Discussion Packet

Iron Man 3 – Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide:

  1. Tony tells Aldrich Killian to meet him on the roof. However, Tony never shows up and we see Aldrich waiting by himself. How do you think this made him feel?
    Caregiver Note: It is often easier for children to talk about someone else’s experiences and feelings rather than their own. So instead of having to process their own feelings about rejection, this question allows them to talk with you about how the character of Aldrich feels during the scene. He’s just approached an important and popular person (Tony Stark) about something he’s passionate about, and Tony feigns interest and agrees to meet him. It’s fairly clear to the audience that Tony is not being sincere but Aldrich believes him and is left standing on the roof alone. To add to it all, it’s New Year’s Eve. Children in foster care or adoption are generally very familiar with feelings of rejection, whether it happened to them in an obvious way like is depicted here or just the simple fact of feeling like their birth parent didn’t want them. They are likely to be very sympathetic to Aldrich here and talking about his rejection might offer insight to their own experiences and feelings around the subject.
  2. When the little girl, Erin, asks Tony to autograph her drawing, he suddenly gets up and leaves the restaurant. What do you think made him behave this way? Have you ever experienced something similar?
    Caregiver Note: The little girl hands Tony a drawing of the Battle of New York, which Tony has recently fought in. That, combined with the conversation he’s having with Rhodey about whether he’s doing okay sets off a panic attack. He unintentionally writes ‘help me’, breaks the little girls’ crayon, and then rushes outside gasping for breath before JARVIS diagnoses him with a ‘severe anxiety attack’. Tony likely has PTSD as a result of being in combat and the conversation and picture are triggers that bring back bad memories for him. This can be a great lead in for helping kids talk about if they have experienced similar instances where something triggered a bad memory for them. For many, especially younger children, they may not be able to make the connection between what the trigger was and their response, so it may be helpful to see the progression of what happens for Tony. But it’s also important to understand and discuss that sometimes there might not be a clear trigger or that these feelings might arise from something that doesn’t seem to really relate at all to the bad memory.
  3. When Tony rushes outside he puts on his suit and asks JARVIS to check his vitals because he’s worried he’s having a heart attack. JARVIS diagnoses him with ‘a severe anxiety attack’ and Tony’s response is, “Me?” Why do you think Tony is so surprised by this?
    Caregiver Note: Tony has always viewed himself as being fairly ‘invincible’, especially since he developed his Iron Man armor to literally protect him. He views himself as a superhero and while he spends a lot of energy watching out for an outside physical attack he never stops to think about the threat coming from within. This is the moment that really brings it home for him that he’s vulnerable. This can be a great lead-in to a conversation about how anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses don’t discriminate- it can happen to anyone, even superheroes. His reaction is also fairly common when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, especially with males who have been conditioned by society to view having emotions as a weakness. Knowing and talking about how Iron Man suffers from Anxiety and PTSD may help normalize it for children who are struggling to accept their own diagnoses.
  4. Why is Tony so attached to his Iron Man suits and works on them so much, even to the detriment of other areas of his life such as his relationship with Pepper?
    Caregiver Note: When Pepper confronts him about his workaholism, Tony explains that he’s been having a rough time since the Battle of New York and that he has a lot of difficulty sleeping because of his anxiety. He feels like another threat is imminent and that he has to throw all of himself into finding a way to protect her from them so he makes better and better Iron Man suits. The suit is what allowed him to escape captivity, fight off threats from Obadiah and Ivan Vanko, and allowed him to help defeat Loki and the Chitahuri (all in previous films). Since it has protected him before he clings to it as the answer to all of his problems. If you talk to anyone in the mental health field, anxiety is often explained as ‘fear of loss of control’. Tony fears that he can’t control these outside forces and so his reaction is to exercise control over his Iron Man suits which has turned into an obsession. Like Tony, children who have experienced trauma have an overactive threat response system. Even when they are safe, their brain is constantly on the lookout for the next threat, even sometimes reacting to something benign as if it were a dangerous situation. They’re likely to relate to this feeling of needing to control something. This can be a great way to start a discussion about how to deal with their anxiety and feelings of being ‘out-of-control’ and channeling those feelings into something productive (though preferably in a healthier way than Tony!).
  5. How do you think Tony feels when Happy is injured? What does he do in response? Do you think that was the right thing for him to do? How could he have reacted better?
    Caregiver Note: Tony is not always the best at expressing his emotions but it’s clear he cares for his close friend, Happy, a great deal. Tony is clearly upset about the attack that injured Happy, and is worried about him given that his recovery is not clear at this point. Tony is hounded by reporters as he’s leaving the hospital and gives out his home address and tells The Mandarin to ‘come and get him’. This is a very rash thing to do and ultimately puts himself, Pepper, and many others in danger. Tony has a tendency to act in similar ways when he’s under stress and doesn’t always think through the ramifications of his actions, especially regarding his own safety (which in turn often jeopardizes the safety of those around him). This is very similar to what is seen in children who have experienced trauma: the part of the brain that controls decision making and forward thinking is underdeveloped and the part of the brain that engages in quick fight-or-flight threat response is overdeveloped. As a result, they have adapted to make an immediate reaction based on their emotions in an attempt to quickly resolve the threat, because in their life experience there isn’t time to think through the consequences before doing something. So, they are likely to relate to this behavior in Tony. This can be an opportunity to talk about the importance of taking the time to think things through before acting and how Tony might have been able to keep himself and Pepper out of danger if he had let himself calm down before responding, rather than just lashing out in anger and fear.
  6. How do you think Tony feels when JARVIS and his suit stop working? Why?
    Caregiver Note: Despite being AI, JARVIS is in many ways Tony’s closest relationship. He confides in him, seeks his advice when faced with a problem, and relies on him for support both physical and emotional. After the attack on his home, he is separated from Pepper and has crash landed in an unfamiliar place. His close friend, Happy, is also currently hospitalized on life support. Tony is likely already feeling very alone and JARVIS is his last real connection to the outside world. When JARVIS reports being damaged and needing to shut down Tony’s response is, “Don’t leave me.” Following this Tony is forced to rely completely on himself for the first time, which is likely very scary for him given how he’s always surrounded by others, either human or AI. This can be a way to talk to kiddos about their own support systems and the importance of having relationships they can lean on when things get challenging but also how to process and deal with the feelings of losing someone you care about, even if that separation ends up being temporary (as is the case with JARVIS).
  7. Harley keeps asking Tony about things that happened in New York and Tony keeps saying he doesn’t want to talk about it, but Harley keeps pestering him. How do you think this makes him feel? How does he respond?
    Caregiver Note: We can’t really fault Harley here as he’s just a young child who has met one of his heroes and wants to talk about something that, for him, is similar to a cool movie that happened. For Tony, this was a very real, traumatic event and not something he is ready to talk about, especially not with someone he just met. Harley’s continued questioning eventually causes Tony to have another panic attack. This scene is a great way to highlight how our kiddos probably feel sometimes when we ask them to talk about things that happened to them. In many cases, yes, talking about their trauma will help them to process what happened and begin to work through it. However, pushing them to do so before they are ready is likely only to make things worse. It’s important to respect boundaries and give them the space to come to you when they are ready.
  8. Tony has another anxiety attack when he finds out his suit repairs aren’t working quickly enough. How does Harley help him through it?
    Caregiver Note: This time what causes Tony’s anxiety attack is finding out that his suit isn’t going to be repaired in time. He’s on the phone with Harley when it happens. Harley reminds him to breathe, changes the subject, and starts talking about Tony’s strengths and how he can use those to find another solution to his problem, thus easing his anxiety around feeling helpless. As stated earlier in this guide, everyone is different in how their anxiety presents and also in what helps them calm down in the midst of one. Use this as an opportunity to talk to your youth about the things that help them when they’re feeling anxious and how you can be an aide to them when an attack comes on, the way Harley was in this scene.
  9. Tony finally tracks down The Mandarin only to find out he is an actor hired to play a role and none of it was real. How do you think this makes him feel?
    Caregiver Note: Tony has spent a lot of time and energy trying to find the Mandarin, whom he believes is responsible for all of this death and destruction that has been going on. When he shows up hoping to have a final showdown with this ‘villain’ he finds out that it was all just pretend. This makes him feel a bit like his whole quest to destroy The Mandarin was a waste of time and energy and he has been misled. He is likely disappointed and frustrated for not realizing the truth sooner. Sometimes children who have experienced abuse and neglect may feel similarly: their caregiver or other trusted individuals turned out to be someone different than they had believed them to be, and hurt them when they were supposed to protect them. This can feel like a let down and may be hard for them to accept at first.
  10. Early on in the movie Tony share’s his story and says, “The old days. I never thought they would come back to bite me. Why would they?” How did a decision made in Tony’s past cause a problem for him later? Have you ever had something similar happen?
    Caregiver Note: Tony Stark is a character who made a lot of reckless decisions in how he led his life when he was younger (in part likely due to the tragic and sudden loss of his parents in adolescence). By the time Iron Man 3 rolls around in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have seen Tony on a journey where he is trying to be a better person and make better choices and likely feels like things are on track. So it’s a bit jarring that something which happened many years earlier will affect him at this point. Children who have experienced trauma may be able to relate to the way Tony is feeling when this happens. They may be in a better living situation through foster care or adoption and maybe feel like they have moved past their trauma and that things are going okay. But then something happens or someone from their past shows up and all of a sudden it derails them or has consequences they didn’t expect to resurface. Talking about Tony’s experiences might be helpful for them to relate their own experiences or even talk about strategies they could use to handle it if something from their past makes an unexpected reappearance in the future.
  11. Why do you think Tony was finally able to give up the suits and his arc reactor at the end of the movie?
    Caregiver Note: Tony has gone a significant journey over the course of all the MCU movies, but this one in particular. When he originally escaped terrorist captivity in the first Iron Man, his suit is what protected him and allowed him to escape. Not only that, but it literally kept him alive because it contained an arc reactor which kept his heart running correctly. He eventually had surgery which meant he no longer needed this life-saving device. However he continued to use the Iron Man suits as a vehicle for protecting the world, those he cared about, and even himself, from outside threats. When he started having anxiety he threw all of his energy into making more suits as an outlet for his emotions. Throughout the course of the movie we see Tony come to realize that he can survive without his suit (as proven to him after his suit malfunctions and he crash lands in Tennessee). He learns to trust those around him a little bit more and he no longer needs the crutch that the suits offered him. Tony himself even uses an analogy that his suits were a ‘cocoon’ that he ‘no longer needs’. Children who have experienced trauma likely have developed coping mechanisms that helped them survive the difficult parts of their life but may no longer be necessary or healthy. This is very similar to the way that Tony’s suits literally kept him alive at first but became more and more unhealthy as his life and circumstances changed. This can be a great way to help illustrate the idea of unhealthy coping mechanisms to youth and start a conversation about finding healthier ways to meet their needs now that they’re in a safer place.

About the Author: Jenn Ehlers

Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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