So I was working on a story, and I was trying to rewatch Avengers to try to key in on some details, and suddenly TESSERACT. I’m not going to call it an essay because I suck at formal writing and stream-of-consciousness is kind of my thing (hate me I guess) but I mean what else is it? Observations, I guess, a collection of possibilities, but if you’re drawing conclusions from observable information then it’s more than just a list.
That’s all irrelevant.
So here’s what we know. I tried to pull as much as possible from lines stated explicitly in the movie. You’re in for spoilers beyond this point so, you know, no complaining.
Let’s start with what a tesseract is. According to wikipedia:
In geometry, the tesseract, also called an 8-cell or regular octachoron or cubic prism, is the four-dimensional analog of the cube; the tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square. Just as the surface of the cube consists of 6 square faces, the hypersurface of the tesseract consists of 8 cubical cells.
Or, said better later:
The tesseract can be unfolded into eight cubes into 3D space, just as the cube can be unfolded into six squares into 2D space.
I’m no geometrist or mathematician, but working from this definition and the Marvel Cinematic Universe observations, it’s basically a trapped portal. Or eight. You know, bigger-on-the-inside. Either the power required to contain all of that, or perhaps in one of the eight contained spaces, is accessible and used by both HYDRA and later SHIELD to produce energy weapons.
The staff is given to Loki by Thanos’ assistant (not a Chitauri, I think—wait, his name is actually The Other? That’s terrible) and is powered by the tesseract.We learn this in the scene where Loki mind-visits from Earth:
THE OTHER: You question him?! He who put the scepter in your hand? He who gave you ancient knowledge and new purpose when you were cast out, defeated?!
LOKI: I was a king! The rightful king of Asgard— betrayed.
THE OTHER: Your ambition is little, and full of childish need. We look beyond the Earth, to greater words the tesseract will unveil.
LOKI: You don’t have the tesseract yet. …I don’t threaten, but until I open the doors, until your force is mine to command, you are but words.
THE OTHER: You will have your war, Asgardian. If you fail, if the tesseract is kept from us, there will be no realm, no barren moon, no crevice where he cannot find you. You think you know pain? He will make you long for something sweeter [still?]
as well as from SHIELD’s analysis of the scepter:
STEVE: I’d start with that stick of his. It may be magical, but it works an awful lot like a HYDRA weapon.
FURY: I don’t know about that, but it is powered by the cube. And I’d like to know how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys.
So we don’t really know how SHIELD knows that, so I suppose we’ll have to take it on some faith that, since they’ve had their hands on the tesseract (which is NOT a cube, I have to note, as there are more than three dimensions involved) and HYDRA’s weapons since the mid-to-late 1940s, they have enough background research—without Selvig’s help since the staff was captured long after Selvig went to Team Loki— to tell that the tesseract and the staff are connected. Immediately following the scene on the bridge:
BRUCE: The readings are definitely consistent with Selvig’s report on the tesseract.
So Banner sort of confirms that, and they successfully use the gamma signature to backtrace the location of the tesseract (with spectrometers, apparently). It appears as though Hawkeye’s attack team also uses a trace on the scepter to find the location of the helicarrier, at least based on the image we see on their command screen. We also, a few minutes later, see Bruce adjusting some values on one of the screens that affect a wave pattern, which is being compared to a second wave pattern. After his adjustments the two look very similar, and I interpreted this as Banner and Stark refining the gamma ray values to match an exact signature from the staff’s recorded output to the tesseract’s (from Selvig’s files). In fact, he is indeed comparing some type of tesseract value to the staff value, as we can conveniently see in this screenshot thanks to whatever digital artists added that to their screens:
Alright, so, what started this all is the question that seemed to bother so many people, if Edward Norton-Banner figured out how to control the Hulk and the end of his movie, why does Ruffalo-Banner then lose control on the helicarrier and end up injuring a hell of a lot of people?!
Loki (through the staff’s presence?) is able to get to Banner—and later Stark— into their heads. When we first see Loki on the helicarrier, he looks directly at Banner in the lab—smirking, I might add— and Banner winces and rubs his eyes/sinus area. We also see Stark do something similar later when he is tough-guy-sparring with Rogers. While this is obviously lesser influence than Loki has on Barton and Selvig, it’s enough to ignite word wars and enough to make Banner lose control— not just to Hulk out, but to lose focus of the appropriate target and to engage, in, er, friendly fire, so to speak.
Barton and Selvig, however, are both completely taken over mentally. It is worth noting that Loki specifies “do you have a heart?” and comes into contact with both through the scepter. (Interestingly, Tony’s arc-reactor, while not ACTUALLY his heart, as it is creating some sort of [going from the first Iron Man movie] magnetic field to keep the shrapnel out of his heart— and since it is, in fact, an independent energy source, might be enough of a power source to create a sort of protective field that prevents Loki— or is it the tesseract’s power?— from taking control.) While under Loki’s influence, Clint and Erik both have enough autonomy to complete tasks given to them, and based on Loki’s speeches it seems as though he wishes to give people the satisfaction of completing goals without the inter-competition (conviently all to his own benefit). Selvig backs this up:
ERIK: The tesseract has shown me so much, it’s more than knowledge— it’s truth.
LOKI: I know. What did it show you, Agent Barton?
CLINT: My next target.
LOKI: Tell me what you need.
CLINT: I need a distraction. And an eyeball.
So it is, in fact, the tesseract doing the work here, and either Loki has figured out how to use that to his benefit or has somehow learned to at least manipulate it towards his own goals. It seems to me, rather than turning them into mindless slaves, that it takes their passion and imparts some more direct line of sight towards achieving their (Loki’s?) goals.
The remedy to this, according to Natasha, is a sort of reverse-amnesia-hit. A reboot, if you will. (BOOT TO THE HEAD)
Moving onwards: so the Chitauri— or The Other, whatever their relationship is— know that Loki can get their army through the tesseract-portal. The Other can also communicate with Loki through some sort of apparition or mental projection, and we also know that Loki was able to remotely open the tesseract-portal “from the other end”—perhaps the scepter—but not simply enough to reach through this portal and yoink the tesseract. The Chitauri force, and with them, The Other, is forced to wait for Loki to get to Earth in order for them to come through. We can see them waiting in the shadows there with the star whales floating on by in the background of that floaty space island, so presumably they cannot all come through the scepter end of the portal that Loki got through. For whatever reason, they need Loki to get them to the tesseract, and even with the staff, whatever it is, they can’t do it on their own.
Going back to Thor’s “science and magic”—and whatever powers Loki has—his displacement/”rabbiting” magic?—Loki’s manipulation of the tesseract’s power, in combination with something he learned from Thanos (see the first quote) or his own magic, perhaps allows him to be the one that can use the scepter end of the portal. Which, if he learned something from Thanos, makes you wonder why Thanos didn’t do it himself?
It’s also curious to wonder exactly how the tesseract works, location-wise. It seems to create a door, rather than emptying one volume of space (presumable one of the eight cubes) into another, as Loki alone hops through, and later the Chitauri independently come through the opened portal rather than getting dumped in the air above NYC. And, of course, it also gets “closed”. Are there eight places in the whole of space, then, that this portal can be opened at, or is it somehow maybe remotely-programmable? We really don’t know whether the Chitauri chose the place and Loki opened the door, or whether they came because there was a door there (just locked). However, we do know that the tesseract needs to be stabilized— iridium! Well, actually, the whole harness machine— so that the portal doesn’t collapse. Whether it’s just a stabilizer and on/off button or whether the controls are more refined to specify locations, we don’t know, but at least the tesseract end is location-based in that it opens the other end above the harness, a couple hundred feet in the air or so.
So, this scepter-tesseract connection. It has access to the tesseract’s power, which Loki uses both as a weapon and to “magically” bend people to his will. So far in my theory Loki uses it to show up at the tesseract, maybe it’s a piece that zeroes in on its partner, who knows. The only thing unmentioned is that Natasha also uses it to break the stabilized tesseract’s protective barrier and, I would guess, destabilize the system. So it’s a somewhat independent piece, not strictly an extention of the tesseract. My guess? It’s a sort of key. Loki knows how to turn the key on, and subsequently jumpstart the tesseract, and boom, shows up where apparently the Chitauri and The Other and Thanos cannot find. (Apparently they can’t figure out how to rig cross-universe gamma-ray-sensitive spectrometers.) And in the end, Black Widow realizes that value and puts the tesseract in the “off” position.
There’s also an interesting comment from the huge group argument scene, from Thor:
Your work with the tesseract is what drew Loki to it, and his allies. It is a signal to all the realms that the Earth is ready to a higher form of war.
And from the opening of Captain America:
SHMIDT: The tesseract was the jewel of Odin’s treasure room.
wherein the tesseract proves to be hidden behind a relief sculpture of “yggdrasil, the tree of the world… guardian of wisdom, and fate”. Off the top of my head I can’t think if there’s any other explanatory lines from CA regarding the tesseract, but as far as this goes we can figure a few things: somehow the tesseract worked into Nordic mythology, which according to Thor we know is partly based on the visits of Odin and crew to Midgard/Earth. In Thor we see the Frost Giants using the Casket of Winters (or whatever it’s official title is) on Earth, but no sign of anything else. It is possible that the tesseract came from Asgard and was left here on Earth, but I’m disinclined to believe that without more explanation, because if you had a most valued treasure why would you just leave it behind? I don’t actually know if there’s any Nordic legends that might come into play here, I’m frightfully unfamiliar with them. However I ALSO think Shmidt’s choice of commentary for the hiding place is interesting: tree of the world, wisdom, fate. He also, there, presses the eye on a snake-like figure to find the secret compartment containing the tesseract.
Let’s see, what mythology would be easily recognizable to a huge population of the audience and contains trees and snakes and wisdom and fate? GENESIS. So to some extent, that’s Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (And the Fuhrer digs for trinkets in the desert… trinkets which also prove to have some actionable effects, I might add.)
So! Of course there’s all this interesting religious commentary going on, which, if I may digress for a second and so I may, brings up questions of, perhaps, Freud’s “archaic remnants” and Jung’s “collective unconscious”, and what exactly the relationship between the worlds’ religions might be. There are, of course, SO MANY parallels and stolen ideas, that I can hardly begin, and I could probably write an entirely separate and morseo massively long discussion on them and ALSO ideas like Von Daniken’s, which— here we go!— come back to alien influence. And I haven’t read his work to be honest, though I know he touched on the Egyptians and Mayans and their pyramids, and the Hawaiians and other Oceanic island cultures, and was accused of being ethnocentric in his writing, and now I am curious how many other concepts have been put forth aligning religions—and perhaps the more Eurocentric ones— with ancient astronaut theories?! I mean, this is a fiction, but Thor (the movie) basically lays it all right out there.
Back to the point, and moving back to the tree-of-life imagery, I tend to think that perhaps the tesseract is some universal anchor that was not, necessarily, placed on Earth but rather was a part of its origin, and so now that humans have found it and begun to understand it, it’s maybe communicating—that signal— with other, siblingesque tesseracts in the other worlds. (Which Thor shows us the Asgardians know of many different realms! And maybe somewhere in here is a weird string theory discussion! And also maybe some even weirder creationism vs. evolution discussion that relates back to all the weird feelings I have about the Prometheus movie! OH MAN) One of the few things we know about the signals, from the first few lines of Avengers:
THE OTHER: The tesseract has awakened. It is on a little world, a human world. They would wield its power, but our ally knows its workings like they never will.
So somehow this thing is a somewhat autonomous… thing… and awakened for some value of “recent” which maybe was triggered by something in one of the Avengers movies. Selvig poking at it? HYDRA poking at it? We really have no idea. (EDIT: Also, we might presume Odin had a tesseract or the Earth’s tesseract since it was “the jewel of his treasure room”, which means it might have left Earth for some time OR it was brought here after its residence there.)
All in all, what’s the conclusion? The tesseract is far from being gone as a plot point, as much as I would love to see other sciency stuff creep in. I am sure it will be an important part of Avengers 2, especially if Thanos doesn’t show up before then. It might even show up in Thor 2, since that’s where it is now and Thor and Loki required it to get back to Asgard (which, presumably, they were able to manipulate it with that container that was similar but not exactly like HYDRA’s). So who else is affected? Well, Howard had it in the notes Tony ended up with, possibly from studying HYDRA’s recovered technology, if SHIELD had him working on that. Jane has a recognized scientific theory on portals as of the end of Thor, so perhaps that’s how they’ll write her back into Thor 2— as an expert researcher, either on Earth or Asgard, but either way in order to poke the tesseract some more. And let’s not forget the early-in-Avengers quip that it gives of low levels of gamma radiation— Banner is certainly not left out here.
So let’s see we’ve nailed: science and technology, character and plot, aliens and archaeology, mythology, and Indiana Jones. For the moment I think that about wraps this puppy* up.
*For “Cerberus”-like values of “puppy”.