Captain America: A Case Study in Depression

Contains spoilers for Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America
Steve Rogers: Captain America

If ‘Captain America’ and ‘depression’ were used in the same sentence, most would think of the hero’s origin story dating back to the 1900s and the Great Depression. Not as many would consider the mental state of Steve Rogers starting midway through Captain America: The First Avenger and continuing through the most recent installment of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But in reality, Steve Rogers stands as an important example of depression, its symptoms, and how it can affect the hyper-masculine archetypes of today’s superheroes.

The Center for Disease Control defines depression as someone who experiences five or more of the following symptoms: “depressed or sad mood, diminished interest in activities which used to be pleasurable, weight gain or loss, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue, inappropriate guilt, difficulties concentrating, as well as recurrent thoughts of death…for a continuous period of at least two weeks” (CDC).

Depression manifests in different people in different ways, but these baseline symptoms give a general idea of what to look for, and certainly serve as enough background to trace in a character such as Captain America whose every action can be scrutinized by viewers. In fact, five of these symptoms can be seen in Captain America during his three major film appearances.

Present Symptoms

Depressed or sad mood: In a deleted scene from The Avengers, Steve is shown trying to adjust to his new life. He’s seen leafing through paperwork pronouncing all of his old friends as deceased, except for Peggy who he contemplates calling before deciding against it. During this process, he is sitting in a darkened room with washed out colors, highlighting the loss he’s facing and the sadness that comes along with that.

Diminished interest in activities which used to be pleasurable: Two notable scenes from Captain America: The Winter Soldier show Steve’s lack of interest in anything outside of work or anything he might have done for fun in the past. In one instance, he is talking to Natasha (aka the Black Widow) who has just asked if he has plans Saturday night. Steve says back, “Well, all the guys from my barbershop quartet are dead, so…No, not really.” Obviously, Steve is still mourning the loss of his friends, but in doing so has refused to get himself back out into the world. Later on in the film, Steve is talking with Sam Wilson (aka the Falcon) inside the VA where Sam is a counselor. Sam asks about what makes Steve happy, to which Steve replies he doesn’t know. Steve also admits that he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he quit serving the country. In other words, Steve has shown no interest in having fun or doing something he would find enjoyable, spending all of his energy on work instead.

Fatigue: The CDC lists sleep impairment as a possible side effect of depression, and since Steve cannot experience fatigue as non-serum infused individuals might, looking at his diminished sleep habits can offer a glimpse into this possibility. At the beginning of The Avengers, Steve is introduced while beating on a punching bag. Director Fury comes in to ask him to help save the world, but not before exchanging a quick dialogue:

Steve talks to Director Fury at the beginning of The Avengers
Steve talks to Director Fury at the beginning of The Avengers

Fury- “Trouble sleeping?”

Steve- “I slept for seventy years, sir. I think I’ve had my fill.”

This seemingly innocent and even cavalier comment hints at Steve’s inability or reluctance to sleep. Whether the cause is nightmares, flashbacks, or insomnia, the Captain is obviously experiencing some form of sleep impairment.

Inappropriate guilt: After Bucky’s fall from the train in Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve is seen sitting by himself in a bombed out bar. When Peggy comes to see him, Steve asks her if she knew that because of the serum, he can’t get drunk anymore. He’s been drinking, that’s clear enough, and his comment lends viewers to believe he’s been attempting to get himself drunk despite the serums limitations. Later in their conversation, Steve admits that he feels like Bucky’s death is his fault and that he believes his actions led to his friend’s death. This initial conversation can be credited to the recent grief from Bucky’s death, but Steve shows signs of guilt in later movies as well. When it is revealed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that the infamous assassin the Winter Soldier is actually Bucky, Steve is initially shocked, but as the film progresses he shows again and again that he feels like Bucky’s transformation falls on his shoulders. He is relentless in saying that he’ll get Bucky to remember him, that Bucky needs to be saved, then is ready to die at Bucky’s hands to level the scales. Sure, Steve says his refusal to fight Bucky is because of their age-old friendship, but that does not explain why Steve feels the need to die at Bucky’s hands (an action that would surely haunt Bucky should he ever regain his memories) rather than attempt to bring him in and help him recover from his conditioning.

Recurrent thoughts of death: Even though an actual glimpse into Steve’s thought process is never given, it is not difficult to infer that Steve is engages in needlessly reckless behavior, and makes decisions that directly endanger his life. At the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve crashes the Hydra plane Valkyrie into the ocean, an action he believes to be a suicide mission at the time. He makes no effort to escape, despite the plausibility of setting the plane on a crash course and attempting to jump. His safety would not have been assured, but it would have shown an attempt at survival rather than the easy acceptance of his imminent death pictured in the movie. This same theme occurs in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well, with Steve perfectly willing to let Bucky kill him. Steve’s given excuse of not wanting to hurt his friend is plausible, but just a few minutes earlier it is shown that Steve is able to subdue Bucky without hurting him, pinning him down instead. Instead of attempting to save himself and potentially even save Bucky from his tormentors, Steve accepts death as the best option. Steve also continuously engages in reckless acts that needlessly endanger his well being, including jumping out a plane without a parachute. He might be a superhero with an enhanced body, but he can still bleed, hurt, and die like a normal human, and these acts cannot be written off as simply ‘heroic’ since no other heroes show such continuous disregard for their own life and repeatedly accept death as a first outcome.

Absent Symptoms

Weight gain or loss: The issue with this symptom is the super serum. There are a few possibilities here, one being that Steve’s body is altered to the extent that weight loss would not be readily visible on his frame, a second being weight fluctuation in itself isn’t possible seeing as seventy years frozen in ice didn’t drop him a pound, and a third being that Steve’s film-persona inhibits the ability to display weight fluctuation. Regardless, this is one symptom that cannot be readily attributed to Captain America.

Psychomotor agitation or retardation: This two-sided coin requires two considerations, once again due to Steve’s serum infusion. The serum would presumably erase any kind of psychomotor retardation, keeping him from being sluggish or too weary, similar to his differing experience with fatigue. However, the psychomotor agitation could plausibly be visible, as jumpy fingers or a bouncing leg or other such nervous-type gestures. None of those are displayed in the films, with Steve remaining stoic and at military parade rest most of the time when not in action. So while the symptom does not appear to be present, psychomotor retardation could be suppressed by the serum, but there is no way of knowing for sure so both aspects will be considered nonexistent.

Difficulties concentrating: This symptom isn’t really present in the films. Steve always seems to be focused and in the game, ready for the next mission that comes his way. At home, training, on the battlefield, whatever the backdrop Steve always appears to be concentrated on the task at hand without needing to be called back to the conversation or missing a step. And based on Steve’s initial response to the grief of Bucky’s death (storming head first into Hydra’s main base), this is hardly surprising. Steve seems to prefer remaining active and otherwise involved as opposed to slowing down and letting his emotions actually take their course. So, while this symptom appears not to be present, it is likely not for the best reasons since bottling up emotions is never a healthy practice.

Captain America
Steve Rogers: Captain America

So What Does it Mean?

To recap, Steve experiences five of the eight symptoms listed by the CDC throughout the films, which span (only counting Steve’s time awake, not his time frozen) far over the CDC’s two-week margin. Therefore it is not only plausible, but also entirely probable that Steve is suffering from depression. If recent events in Steve’s life are taken into account, the idea becomes even more likely considering how he has lost everyone he loves in some capacity or another, whether through death, sickness, or brainwashing.

Steve’s symptoms could very well be attributed to grief in the face of such tragic events, but even if Steve’s depression is a lingering form of his grieving it is still important to acknowledge. Mental health is all too often ignored or brushed under the rug, especially in relation to men and modern society’s hyper-masculine expectations. But, given that Captain America: The Winter Soldier occurs a considerable amount of time after Steve’s thawing, it is very possible that his depression is farther-reaching than initial grief.

Discussing depression in relation to one of “Earth’s mightiest heroes” is important for multiple reasons, but most stem from viewers being able to relate with the character, feel validated, and also feel represented in media. Society’s definition of masculinity does not often include emotion and in fact expects men to shut down emotional responses to most situations, leading to a feminization of mental health issues and a reluctance to discuss them for fear of being perceived as weak. However, Captain America is the embodiment of masculinity with his chiseled physique, physical prowess, and steadfast morals and patriotism, and he is seen struggling with emotions and how to express them in a healthy manner.

This representation recognizes an often-overlooked fact of life and validates people’s feelings. If Captain America struggles, then surely ‘normal’ people are allowed to struggle too. Not to mention that representation of mental health issues is just as important as any other kind of representation, offering a way for people to see themselves on screen and thus feel less alienated or wrong.

There’s no way to prove for sure whether or not Steve Rogers is depressed, but taking a look at how symptoms are playing out in his life and showing such a strong figure struggling in any way emotionally is a step forward for representation of mental health in media and should be encouraged as a way to de-stigmatize mental health issues and encourage discussion. Captain America serves as a multi-dimensional look at depression, offering a case study that is wholly unique and heart wrenching. For those who see it, Captain America is even more of a hero not just for saving the day, but for waging a seemingly endless war within his own mind as well. That kind of strength is seldom recognized, and even more seldom seen on the big screen.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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67 Comments

  1. Liz Watkins

    Great analysis! I can’t imagine the destitute of trying to adapt to an environment 70 years your future. Everyone and everything you know are lost. I don’t think his situation is one easily fixed with medication.

    • I know, it’s hard to even wrap your head around the idea of that. Just, blinking and then suddenly a century ahead. Absolutely crazy. And I doubt medication would work on him just do to the serum, his metabolism would burn through it too quickly to really help unless he was taking huge quantities. It would definitely be tricky to try any kind of treatment.

  2. Also interesting is the role that Marvel plays in changing stigmas associated with mental health. Your article presents a comprehensive analysis of Captain America’s depression (which I also thought was extremely apparent in the trailer for Avenger: Age of Ultron (OHMYGODIMSOEXCITED)) and it is interesting to think about Marvel’s choices in the portrayal of Captain America, and what this will mean for future generations of comic lovers. In a sense, Captain America acts as a deliberate satire against a society that harbors such negative stereotypes regarding mental health, gender, masculinity, etc. Looking at Marvel’s cinematic universe though these lenses allows us to view these movies and characters as powerful tools for social change.

    • (I’MSOEXCITEDTOO) But yeah, I agree, I feel like we’re hopefully going to see even more of Steve struggling and adjusting, especially since Bucky is back out there and the team is still settling in. Also, I think it shows a lot of potential that big companies like Marvel are starting to acknowledge and even utilize mental illness in their productions. It’s a step in the right direction for sure. I love the idea of the ‘perfect soldier’ aka ‘perfect man’ behaving in ways that society labels as effeminate like struggling with emotions and relationships.

  3. DeliIngle
    0

    Captain America is a terrific character in all three of the films in which he has recently featured.

  4. In the comics, despite some interesting episodes across his many decades of published history he’s very often a bit dull as a character, relegated to playing the straight guy, much like Reed Richards.

  5. Shane Colvin
    0

    Really good article. I always thought that out of the avenger, Cap is one of the more relatable characters, he’s not a genius or a god, and he’s not shrouded in mystery, he’s just a normal guy, be it with a slight physical advantage.

    • Totally agree. What makes Steve so special to me is the fact that the ‘superhero’ part of him is who he is, is the fact that he’s a genuinely good person who holds fast to his morals. Sure, he has the serum which gives him strength but he never would’ve achieved that without his honest personality. He’s someone that normal people can actually aspire to be like. We can’t become geniuses or gods (to use your examples), but we can strive to become genuinely good people.

    • Santana
      0

      I agree. I feel if he was a more intimidating war-torn commander he’d be too much like The Comedian in The Watchmen, and he was killed off right at the start! Proving that that kind of guy isn’t needed.

  6. Every Marvel superhero is cooler than Captain America.

    • Maggot? Are you telling me that you think that Maggot is “cooler” than Cappy? Silver Surfer? He surfs through space. I have to disagree with you. I could go on. Let’s stay with the Avengers; Hawkeye is lame.

  7. It is actually quite a relief to find the hero not obsessing about his lot in life he gets on with it and deals with whatever is put before him. I think it is great that a character can be imbued with a conscience and feel for his and others losses, in essence he is The First Avenger, a character who others can take their lead from and provide a moral compass. Long may he occupy our screens…

  8. The emotional and psychological depth behind Captain America makes him one of the more fascinating characters in the Avengers. Marvel seems to be making the mental health of its heroes a focus of the movies, especially in Iron Man 3 where Tony Stark is obviously battling PTSD. I think it’s a great way to remind people that these heroes are all humans too when they take off their suits and it provides the opportunity to bring the discussion about mental health into mainstream society.

    • Yeah, there’s definitely a large emphasis on mental struggles in the modern marvel cinematic universe. Steve with his depression, Tony with PTSD, but also Bucky and his memories, and Clint with his mind control by Loki. There’s a lot of mental battles going on beside the actual physical combat and explosions, and I think that’s part of what makes the movies so good.

  9. Jemarc Axinto

    I love that you explored these aspects of the Captain. Especially considering what is coming up on the horizon with Civil War. The work to flesh out his experience as he navigates the modern era is so vital to what Marvel does.

  10. Great article! I’ve had many discussions about this topic and I just want to add a few other views. The thing about dying at Bucky’s hands – Steve doesn’t want Bucky to kill him, but he doesn’t want to live in a world where he has to kill his best friend. Also, his goal is to make Bucky remember him, and Bucky never cared about Captain America, he always loved “that little guy from Brooklyn.” The shield means nothing, even the costume doesn’t do much to bring Bucky back, but the sight of Steve’s face, broken and bloody as he’d seen it (and tended to it) so many times before is what really cracks him. So, whether Steve thought about it that way or not, surrendering to Bucky was the only way to reach him.

    Secondly, Steve grew up at death’s door with all his ailments, but he was also a tough kid who didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. Before the serum, it was unlikely that Steve would see 35, so there’s a good chance he accepted the inevitability of death long ago.

    One of this is to say that he’s not depressed. He’s absolutely depressed. Here’s hoping that getting Bucky back will help pull him out of it (in the movies, I know it’s already played out in the comics).

  11. Jamie Tracy

    Incredible.
    Love your analysis and the research you did to back it up. Utilizing the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a source for your research can be limiting but you found the support in the limited resources. Well done.
    If we look deeply into the comics I think you’d find even more support of your claims.

    I’d love to see you analyze Hulk as a multiple personality disorder sufferer or Tony Stark as a PTSD case. Or even a hoarder for a more unique perspective.

    Keep up the good work.

  12. The Winter Solider is the best of the Marvel films so far. One of the main selling points is Captain America. There’s something reassuring about a hero spurred on by simply wanting to do good. No demons, no issues, just an honest to goodness hero.

  13. He doesn’t abuse his powers or allow them to define him.

  14. Cap 2 did a good job of showing the most interesting sides of Steve’s personality.

  15. The continued tendency to add “darkness” to movies is getting very old. For all people consider Nolan’s Bat-films to be dark, at least he’s sensible enough as a film-maker to put light touches in there (Bruce is allowed to crack wise occasionally, Alfred is the king of the withering comment, Selina is all kinds of sarcastic, and the Joker is a one-stop black humour factory).

    Marvel has got it exactly right so far, and Evans is terrific in the role as Cap. Avengers succeeded primarily on how well the characters were defined and how their contrasting characteristics meshed.

  16. IAmQuigg

    This has always been an aspect of Captain America’s lore that has interested me since the beginning of his current film franchise. The psychological effects, while, in my opinion, are not covered substantially in the films, must be an immensely traumatizing event for Rogers. The realization that the familiar world around you has dissolved into the past must be frightening at the very least, and to pile on the fact that he showed signs of this depression before his initial freeze is a scarier thought. This depression mixed with the shock of awakening in the future would be extremely detrimental to the emotional side of the human brain. The fact that Rogers is able to deal with this sort of mental state while simultaneously fighting crime and evil aliens with the Avengers shows a much larger power than the serum had ever provided.

    • IAmQuigg

      Forgive me, I did not even address the article. It really is a great article and deserves much of the praise it seems to be receiving.

  17. Venus Echos

    Kay, you did a wonderful job with this article thank you for your insight.

  18. Helen Parshall

    This article… just… amazing work here. I love how you took a different angle on Cap, and I think you hit on a lot of the reasons I didn’t realize Cap was my favorite avenger – I relate to him through this. Thank you for sharing this!

  19. Stay strong, Steve Rogers.

  20. Sadly, Marvel seems content to not actually define the internal issues of their characters. I’d be fascinated if Steve actually called it depression, but, much like skipping over Stark’s alcoholism, I’m guessing the studio will only go surface deep.

    • I can understand where you’re coming from, but at the same time I don’t entirely agree. Marvel has already taken a step in showing us these symptoms, and Sam Wilson even expresses worry over Steve. And while nothing is explicitly stated, I feel like they’re at least acknowledging that /something/ exists. They’re skirting and toeing the line on a delicate issue, but I’m pleased that they’re heading in that direction at all. And as far as Stark goes, the third Iron Man shows him suffering through what appears to be PTSD and you do see his friends worrying about his wellbeing. And personal denial, especially for man, is a large part of dealing with those kind of mental issues so…in a way I can see what angle they’re coming from. Could it be more overt? Sure. But I think Marvel’s doing a good job.

  21. I love your analysis of this movie. I think its interesting to think about characters and the struggles that they are facing from a realistic perspective, it adds depth to the movie.

  22. I love the film Captain America

  23. The interesting about Cap is that within his universe people look up to him in the same way we the viewer does: a “Super Soldier” and above that of a human. (Despite not really being THAT much of a superhero technically, not having true powers and all.) So in both cases the internal humanity he has tends to be overlooked.

  24. Kahlia Sankey

    This is fantastic, it really opens a discourse on mental health and the Marvel universe (which IMO is just as applicable to D.C characters). I can see throughout the comments that you have got a lot of your readers thinking about which characters could be exhibiting other mental health issues or be a metaphor for mental illness themselves (The Hulk is one, and in terms of X-men, Mystique comes to mind as well). I enjoyed this very much, thank you!

  25. Maybe it’s more of a holdover from the comics.

  26. Aaron Hatch

    Wow. I never looked at Captain America’s character that way before. Very interesting.

  27. Erica Beimesche

    This is a great take on his character, and definitely something many people probably missed. You make a great case for it, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out in Age of Ultron!

  28. This has opened a totally new perspective on how I will see each of the Avengers, not just Captain America, from now on.
    Out of the many times I’ve seen the Captain America and Avengers movies I have never thought about Steve Rogers in this way, and to be completely honest I don’t think I’ve thought about him as anything other than Captain America. It is interesting, now, to think back and realize how depressed he probably is (and rightfully so).
    The information given in this article is presented very well and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

  29. This was a very interesting article. Describing the CDC’s 5 main symptoms of depression and doing a step-by-step analysis of each in regards to the character of Steve Rogers gets the point across easily and effectively. This is my first reading and posting by the way, so hopefully this is a good sign of things to come!

  30. Seems to add up. As far as lacking concentration goes, I think that while maybe avoiding his emotions, he keeps going, training, and fighting to avenge his friend. Steve also knows that should you allow emotional subhects to get to him during events as important as this, worse things are bound to happen. Having had depression for most of my own life, I know the feelings that many of us get. To quote James Yeager, “Your responsibility to be ready for the fight never ends”, this is the mentality that Steve takes on because he knows if he does not, then his survival after the death of his comrades would have been in vain. I would compare Steve’s mental state to Frank Castle from the film The Punisher. Frank’s depressed, and broken state of mind is much more obvious than that of the Captain’s, but they are similar in many ways, the biggest one being that they are driven to serve a higher purpose and nothing else will they let get in the way of that. Extreme yes, but the depressed are a very extreme people.

  31. Your analysis here is so strong and so well thought out that I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before. I think this article also emphasizes the fact that I don’t think gets enough recognition when it comes to Steve’s character: that he really was just a small, asthmatic, shy kid who fell into this super-human life by pure chance. He wasn’t a super spy, or a billionaire genius, or a god. He was just a kid who wanted to serve his country, but in having every other meaningful relationship in his life stripped away over this 70 year period, and his country vastly changed, what more does he have left? In the trailer for Age of Ultron, the burden on his shoulders seems heavier than ever, and it’s impossible to ignore what the broken shield signifies. And now, with this nuanced reading of Steve’s depression that you’ve provided, I’m more worried about his character than ever before, and yet, also more excited! Great job!

    • You’re right Steve’s life is definitely completely turned upside down. It’ll be interesting to see his reaction when Bucky is finally reintroduced to the picture. But yeah, the broken shield moment…I am very curious as to what that entails. If it’s just symbolic or if it holds greater weight for Steve in a very real sense. And I’m really looking forward to the reactions of the other Avengers, I think that will be very telling.

  32. VRubinsztain3

    I want to thank you for pointing out the importance of properly representing individuals with mental health issues in the media and the importance of “de-stigmatizing” them, because it is not only people of certain races, religions, ethnicities, or sexualities that feel alienated. I do want to say, however, that I’m rather skeptical of your assertion that Captain America is a case study in depression. I believe that the filmmakers were simply trying to emphasize the implications of being “enhanced” to super-human fitness and of being transplanted from one time to another one in the future. In other words, we are simply experiencing Steve’s point of view in his situation. If Steve really is meant to be a case study on depression, the fact that he is avoiding social contact, sleeping little, resorting to alcohol, and downright submitting to death is simply a perpetuation of how society would expect a man to react to personal loss. Steve, in my opinion, is not an accurate representation of depression. I know this from personal experience.

  33. I think the sheer quantity of responses should be indicative enough that you’re onto something here. I’d also like to add a little something to this conversation.

    It is certainly very important to talk about how Steve Rodgers, the honest selfless person that he is, is battling with mental illness in a very real way while also struggling to once again save lives. That in and of itself is remarkable.

    But what about Captain American the symbol?

    I read a comment earlier saying something like his personal struggle is going to open up the conversation in a big way to allow us to finally tackle the very real problem we have swept under the rug. But Im not convinced. Consider all that Captain America stands for. He is the American spirit incarnate. The never-say-die attitude, the-think-on-your-feet-drive to overcome, we-who-must-always-overcome, etc. and I think this works against the potential benefits of this depiction of mental issues.

    Steve Rogers is just anyone, he’s bluemin reddy to go white-off the bat Captain America. HE can do anything, even overcome the plights of mental illness. I am not sure that the message that ANYONE can makes it through.

    Consider for a brief second the Hulk. Now theres a guy with some mental issues. A proverbial and in many comics literal ton of them. This guy has been struggling with an albeit different sort of mental strain for perhaps half as long and instead of praising him for his efforts Captain America joins a few others in exiling him off the planet.

    I know the conversation is about Cap 1 + 2 and dont get me wrong i loved the movies too and i cant waaaaait to see Ultron get his face smashed in, but I think when we talk about superheroes within the context of very important real world issues we have to co sider them holistically.

    Thanks for opening the door for this train of thought. Your article was absolutely excellent.

  34. Good article, mate. Nice work.

    Captain America, being a true-blue superhero, is tasked with representing what America was, is, and would like to be. His struggle, fitting into modern day whilst fixing their overwhelming problems, makes for a compelling insight into the one-man-making-a-difference character arc.

  35. Danny Cox

    Hey, great study! Mental health is a very interesting phenomenon for sure, so I am glad you have shed some light onto how it makes its way into film. Nice job!

  36. bstrelluf

    This was really an interesting read.

  37. This is a fascinating article! Throughout the numerous times that I have watched Captain America, I would never have even considered the possibility of his suffering from depression. I think I will be watching the rest of the MARVEL films with more open eyes from now on!

    Great read!

  38. this is a great psychoanalysis of Captain America, I feel that there is so much left out. You merely go through the symptoms and mention one scene and that’s it. I feel this would be a much stronger piece if perhaps you focused on one aspect and analyzed it through all his appearances?

  39. You touch on a great point here “Steve Rogers stands as an important example of depression, its symptoms, and how it can affect the hyper-masculine archetypes of today’s superheroes.” and here “Society’s definition of masculinity does not often include emotion and in fact expects men to shut down emotional responses to most situations, leading to a feminization of mental health issues and a reluctance to discuss them for fear of being perceived as weak. However, Captain America is the embodiment of masculinity with his chiseled physique, physical prowess, and steadfast morals and patriotism, and he is seen struggling with emotions and how to express them in a healthy manner.”

    Yet I wish this aspect of hyper-masculinity were further explored in its relation to the development of depression. The Cap is the embodiment of American values, patriotism, manliness, morality. Yet, could his depression emerge from these values as well. Especially when they are confronted with an alternative, embodied in Bucky in Winter Soldier, where the ideas that the Cap rests his emotional stability become challenged? Could he be going through an existential crisis?

    I do find the personality of the Cap heartwarming, but find it odd that the antagonist is still so demonized against the values which are being challenged.

  40. It would be interesting to take the viewpoint of Steve’s friends and teammates and see how they perceive his emotional state. As a viewer, we take the story with Steve and are able to see his more vulnerable moments. However, he is excellent at going through the motions and being the good soldier. Throughout The Winter Soldier, Natalia does make efforts to get him more social, but I’m curious as to what she sees that makes her do that, or possibly what happened in her life to make her want to do that.

    • In the same vein, I think the interactions we see between Steve and Sam are very important. I think Sam realizes something isn’t quite right, or at the very least recognizes that Steve is a soldier like all the rest, only he hasn’t been given any real consideration as to his mental state. He asks Steve questions a few times and you can tell he really cares about what’s going on in Steve’s life. I hope they expand on their friendship in the future because I think through Sam we can see Steve’s more honest side.

  41. Interesting character study…will definitely look at the film with a different view from now on

  42. I think this is a great point to make and it explains a lot about the character of Steve Rogers. This makes you think about him in relation to the other Avengers. It is really the only sense of a flaw or weakness we get from his character. Now, before you misunderstand me, I’m not at all suggesting depression itself is a flaw, or a weakness; I know all too well how serious of an issue it is. I’m merely pointing out a crack in his otherwise impervious morality. Captain America has always been the steady, unwavering moral compass of the Avengers, making up for some inabilities (not being a god, for instance) by his steadfast devotion to justice and fairness. In this regard, he’s almost too good. Tony Stark has his arrogance. Thor has a misguided sense of familial loyalty along with (at least in the origins) a seeming disregard for collateral damage. Bruce Banner, well I think we might be able to guess his flaw, owing to the fact that he erupts into a enormous green rage monster every time he gets angry. But Steve Rogers isn’t like that. He is always the level-headed voice of logic and reason and ultimately always guides the Avengers down the right path. He presents an impossible ideal, much like Superman, and therefor must have something in his character to bring him back down to at least a semi-relateable level, otherwise his character would also be the most boring. Who wants to root for a guy who is perfect and doesn’t have to beat anything personal? This is where the weakness comes in. But whereas DC Comics attempted to manufacture this via an outside imaginary force (Kryptonite), Marvel uses a very real, and a very serious issue that millions of people are struggling with as well. They accomplish that very well and your study makes that point quite effectively.

  43. hleighmac

    Great introspective review of a movie. Love the alternative angle.

  44. Steve Rodgers being depressed is a very thesible notion. The man exists in a time in which all of the people he ever knew are either dead, think he is dead, or old enough to the point where they aren’t the same person. Existing in a time in which you have no idea how anything works and you know very few people cannot be a good existence.

  45. It was interesting to bring in psychology into pop culture. I never realized that depression could apply to Captain America. What made this article interesting was that I enjoyed Captain America. It was also nice to raise awareness about a serious issue (even if in a direct way). Connecting it to pop culture also makes it more interesting.

  46. This is an excellent article! I have a male family member who is affected by clinical depression, and he definitely finds it hard to express his feeling because of “appearing weak” which really just hurts him further. The social stigma placed on males who “feel” is a horribly unfair, and frankly untrue one. I love that you brought this idea of connecting pop culture male icons (masculine ideals) to feminism. I believe the more that influential companies like MARVEL are able to explore ideas that break current social boundaries, the easier it will be to fight unrealistic societal expectations. Such as the ones most men have been forced to face when ideas of masculinity and self-expression directly conflict. In the end we are all humans, and all have the right to express ourselves freely. So thank you for writing this! I only hope more people were aware of these types of things.

    • I definitely agree with you. I wish more people would make the effort to be aware and accepting, and that large production companies would show a larger representation of people– and a more accurate one at that. But I feel like we’ve still got awhile to wait, unfortunately. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  47. Interesting take on the character, but it makes Captain America seem like a whining little boy. Stop complaining. Dude, your life is awesome. Number 1) you traveled to the future! That’s insane. Yeah you left all your friends in the past but who cares? Nobody talks to anybody nowadays anyway. Go get an iPhone and enjoy yourself. You are ripped, wicked fast and pretty smart. You would KILL in single game. So you are all alone. You know what, you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself. Maybe if you didn’t have such a hard on for the American Flag you would get out there and meet some people. Go join the NFL, you could definitely make it as a walk on. You run like a 1.5 second 40. You’d be the good looking Wes Welker and lead whatever team you were on to the Superbowl every single year, sounds like an awesome legacy to me. Take off the tights, go get some friends, and let Iron Man take the next invasion, he’s got it covered.

    • cagyshdkjlk
      0

      That’s the thing, it’s not just a take on the character. There have been plenty of subtle signs that show that he’s not ok. Sam notices and shows obvious concern, but otherwise we’re left to figure it out ourselves.

      Steve has been pulled out of his time, his LIFE, he’s lost all of his friends and family, Bucky was basically his LIFELINE throughout the 40’s. You try to imagine going into the future 70 years, not knowing anyone, being told ten days later that one of the MOST IMPORTANT things you did in your life is all for NOTHING. Of course he’s showing signs of depression.

      Your lack of concern or forethought combined with you said is the perfect example of hyper masculinity and brushing mental illness under the carpet. It’s inconsiderate and rude, and you need to check yourself before you anything like this to a real person.

  48. This take on Cap is pretty interesting. I always saw Steve as a much sadder character in the films. The responsibility he feels he has, I think, is the result of the serum enhancements and how he feels indebted to the government for giving them to him. He always seems to have a weight on his shoulders. Overall, great article and a good read.

  49. I think this article does a great job of engaging with a less-discussed aspect of Steve Roger’s character. I’m interested to see how Captain America 3 takes his character – I anticipate that becoming friends with Sam and developing his relationship with Natasha will help him with his depression.

  50. Robert Gilchrist

    This was an interesting analysis of the character, looking at the character through a lens that I personally had never thought to look at in regards to these films. Reading this, through, it seems obvious and something that more people should see.

  51. I enjoyed your inspection of Steve’s mental state– I would be really interested in you doing a follow up comparing PTSD specifically in Steve and Bucky, especially given that we are going to (likely) see the death of Cap’t and the rise of Bucky.

    Food for thought is also whether Cap’t can be treated for depression? Clearly, chemical solutions would be counter intuitive to the serum.

  52. Chelsea Williford

    This is a very well done and more scientifically outlined version of exactly what I perceived from both The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier when I watched them. I think you have it spot on. He does fit the bill for depression.

    One thing that was interesting was that you mentioned, “Society’s definition of masculinity does not often include emotion and in fact expects men to shut down emotional responses to most situations, leading to a feminization of mental health issues and a reluctance to discuss them for fear of being perceived as weak.” I feel like Steve Rogers is a character that really does a lot of depicting the expectations of the hyper-masculine super hero as well as proving that he doesn’t have to be that way. Not only by depicting Steve’s easily recognizable depression, but also by the fact that Steve’s a man that cries. Obviously, he has very good reasons to cry in all three films he’s been in, without any doubt, but in the past there have been serious backlash against the male hero of a film showing his emotion. Steve is seen /really/ crying in more than one scene throughout the MCU films he’s been in.

    This open depiction of his depression, while not overtly stated to be depression, is really hard to not notice as depression. The instances of him full-on crying, especially the one where he never attempts to hide it in the first Captain America in the scene where he’s Peggy Carter finds him crying alone in a bombed out bar, are also other overt depictions of things that society often deems feminine.

    Steve Rogers is a character that seemingly embodies the perfect specimen of hyper-masculine, patriotic, heroic male perfection, and yet he is depicted as embodying certain traits that are usually reserved for female characters or characters meant to be effeminate in nature. He’s a great example of how Marvel characters are given a more human element than the ‘ideal male hero’.

  53. VelvetRose

    Wonderful article. I know so many people who’ve seen the movies who just brush Steve Rogers aside as a bland and uninteresting character and don’t feel bad for him at all. The fact that he might be suffering from depression is something a lot of people overlook. I’m glad you wrote this.

  54. Elizabeth
    0

    I don’t disagree that he’s suffering from depression, but you leave out one HUGE thing and your facts are incorrect on another. I also question your assumption that Steve wants Bucky to kill him.

    First, you don’t even touch on one huge, HUGE psychological impact: exile and attendant homesickness. If you touch upon psychological studies of soldiers at all, other than PTSD, the effects of homesickness and exile upon state of mind are huge. And, unlike most soldiers (and as was pointed out in Age of Ultron) Steve can never truly go home again. No matter how well he acclimates to the present (and in many ways, he has) he will forever be out of place. That’s got to have a huge psychological impact.

    Second, the problem with TFA was that it didn’t reference something which is spelled out in novelizations and (if you watch) you can see happens. He *can’t* put the plane on autopilot because the control panel is smashed; Steve’s shield smashed it. In the novelization, there’s actually a conversation about that — the Red Skull set the autopilot and the *only* way that the plane could be held on course and down was for someone to physically hold the controls. Actually, not just ‘someone’ – it took someone with Steve’s amount of strength to physically force the rudder into position.

    On top of which, people don’t stop to think about where he was. So what if he jumped? Where would he jump to? The North Atlantic. A month before the time of year the Titanic sank. Frankly, between the U-boats and the freezing water temperatures, his chances of survival were better with the plane.

    Also, Steve is not only *a* soldier – he is the quintessential soldier. And soldiers know that there are times that one life for the good of many is required. Can you even imagine what he must have felt, seeing his home lit up like that as a target for destruction?

    Last but not least, thinking that Steve WANTS Bucky to kill him makes no sense at all for the very reasons you state. Why in the world would you think Steve would be selfish and stupid enough to want his best friend to have his blood on his hands? Bucky would NEVER recover, and Steve would know that. That said, you’re completely disregarding one thing about Steve that many do, which is that the guy is damn good when it comes to figuring out what triggers people. At the end of TFA, he very deliberately goads Schmidt by telling him that he’s just a kid from Brooklyn. That’s -meant- to get under the skin of a megalomaniac like Schmidt and distract him for the critical time needed for the Commandos to get over the chasm without being observed and smash into the command center.

    However, if you go back and watch the scene where Bucky is introduced in TFA, there’s a huge parallel in how Steve appears. What’s going to trigger Bucky, if anything will, is not Steve as Captain America, but Steve as Bucky remembers him. That’s why he takes off the helmet and discards the shield. Those are symbols that might well have been used by HYDRA to identify Steve to Bucky as the enemy, anyway.

    Further, Bucky isn’t used to a Steve who’s strong enough to fight back. Steve DID try to trigger him while they were fighting, to absolutely no effect. But take a look at the beaten, battered Steve whom Bucky rescues in TFA and the beaten, battered Steve on the Helicarrier, and you’ll see the familiarity. And that’s finally what Steve figures out — the Steve Bucky knows is the kid who can’t fight for beans, the kid Bucky has had to save time and again, and then Steve caps it off with ‘the end of the line’. And you can SEE Bucky beginning to register that, looking at his friend and actually recognizing him– and, in fact, why Bucky rescues him. Because what does he always do when Steve’s gotten the crap beaten out of him? Rescue him. Steve took the beating to dig down past the HYDRA conditioning and hit something that Bucky had seen so many times, there was no way he’d forget it.

    It’s not depression or being suicidal in that case. It’s Steve being dumb like a fox. And it worked. Was Steve ready to die to save Bucky? Hell, yes. Because guess what: Bucky died to save him. Fair’s fair.

    What you should touch on, though, is that Steve DOES have walloping, huge survivor’s guilt because of that and very, very definitely PTSD. Limiting this to depression is completely wrong.

  55. I’m a bit late, but great job! I had the feeling Steve was depressed when watching the movies as well. Analyzing Steve in relation to depression symptoms was a great way to structure the article.

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