Ahhh, I can’t help but think about how important choice is in Bucky’s narrative, especially given the overarching story in this movie. This is about choice, and taking responsibility for your choices, right? Accountability and all that.
The last choice Bucky made, before his life went all to hell, was really going back into the war with Steve. (I’m assuming he wasn’t drafted. If he was, the choice was really taken out of his hands the moment he was drafted.) He could have gone home, but being the person that he is–both in terms of loyalty and righteousness as well as Steve’s friend/protector–he chose to stay and fight. He knew full well, probably better than anyone, what the risks were, but he made that choice. And then he fell, and the choice was taken out of his life for the next near-century. Hell, his “choice” to die for Steve wasn’t even honored.
All the shit that happened as the Winter Soldier obviously had nothing to do with his choice and everything to do with taking his choice away. And then, as soon as he has something like agency back, he makes two choices: to save Steve’s life, and to walk away. I could speculate about why he chooses to stay away, but that’s sort of not the point of this post. The point is that he chooses to stay away.
And then, of course, it all goes to shit courtesy of Zemo. And what drives me fucking crazy is that Zemo didn’t even set out to destroy Bucky, but he did the worst damage he could anyway. The fact that Bucky was just a tool to him, a means to the end of ripping the avengers apart, is upsetting enough on its own considering this is a man that has been used as a tool and a weapon for the last seventy years. But in doing so, he brings to life Bucky’s worst fear: being used against his will, having his choice taken away–again. And more insidiously, he completely undermines Bucky’s choice to stay away from the spotlight and make a new life for himself; not only does he destroy the life Bucky has already built, but in making him an international target (again), he destroys Bucky’s chance of making a new life anywhere else. And that, to me, is almost more heartbreaking.
And this is also why that mid-credit scene is so important to me. On the surface level, he makes a choice: to go back into cryofreeze. But beneath that, at a deeper level, it really isn’t a choice at all. Not when he knows that it’s a choice someone else will make for him if he doesn’t make it now. Not when he knows that damned book is still out there in God-knows-whose hands. Not when he knows that, when the next person gets their hands on him–and it is a when, not an if–he’ll be made a weapon against and/or put back in cryofreeze, his choice be damned. So it’s a forced choice, a bitter choice. But I’m still glad it’s a choice he makes.
On the related topic of responsibility–can we just talk about “I still did it”? Really, he’s a victim in the picture as much as the people he hurt. None of the blame falls on him, but he still takes some form of responsibility for what happened, because it was his hands that did them, whether or not he chose to. This is such a contrast from a lot of people’s behavior in this movie, and plays neatly and heartbreakingly into the overriding theme of accountability and responsibility.
And anyway, I’m sad and it hurts.