if he was a hero who did something wrong, not as a villain, who had lost his humanity.

0

Hire Josh Brolin.

I am serious.

Thanos lines are quite standard, nothing special. It was Josh Brolin's delivery and interpretation that gave life to the Thanos we know on the big screen.

He spoke with a very deep, sad, tired and sincere voice, and very very very slowly.

Other than that his lines weren't anything special.

https://www.reddit.com/r/marvelstudios/comments/aazi0e/literally_all_of_thanos_lines_in_the_mcu/

Just read the lines in your head in your own voice.. You don't get Thanos on the big screen.

Brolin did a great job.

And Thanos does use very very short sentences.

-2

Eliminate everything irrelevant to your message.

Rough example:


Thanos's statements are like philosophical quotes. His lines seem so powerful in conveying a message, yet they are not even very sophisticated.

"Going to bed hungry? Scrounging for scraps? Your planet was on the brink of collapse"

"Your politics bore me! Your demeanor is that of a pouty child"

Thanos's writer didn't forcibly slap large complicated words into his lines; the lines are carefully crafted and straight to the point.

I am taking an advanced English/writing class where we write a lot of essays. I wish to convey the same powerful messages like Thanos does. Is there a specific style writing that Thanos's screenwriter was using?

  • 3
    I feel like Thanos would arbitrarily eliminate 50 percent of the message. – AGirlHasNoName Aug 3 at 5:02
  • 2
    I think that the downvotes suggest that you should explain why you think that just eliminating the irrelevant would make ANY text sound like Thanos speech. – NofP Aug 3 at 9:59
  • 1
    The comment you just wrote is actually a better answer than the answer you gave. Maybe you could edit the latter. – NofP Aug 3 at 19:00
  • 1
    @Thing-um-a-jig, yes it would be better to include something like that in your answer. First say why obviously it's no use to actually speak like Thanos in an essay; then state what you think the intention of the question is; then answer that intended question as best as you can. Which would NOT be to simply copy a small part of the original question (which is very confusing), but to explain "let's take your question as an example - all the relevant information is contained in this following paragraph [...]" and so on. – PoorYorick Aug 3 at 19:41
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    Anyway, +1 and welcome to Writing. Don't take it too hard, I think your intended answer was very good and helpful, but you may be able to improve it by elaborating more on your key points. :) – PoorYorick Aug 3 at 19:42

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