The Hulk Is a 9: An Enneagram Adventure | Part Four, "Hulk Like Raging Fire"

For previous posts in this running series of posts on the enneagram (including the rationale for the series), click here.

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The Marvel universe is intricately interwoven. It’s a delight to sit down to watch a film focused on any one character and to be treated to an appearance from another. Thor: Ragnarok is an especially gleeful example, with a brief cameo from Dr. Strange and the prominent inclusion of the Incredible Hulk.

Several films after Age of Ultron we finally learn where Hulk has been hiding — in space, where he is celebrated as a gladiatorial champion. He revels in the cheers of the crowds and gripes to Thor about how he was treated on earth. He has slipped into the six space again - that enneagram space where nines go when they've succumbed to stress, a space with a complicated sense of loyalty and betrayal. Unlike Age of Ultron, however, in this film we see not Bruce but Hulk move from nine to six. "Earth hate Hulk," he complains. "Thor go; Hulk stay." He has given his loyalty to this battle-crazed planet that has made him both its champion and its prisoner.

A planet enamored with violence is only too happy to let Hulk be Hulk, but a planet enamored with violence is no place to make a life. Hulk has enjoyed his exile, but he needs to make his way home. For whatever reason, I'm reminded of Walt Whitman:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.) ...

(Whitman’s omission of punctuation is perhaps prophetic; he contradicts himself “very well,” thank you very much. All large and multitudinous persons do. But I digress.)

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. ...

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Hulk wants a world that loves him, or at least doesn't hate him, or at least lets him be. Bruce Banner wants to be his own person, to be sought out for himself, to be accepted contradictions and all.

He has reason not to trust that what he wants will come to pass. Thor continues to see both Bruce and the Hulk as discreet challenges to be managed rather than a whole person to be cared for. He tells Hulk that he prefers Hulk over Bruce; he tells Bruce he prefers Bruce over Hulk.

Technically it’s Thor’s movie, so we allow it, and technically the movie is a comedy, so we laugh. But the capacity to be manipulated, to be absorbed into another person’s drama, is a particular vulnerability of the nine. For the Hulk, it’s just another way for his personality to be suppressed and subsumed.

Nines are always at risk of losing their selfhood. It’s no small wonder that Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America all have three films named after them; while Hulk has two feature films, his last solo outing was more than a decade ago. (Black Widow and Hawkeye, the other two original Avengers, have no feature films to date, for what it’s worth, but that’s another story and in any case it's in the process of being remedied.) Hulk is widely acknowledged as the “strongest Avenger,” but his willingness to be contingent, to be absorbed into another person’s story, makes him particularly vulnerable to losing touch with himself.

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In previous posts I've commended a couple of books on the enneagram to you: Alice Fryling's Mirror for the Soul and Chris Heuertz's The Sacred Enneagram. In this post I'll point you to the immensely popular The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. This winsome and gracious introduction the enneagram takes a different starting point than the other two books; you jump quickly into the characterizations of the nine enneagram spaces, which is immensely satisfying for the enneagram-curious, and Ian's tone (he is the primary writer and the dominant voice in the book) is friendly and pastoral. Considering how tender a thorough discussion of the enneagram can be, establishing such a tone is a real kindness.

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