Burying the Pain: My Thoughts on Charles Xavier and Jean Grey

Words by Frances Leones

Photos by Frances Leones & Edited by Cody Bundoc

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Young Jean Grey: You think you can fix me?

Charles Xavier: Jean, you are not broken. The mind is a fragile thing. Takes only the slightest tap to tip it in the wrong direction.

Dark Phoenix is the long-awaited X-Men film that officially marks the end of the X-Men franchise that has been going for 20 years. With beloved characters such as Jean Grey/Phoenix (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Raven Darkhölme/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) returning, this movie promises to be one heck of a ride as it concludes the X-Men’s solo movie arc (Dark Phoenix being the last X-Men movie before the X-Men are absorbed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe) by following the famous Dark Phoenix Saga of the X-Men comics written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, albeit with some changes.

You can watch the trailer here.

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Last June 5, I was lucky enough to watch Dark Phoenix at Newport Mall’s first-ever Grand Cinema Night and I wasn’t disappointed. The actors’ performances were amazing. For me, Sophie Turner and James McAvoy did exceptionally well (pun absolutely intended) in their performance as Jean Grey and Charles Xavier. Their dynamic in the movie plays a huge part in the film, which also tackles some heavy stuff such as trauma and how to deal with it. In their case, Jean is the one who’s experienced trauma while Charles is the one who tries to help her deal with it… by using some rather unorthodox methods.

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Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead!

A frightened eight-year-old girl who has just lost her parents in a car crash unintentionally caused by her mutant abilities manifesting for the first time meets a fellow mutant, a man in a wheelchair, who gives her a pen. The little girl is a young Jean Grey (Summer Fontana as young Jean Grey with Sophie Turner as adult Jean), the man in a wheelchair is Charles Xavier. Upon giving Jean the pen, Charles (James McAvoy) gives her a simple analogy of the pen and her powers. She can use the pen he just gave her to draw a beautiful picture or poke someone’s eye out with it. The same goes for her powers: she can use them for good or for evil. It’s all up to her.

Good move on Charles’ part, giving young Jean that bit of advice. He welcomes her into his school for gifted youngsters/mutants with the promise that he will be able to help her control her powers. But, given that Jean’s probably still traumatized by the accident, Charles decides to bury the young girl’s pain by blocking her memories of the accident so she could focus on harnessing her abilities.

And that is where I begin to question the brilliant Professor X’s teaching methods.

Being the only mutant with abilities identical to Jean’s (telepathy, telekinesis), Charles becomes almost like a father figure to her and her go-to mentor in using her powers. Charles wants Jean to have a chance to grow up in a loving family and believes that he and the other mutants could be her family. And, since a family protects each other, Charles also wants to protect Jean. But his way of protecting her is far from ideal. By blocking any memories she has of the accident, Charles doesn’t allow Jean a chance to fully process the psychological trauma she experienced in the accident. If he had allowed Jean to remember, she would have been able to take the necessary steps to make a full recovery and move on from her trauma.

Still, I can understand why Charles did what he thought was right. Jean would have spent maybe the rest of her life blaming herself for her parents’ deaths, which is a terrible burden no child should ever bear.

But, I have to admit, it’s a big ethical question whether it’s right or not to mess with the memories of a child to keep them safe.

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In my opinion, what Charles did was a temporary solution that will ultimately backfire. Jean’s abilities grow stronger thanks to the Phoenix Force inside of her to the point where she is able to block Charles–the world’s most powerful telepath–from her mind. When Jean finds out that her father is still alive and that Charles kept it a secret, all of her fear, rage, and sadness fuel the Phoenix Force and transform it into a lethal weapon that tears the X-Men apart, physically and emotionally.

You messed up, Charles. And your plan to protect Jean backfired and went up in flames like a dying phoenix.

For Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), discovering the truth only increases her fear of her overpowered abilities and adds more fuel to the inferno swirling inside of her. This makes her extremely vulnerable to manipulation by those who want to harness the Phoenix Force for their own purposes. And it just so happens that someone named Vuk (Jessica Chastain) from the shapeshifting D’Bari race is after Jean’s power. She manipulates Jean and makes her question everything she’s ever been taught. Vuk even makes a remark on the mentor-student relationship of Charles and Jean, asking the latter, “Are you a scared little girl who answers to a man in a chair? Or are you the most powerful creature on the planet?”

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While Charles has always encouraged Jean to never be afraid of what she could do, he puts emphasis on control and less destructive methods to channel it. Vuk, on the other hand, encourages Jean to stop trying to control her powers and to let the Phoenix Force flow freely through her, regardless of the destruction it’ll leave in its wake. These two represent Jean’s options when it comes to her powers–either she uses them to do good or to destroy.

Towards the third act, Charles finally admits that he was wrong for what he did to Jean all those years ago. At one point, he is transported to his own mind with the help of Jean’s enhanced abilities so they can talk, with Jean telling him that his mind is more peaceful compared to hers. After seeing the dramatic effect the Phoenix Force had on Jean’s mind, I guess Charles’ mindscape is a better place to have a little heart-to-heart talk.

While in his mind with a young Jean (it’s symbolic), Charles apologizes, saying that he only wanted to help Jean and have what every child deserves: a family. After the accident, Jean’s father–who survived–believed that his daughter’s mutant abilities made her a lost cause. Knowing that Jean had caused his wife’s death, Jean’s father didn’t want to care for his daughter whom he feared was out of his control. Only Charles believed that there was still hope for Jean, that she could control her power, and asks for permission to take her under his wing. Upon learning the truth, Jean forgives him, now able to see clearly how Vuk had manipulated her and chooses to use the Phoenix Force to protect her family which is the X-Men.

In the end, Charles realizes that hiding the truth from Jean wasn’t the best way to help her grow into her powers. Instead of sheltering Jean, he should have helped her work through her trauma so that she wouldn’t be afraid of her powers so early on in the beginning. As for Jean, she is able to transcend her fears in order to use her powers to protect her family–the ones who have never given up on her.

What do you think? Do you think Charles did the right thing, blocking Jean’s memories of the accident, or could he have done something else to help her?

Leave your comments below and let us know what you think!