A lot can be said about Marvel’s first Disney+ series, WandaVision (Spoilers ahead!), from its weird, off-putting sitcom beginning to the broader impact the series’ events will have on the MCU. But, being that we’re named FreeThinking Ministries, obviously we have to talk about what WandaVision confirms to us about free will.
This show isn’t the first MCU story to address free will, determinism, and human responsibility (see my article “Captain America, Bucky, and Moral Responsibility”). Superhero movies all contain moral themes such as the struggle of good vs. evil, the dangers of power, and our obligations to one another. But no discussion of morality seems to make any sense without first assuming that we have some ability to choose between right and wrong. In the case of Bucky Barnes, he has his freedom overridden at times and is compelled to do terrible things. But when he is “himself” and in control of his choices, Bucky chooses to be a hero, which is really what matters most.
WandaVision begins with Wanda and Vision in a weird sitcom reality, and it’s obvious to the viewer that something just isn’t right. The people of Westview start doing and saying odd things and it seems that they are somehow being controlled by someone or something. Eventually, we discover that someone is Wanda. Due to her immense grief, Wanda creates her own bubble around the town of Westview, the Hex, and transforms the town into her perfect world. She creates her own Vision and controls the minds and actions of (almost) every human inhabitant in town. Vision, one of the few “free thinkers” inside the Hex, eventually realizes that something is wrong and temporarily breaks the spell of some of his neighbors. He discovers that they are not only being controlled, but that this control causes them great suffering, since their “real” selves are locked away inside of them.
It should be obvious to the viewers of WandaVision that what Wanda has done to these people is terrible, that they are just being used to create Wanda’s own perfect world. Even if the residents of Westview were not internally suffering and were completely oblivious that they were being mind controlled, that would still be truly evil. Freedom is a great good, and controlling or manipulating people is evil.
But let’s move from Wanda’s actions to those of the residents of Westview. She has made them all to be her perfect neighbors. However, are the people actually being good neighbors? Are they doing anything that’s actually praiseworthy? No, they are simply doing whatever Wanda wants them to do. If Wanda had made the people terrible neighbors who hurt each other instead, should they be blamed for their bad behavior? Again, they should not, since Wanda is the one in control of their actions, not the townspeople. When the residents of Westview were under Wanda’s control, they would not be responsible for any of their actions, Wanda would.
There are many philosophers and theologians who deny human freedom, thinking that we are in some way similar to the citizens of Westview. Maybe we are not being directly controlled by a Scarlet Witch, but we simply “dance to our DNA,” follow our animal instincts, or pursue our heart’s greatest desire. Regardless, if we are not free in some meaningful sense, how can we deserve praise or blame for any of our actions? We can’t. Furthermore, we would not even be persons, but merely an extension of whatever controls or programs our thoughts and behaviors. If I’m a nice guy, don’t praise me; thank God or the laws of physics. If I’m a jerk, that’s not my fault—I was born this way.
Sometimes smart people think dumb things regarding human freedom and moral responsibility. But it doesn’t take an advanced degree to realize that the residents of Westview could not possibly be responsible for any of their actions while they were under Wanda’s control. And neither can we if all of our thoughts, beliefs, and actions are caused and determined by someone or something else. Once again, we see the importance of good stories and how they can illustrate basic truths about reality. In the case of WandaVision, we plainly see the value of freedom and, with further thought, its connection to moral responsibility.
For more on this topic:
- “Rogue One: A Lesson About Free Will & Responsibility” – Tim Stratton
- Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism – Tim Stratton