Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun, low-stakes romp—quite a shift from the weighty, consequential Avengers: Infinity War that preceded it. And though Ghost, the film’s primary antagonist, is not as memorable a villain as Black Panther’s Killmonger or Infinity War’s Thanos, she is a compelling illustration of the cost of refusing to forgive.
The plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp is straightforward: rescue Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). At the end of the last Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) proved it was possible to return from the Quantum Realm—the smallest state of reality, where the laws of neither physics nor psychology apply. Janet was lost there decades ago. Now her husband, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), need Scott’s help to save her.
The rescue mission would go off without a hitch were it not for Ava, aka “Ghost” (Hannah John-Kamen). (Spoilers ahead.) Ava is the daughter of Elihas, a former colleague of Hank Pym whom Hank fired when Ava was just a child. Elihas continued experimenting with quantum technology on his own, but something went wrong and the resulting explosion killed Ava’s parents. In the accident, Ava was rendered unstable at the molecular level, so that she now passes through matter—or “phases”—as if it wasn’t there. Taken in by Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), another former colleague of Pym’s, Ava only has weeks to live when the film opens. Foster hopes the Quantum Tunnel Pym has built in order to rescue his wife can also be used to stabilize Ava.
Ava is compelling in part because she is a victim of trauma. Though she blames Pym for her condition, considering that he fired her father, she isn’t only trying to avenge her parents’ death. She’s fighting for her own survival. The film is agnostic as to Pym’s culpability. Ava insists he refused her father the resources he needed to experiment safely, while Pym claims he fired Elihas because the man was reckless and impulsive.
If Foster believes he can stabilize Ghost using Pym’s Quantum Tunnel, Pym fears using the tunnel in that way will doom his wife. Ant-Man and the Wasp (Scott and Hope) fight Ghost for control of the Quantum Tunnel, with everyone growing more and more desperate as their respective clocks run out.
Ant-Man and the Wasp uses instability as a clever metaphor for the refusal of forgiveness. Scott’s relationship with Hank and Hope is on the outs for much of the film, thanks to the events of Captain America: Civil War. And so just as Ghost struggles to maintain a steady physical presence, Scott spends much of the film unable to control his size-shifting powers (which leads to, among other antics, a particularly funny bit in which a three-foot-tall Scott runs through an elementary school).
Interestingly, Ghost becomes increasingly unstable as she leans further and further into villainy.f Foster talks her out of kidnapping Scott’s daughter at one point, but he is ultimately unable to convince her not to kill Janet for the sake of her own life. Ghost is only stopped by the Wasp, who holds Ghost off long enough for Hank to retrieve Janet from the Quantum Realm. Nearly the first thing Janet does is heal Ghost (though since she’s probably going to be in more films, she likely retains some semblance of her phasing powers).
Ava is compelling in part because she is a victim of trauma.
The solution to Ghost’s dilemma—forgive Pym and help him save his wife—seems overly simplistic, particularly since it was all but suggested in the first meeting between Pym and Foster. At several points during the film I wanted to shout, “Just help them rescue Janet so she can heal you!” But such is the nature of anger and the pain it covers: the wrongs we suffer can harden us, make us into echoes of those who hurt us. We see Ava’s hurt and fear distorting her into something wicked. Jesus warns of the corrosive effects of anger in the Sermon on the Mount. He insists anger has the same effect on our spirits and our communities as murder. Later in the sermon, when teaching his disciples to pray, he instructs that we ask God, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Theologian Miroslav Volf, in his meditation on forgiving, Free of Charge, observes that forgiveness is to “forgo all retribution.” Forgiveness is the path by which we escape the cycle of retributive violence that only adds more harm to the world. Ghost could not see past her own anger. Her deep wounds justified, in her mind, harming a child or killing a stranger, passing the harm done to her onto others.
Ghost might argue that she could not trust Pym and company, particularly since Pym wouldn’t even acknowledge his fault. Volf would tell Ghost, “If they don’t repent, we have little reason to think that they won’t repeat the wrong. So we try to protect ourselves by withholding forgiveness… [But] there are better ways to protect ourselves than the refusal to forgive.”
Ghost can’t imagine an ending that doesn’t involve violence. Either she, the victim of trauma, is literally torn apart by the aftermath of that trauma, or she takes the life of another. Either way, the net result is more harm, more violence. Forgiveness is not just pretending nothing happened—that would also perpetuate the cycle of violence. Volf insists, “Forgiveness is not a reaction to something else. It is the beginning of something new.”
Volf is also quick to observe that, for a victim of trauma or abuse, forgiveness is not the first movement. The Church, as Christ’s body on earth, would do well to heed his wisdom. A victim of abuse, he writes, “doesn’t first need Christ to forgive her or to forgive through her. Before anything else, she needs Christ to cradle her, to nurse her with the milk of divine love, to hold her in his arms like an inestimable gem, to sing her songs of gentle care and firm protection, and to restore her to herself as a beloved and treasured being.”
What if Ghost could have seen past her hurt? What if she could have forgiven Pym for whatever debt she felt he owed? Might she have seen the possibility of friendship (at least with Scott and Hope, if not with Pym)? Forgiveness doesn’t make for good drama, which may be why it doesn’t play much of a role in Ant-Man and the Wasp. But according to Jesus, it is the key to living in the kingdom that God is bringing about here on earth.