Wednesday 30 March 2011


"What has been passed on?"

David Banner, an ambitious and hubristic geneticist, conducts dangerous experiments upon himself. When he and his wife have a son, Bruce, a mutation is inherited.

Young Bruce inherits memories too, memories of his mother's death at his father's hands (a clouded and upturned image of her anguished face).

The parallel : whatever parents do, however they act towards their child or to each other, whether purposely or not, is an emotional experiment.

We witness Bruce hearing his father and mother arguing behind a closed door. He hides under the table as he would if there were an explosion at the research facility nearby. He turns away and re-enacts the scene with two soft toys, mashing them against each other. As he does he growls. He is manic and distressed. What has been passed on? Pain that is buried deep and forgotten and the seed for that pain (and the subconscious) to become flesh.

Bruce is now working in genetics, in the manipulation of the immune system to promote regeneration. Like his father. We see him conduct an experiment on a frog, attempting to improve the healing powers of its cells through the use of nanomeds, microscopic living beings. The frog explodes. Family life, like the nanomeds, is meant to heal and repair. Instead it makes him explode.

Laying out a detailed emotional and genetic foundation for the Hulk*, and making exposure to gamma radiation the trigger rather than the root cause, establishes the Hulk as a regression. It was conceived as a child and, when it appears in its full and monstrous form, a child it remains.

Its facial expressions recall those of a child - wide-eyed, confused, curious and sometimes, surrounded by carnage in front of Betty, ashamed. Like King Kong before him, Hulk is a child becalmed, cradling and protecting its adopted mother in its palm. 

Bruce describes becoming the Hulk as "like being born, coming up for air". Having fought off mutant dogs, Hulk shrinks and Bruce staggers to Betty naked, clinging to a motherly warmth. It is in this light that Betty's decisions to hand him over to the military, that could be seen as the betrayals of a partner, are understood as a parent's mature realisation that her son needs intervention.

Bruce's father, who reappears from the dead, calls him "my physical son and the child of my mind". He is another Doctor Frankenstein taken to extremes by an obsession with control and wisdom. He wants to intrude and trample on nature in order to "partake with the essences". He wants to be a God, knowledgeable and almighty, "a hero of the kind that walked the Earth long before the pale religions of civilisation infected humanity's soul". He wants to "improve on" his nature.

Science is nature, nature is nurture. The tiny are the building blocks for the large. A cell compared to a planet, a drop of water birthing a galaxy. Lichen and lizards and jellyfish, Hulk sees in these something of himself. We are all connected to everything (Betty and Bruce's family histories, too, are intimately intertwined) and affected by everything, our atoms once part of something else.

What are we born with? What are we given? Hulk is a product of his human environment. What is tragic is how he attacks it or shrinks from it, afraid. Upon first seeing Betty Hulk seeks to meld into the tranquil, ostensibly amoral environment of nature, hidden by the knotted roots and branches of an old tree.

*       *       *

Bruce lost his mother and Betty is by no means close to her father. She has memories of being left alone as a young girl, weeping. She has dreams of the same scene in which Bruce is now the father figure, at first smiling and then menacing. Once Bruce has met his father again, who he thought dead, he has visions and nightmares of the future. 

Encrypted traumas stymy the present and project or anticipate a tragic future. Roles are confused between lover, friend, father and mother. Time has no meaning : the past is here.

When Bruce first turns into the Hulk (the idea of competing alter egos is touched upon - Hulk first disdainful of Bruce ("puny human!") and then  rescuing him from a water chamber) it is his watch** that is first discarded by his growing body. The corridor at the University facility recalls that in which his father waited for him to be born. The door behind which his parents had fought reappears in his laboratory as he struggles to contain his anger - it opens to reveal the Hulk standing in the shadows, in the void where his mother and father struggled unseen. 

Later, the camera will move out of a scene and take in a wall of panels, each a different moment from the film, and then zoom back in on a new image. Everything co-exists, the past, the present and the future living together.

There is a tyranny of time. In a couple of instances, General Ross leaning in to interrogate Bruce and Hulk smashing out of the military compound, an action is reprised from a different angle, extending it into something insistent and entrapping. On another occasion, helicopters surround him like the laser guns that surround the subjects of his and his father's experiments.

Bruce has absorbed a lifetime of suffering. When Hulk first appears he directs his rage at the machine that irradiated him, tearing the globe from its tethers and awkwardly carrying its great weight on his back as Atlas did the celestial orbs. He bounds across the deserts of America. He cannot escape because his enemy is within.

Escape from this burden is only in confrontation with his father, now 'The Absorbing Man'. They meet one last time on a stage stripped bare -  a theatre where the spotlights shine oppressively, voices echo, and where the natural world or visual load no longer offer a hiding place. The focus is on the internal. The black space is there for it to be externalised with unprecedented clarity and force.

His father teases the Hulk out into a battle of elemental forces. His father carries Hulk through the clouds along a bolt of lightning. He takes the shape of a lake, attempting to drown his son within him, within his bitterness, his twisted and selfish lust for his son's incredibly destructive and healing power.

What has been passed on can be let go of. In a cathartic roar Hulk screams "Take it All!" just as Betty's father, General Ross, orders a nuclear strike on the site with the word...


*The explanation makes the Hulk something of an inevitability, rather than a magical apparition.

**The second is his wallet, his identity card showing.

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