Movies

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“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”- The Longing for Purpose and Truth

ca-winter“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opened to a tune of a $300 million weekend. The film has been “certified fresh” by reviews aggregate Rotten Tomatoes (currently at an 89%). People are talking about the film. Here, we will explore some major themes in the movie from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Purpose

A question which reverberates throughout the film is that of purpose. What is Captain America’s purpose? He struggled with this himself; in a world far different from the one he sprung from, what place did he have?

It’s a kind of struggle that all humans experience at some point: an existential crisis of place. Where are we in the world? What is our purpose? How do we pursue it?

These questions speak to a longing for something greater. They are questions which address the core of human nature: awash in a universe which at times seems empty and without purpose, we mirror the uncertainty Captain America displayed. Yet the film itself speaks to the fact that there is real purpose in the universe. In “The Winter Soldier,” friendship and loyalty play major roles. The revelation that The Winter Soldier is, in fact, Bucky, a friend from the Captain’s past, leads to a poignant scene in which the Captain refuses to fight his friend due to an earlier vow. Purpose, it seems, is grounded on relationships. It is grounded in persons.

Ultimately, of course, the Christian worldview holds to that same concept but on a cosmic scale. Purpose in the universe is grounded on a person: God.

Human Nature

The depths of human nature are plumbed in the film, as it is discovered that Hydra, an evil Nazi organization, has managed to infiltrate Shield at the highest levels. At the core of the film’s portrayal of human nature is the notion that we are ruled by various fears. We are overwhelmed by chaos, and, if given enough of it, will succumb to any amount of limitations and control in order to turn away from the pit of destruction. Hydra helped bring about as much chaos as possible in order to push humanity to the brink.

It is a conspiracy theorists dream come true: the highest levels of intelligence infiltrated by an evil institution bent on wiping out all threats to its ultimate power. But the fact is that the plot twist was not really that unbelievable. But the strength of the scenario is how very believable it was. The notion that humans would give in to extreme injustice in order to flee from those things which scare them most really wasn’t unbelievable. The fact that both Hydra and Shield were working to eliminate “potential” threats ahead of time sealed the deal.

The commentary on human nature should not be missed: humanity is inherently fearful. Separated from a sense of tranquility and order, we often cling to things which are patently unjust in order to try to overcome our current situation. Think about it frankly: do you really think the scenario in this movie is all that preposterous? That’s what makes it so powerful. It’s not preposterous. In some ways, it’s already happening.

ca-winter2Captain America: The Moral Compass

The portrayal of human nature discussed above leads naturally into the question of justice. Captain America acts as a kind of moral compass in the current Marvel universe. It is hard to resist the reasoning from both ends–Hydra and Shield–regarding the nature of humanity. In one scene, people are asked whether, if able, they would “press a button” to prevent violent hostage situations, terrorism, and the like. The appeal could have some nodding along with it. But think about it, touching that button would kill those who had yet to do anything wrong.

Thus, Captain America seems initially naive when it comes to this moral reasoning. After all, why would he be so opposed to a system that could prevent the loss of life and ruination of people? But the Captain doesn’t stop the chain of reasoning there. Instead, he calls for a view of justice towards all people; one in which even the “bad guys” aren’t assumed to be irreparable. Its a strong message, and one which resonates with the Christian worldview in powerful ways.

Think of Jonah, who would have preferred to see Nineveh burn than to see them repent. But he knew that God was a loving God, eager to show love and mercy to repentant sinners. Or consider the cry of Ezekiel to “turn” from wicked ways and repent to avoid certain death (Ezekiel 33:11). These themes echo in “The Winter Soldier” as the notion that simply terminating people who may be threats is explored.

Viewing the Captain as a moral compass has some interesting outcomes. For example, though Joss Whedon (director of “The Avengers”) is an avowed non-theist, in that flick, Captain America quips to Thor: “There’s only one God, and… he doesn’t dress like that.” Though an offhand remark, it is interesting to see that Captain America affirms there is “a” deity at all, let alone “only one.” This, from the man who in the face of pressure from all sides, refused to kill the man he promised to protect.

Regarding the Winter Soldier, I have to say that I see shades of the biblical Jonathan and David in the relationship here. There is a mutual vow to protect each other. The two are enmeshed in conflict and end up on opposite sides. Ultimately, they are forced to choose between destroying the other or honoring their loyalty to each other. Again, I’m not saying this is intentional, but the theme is there.

Conclusion

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has much for Christians to discuss. It’s an extremely compelling tale filled with themes of justice, loyalty, and friendship. In order to effectively engage the culture, we should use it as a springboard to start discussions about the deeper things. Let me know your thoughts on the movie in the comments.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Check out my other looks at films from a Christian perspective. (Scroll down for more.)

A Christian Look at “The Avengers”- I examine a number of themes in “The Avengers” which Christians and non-Christians can discuss.

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies- I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

The image is copyrighted by Marvel and I make no claim to rights. I use it under fair use.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

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Really Recommended Posts 4/4/14- Views on “Noah” and “God’s Not Dead”

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneI think it’s important to view a range of perspectives on two of the latest flicks to hit the big screens: “Noah” and “God’s Not Dead.” These films are going to draw religious viewers simply based on their content. How do we approach them? What conversations do we have? Here, I’ve offered a few posts about each film. I’d love to read your own thoughts on either or both of these flicks.  Yes, this is an owl post edition because I have a winter storm blowing through right now. So that’s fun. (This is my attempt to keep smiling.)

God’s Not Dead

An Apologist Reviews “God’s Not Dead”- Here, a Christian apologist discusses his viewing of the movie. His overall thought is that though it is at times simplistic, it may help awaken the need for apologetics within the church.

David Baggett Guest Post: “God’s Not Dead”- Noted Christian philosopher David Baggett takes on the film. He’s concerned that the film oversimplifies and caricatures atheists and Christians, without paying enough attention to the thoughtfulness of either.

Personal Comments on God’s Not Dead- Astrophysicist Hugh Ross shared his personal thoughts on the film. He thinks it is worth seeing for Christians, but also has reservations regarding its portrayal of the people involved.

A Christian Philosopher’s Thoughts on “God’s Not Dead”- This is a Christian apologist from a different [presuppositional] perspective offering thoughts on the film. To be fair, he is actually looking at the trailer. Can his comments be valid still? Check out the post and judge for yourselves.

Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”- Over at The Gospel Coalition, the flick “Noah” is presented as having numerous issues, but it may start conversations and it also helps show the reality of evil before the Flood. Moreover, the reality of the spiritual realm is something that not enough people think of, but in the film the spiritual reality is very real and powerful.

I’m a Christian and I think ‘Noah’ deserves a four star review- In stark contrast to the above, Matt Walsh rips the film apart and also questions why any Christian leaders would be endorsing it or thinking of it as worthy viewing.

Sympathy for the Devil- In this post, Brian Mattson argues that the film is actually an ingenious way of portraying Gnostic ideas and Kabbalah. Essentially, his view is that the film is very explicitly Gnostic and portrays God as evil and the devil as sympathetic.

No, Noah is not Gnostic- In response to the claims of Gnosticisim, Peter Chattaway argues that one cannot conflate Kabbalah with Gnostic thought. Furthermore, he argues that Mattson gets several plot points and points of comparison wrong.

Both, and Then Some!

Hollywood, Movies, and the Bible: Should We Rewind on How We View?- Darrell Bock shares some thoughts on several recent movies with faith themes in them, such as “Noah” and “God’s Not Dead.” He offers practical advice regarding how one might view films with a discerning eye as well.

“Lone Survivor” – A Christian reflection on the film

lone-survivor-movieI watched Lone Survivor recently with a friend. I’m a fan of war movies (my favorites being “Patton,” “Midway,” and “Gettysburg”), so I figured i’d probably enjoy this one. I was surprised at points at the depth of the film’s narrative. Here, I will be commenting on the content on the film; not on the true story itself or any side-stories that came off of it. There will, of course, be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows. I will not be summarizing the plot, which may easily be found here.

The Trilemma

Early in the film, the SEALs encounter a situation which brings them to a trilemma: local goat herders compromise their mission security. They are left with three options: they may let the herders go and run for the hills themselves, knowing that a huge number of hostiles will be pursuing them; they may tie the herders up, hoping that they would be found before they died from local predators or cold; or they could terminate the prisoners. The latter two would violate the rules of war, but the soldiers themselves had little chance of surviving with the first option.

Their decision is eventually made after some tense debate; they free the prisoners and flee to try to call for an extract. The SEALs clearly did the right thing in this situation, not purely from a legal perspective but from an ethical perspective as well. The murder of innocents to preserve one’s own safety is not justified. However, the situation also illustrated the intense complexity of the situation of such a war. It also illustrated the very human emotional struggle we would go through in a similar situation: how would you deal with the trilemma? Can you answer it honestly that you would put your own life in extreme peril? Tough questions.

Kill Everything that Moves?

I was a bit worried that the film might serve to portray a simplistic good/bad guy dichotomy in which anyone who looked remotely Arabic was painted as a villain and everyone that moved was to be killed. That was not at all the case. Although it is clear that the Taliban are the “bad guys” in this film, Marcus Luttrell, the “lone survivor,” is ultimately saved by a local who was following Pashtun codes which grant protection for those in need.

There is thus illustrated in the film a greater range of rightness and wrongness than simply good/bad guy. Ancient customs may present a beautiful way to provide succor for someone in need; even a possible enemy. The adherence to strict codes for hospitality is something to which Christians should relate; one need only to read the Bible to discover numerous commands to give relief to the foreigner in the land of Israel or to take care of those in need. The situation in the movie is made interesting because Luttrell was a combatant and it was truly dangerous to those who would take him in to do so.

A Complex Situation

Christians have a wide variety of views when it comes to war. There are strong traditions of pacifism and just war theory, with a spectrum of variances of these two major positions along the way. I am not a political analyst, nor am I up-to-date on the facts related to the war in Afghanistan. Thus, I’m not going to try to comment on the specifics of the war because I would betray ignorance. However, I do think it is important to note that the film does depict some truly evil actions taken by the Taliban in the beheading of a man simply because he may have spoken to the Americans.

But does the issue of violence end there? Does that mean we should intervene? After all, if Americans weren’t there to begin with, such violence (perhaps?) would not happen, for there would be no Americans to inform. But I, again, want to emphasize I don’t know the whole story. I do think that a book by William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence, brings into question some of the assumptions we have regarding religion and violence in situations like Afghanistan.

Conclusion

“Lone Survivor” is, unquestionably, a brutal film. There is much violence as well as quite a bit of vulgar language. But amidst these things, the film managed to convey a picture of the war in Afghanistan that was more than a simplistic black-and-white picture. It poignantly portrayed the difficulties of ethical situations in war. It also called into question the notion that there can be quick-and-easy lines drawn for friend and foe. I recommend the film for adults.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William T.  Cavanaugh- I review the book which has led me to discuss the ways the category of religion is used to stigmatize the other and also forced me to rethink a number of issues. I highly recommend this book.

Lone Survivor and Insufferable Anti-American Self-Righteousness- The film has caused quite a bit of critical discussion. Here, a soldier reflects on the reaction to the film. Having now seen the movie, I think the viewpoint offered here is interesting and worth the read.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Disney’s “Frozen”- A Christian reflection

disney-frozenDisney’s “Frozen” has generated quite a bit of buzz, and for good reason. The movie is a feast for the eyes and ears. It’s a delight to watch, and it is filled with interesting thematic elements and humor. Moreover, as a Minnesotan, I feel right at home during this winter. Here, I’ll evaluate the movie from a worldview perspective. There will, of course, be SPOILERS hereafter.

Balance

The core of the tension in the movie is found in Elsa’s power. Her parents try to teach her to restrain it, but when put under duress, her power breaks free and she fled the castle. Interestingly, one may note that the total denial of her capability led to her cutting herself off from those who surround her.

Once she leaves the castle, she decides to break free of her self-restraint. The Oscar-nominated song “Let it Go” is indicative of this. Elsa sings:

Let it go, let it go!
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

It is interesting to see that there must be some balance between the two extremes. Elsa’s self-imposed restrictions upon her powers led to the separation from those she loved; her release endangers the entire kingdom. Her life, instead, must be lived along a balance. I can’t help but think of the words of Paul:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.

Christian freedom is a freedom with restraint. There must be balance in the process of sanctification.

Women

Many have hailed “Frozen” for its portrayal of women. Neither Anna nor Elsa have a relationship foisted upon them for the main purpose of the plot. Anna’s developing relationship with Kristoff is made even more interesting by the contrast to her obsession with Prince Hans. Both women are independent. Some tongue-in-cheek humor could be found in the striking way in which both Kristoff and Elsa noted that Anna’s willingness to marry a man she just met that day was a bit absurd.

The plot is not driven by a love story; instead, it is driven by the need for reconciliation. Powerful, strong women are the ones who push the plot forward, while the men are sometimes helpful and even featuring shades of prince charming (Kristoff) or villainous and greedy (Hans). It is not that the portrayal of men is negative (as I just noted, there is a spectrum of motivations for the men involved); rather, it is that women are not seen as incapable of action. It is refreshing.

Our Own State

Elsa herself, far from being the quintessential villain, is someone with whom we may be capable of sympathizing. Like her, we are in a serious predicament brought about by our own actions: we live in need of aid. Our actions have sometimes horrific consequences. At other times, our consciences convict us of the wrongness of our deeds. We long to sing along with Elsa, crying out to “Let it Go” and stop caring anymore. But, like her, we realize that such a state is ultimately not be lauded but to be feared. We lash out at those we love due to our own guilt. Can there be salvation?

Christ

Interestingly, some have argued that the movie actually serves as an allegory of Christ. It is Anna who is wronged by Elsa, but it is only Anna who is able to right the wrong. The person who is wronged is the one who must make it right. Similarly, for the Christian, it is God who is wronged, but God is the only one capable of righting that wrong in the perrson of Christ. (I am here paraphrasing the post I linked to.)

The themes noted above come to fruition here. Our state is characterized by a recognition of the wrongness of our actions, but an incapability of bringing about the reconciliation required. Thus, it is up to the party wronged to bring about this reconciliation, through the true forgiveness offered in Christ.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Disney’s Frozen might be the most Christian movie lately- This post reflects upon the movie as an allegory of Christ. As noted, I derived much of the last section from the argument made in this post.

The Image featured in this post is the intellectual property of Disney. I make no claims to ownership and have used it under fair use for the purpose of critical evaluation of the film. To my knowledge the image is freely available as promotional material.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”- A Christian Reflection on the Film

desolation-smaugThe second part of “The Hobbit” trilogy has arrived in theaters. What themes does it present? What might we talk about in relation to the latest film? Here, we’ll explore a few themes found through the film and view the movie through worldview glasses. There will be SPOILERS below.

Justice

Perhaps the strongest theme throughout the movie is that of justice. The most obvious aspect of this may be found in the quest at the heart of the story itself: the dwarves seeking to reclaim their homeland.

Yet justice also plays its part in reflection upon each ruler the film shows. Thorin, for example, seems to be consumed in part by greed. He is comfortable leaving members of his group behind so that they do not slow the quest. In fairness, when he does leave Kili, Oin, Fili, and Bofur behind, it is in a place in which they were welcomed (eventually) and so perhaps Thorin is not so cold here as he may seem.

Thranduil, on the other hand, is a clearly unjust ruler. First, he treats his subjects unjustly. When he discusses the potential feelings Legolas has for Tauriel, an elven captain, she (seemingly with some hope) mentions that she thinks he would never allow Legolas to become betrothed to a non-royal. Thranduil responds saying she is right, which is why he charges her with telling Legolas there is no hope. The injustice of the scene is both seen and felt. One cannot help but sympathize with Tauriel against Thranduil’s audacity.

Yet Thranduil’s unjust rule also extends to his entire kingdom. His concern seems to be purely with his own borders, as he prefers to keep evil out rather than confronting it at its source. His isolationism is based upon the notion that only his kingdom has “the light” and so that light must be preserved from the darkness of the surrounding world. The discussion made me think of the fact that some Christian evangelical groups withdraw from the world, because they do not wish to be part of the world or its darkness any longer. Yet as Christians, we are called to go into the world and confront the darkness rather than isolate ourselves from it. Thranduil’s comments speak to our own feelings, and his unjust ways are a call to us for action.

The Master of Laketown is also unjust in his dealings with his people. His highest aim is to preserve his own power. The thought of anyone sharing power with him–or the thought of the people having some say–is horrifying to him. Yet rather than ruling for the sake of his people, it seems his life is consumed by alcoholism and gluttony.

Light in the Darkness

The theme of light opposed to darkness is found throughout the film. Thranduil speaks of the battle between light and darkness in his own confused fashion, Beorn notices the “stench” of evil and a darkness over the woods, and Gandalf directly confronts darkness with light.

The latter instance is perhaps the most powerful, for it features Gandalf facing off against Sauron as Gandalf uses light from his staff to combat the blackness with which Sauron assaults him. Sauron’s words call out, telling Gandalf that there is not enough light in the world to combat his darkness.

For those who know how the Lord of the Rings ends, the scene is ironic. But in the moment, it rings true. It seems that darkness will indeed prevail.

Greed

Thorin, as noted, seems to be consumed by greed. Not only does he leave his fellow dwarves who would slow him behind, but he eventually confronts Bilbo regarding the Arkenstone. He uses his sword to bar Bilbo’s way and demands he hand over the Arkenstone, if he found it. The tension of the scene is only broken when Smaug attempts to destroy them both. However, the greed within Thorin seems to be growing. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the conclusion to the trilogy.

The Master of Laketown also makes his decision through greed. Although the prophecy regarding the return of the king under the mountain makes clear the notion that his own town will burn, Thorin’s appeal to the Master based upon shared wealth does not fall upon deaf ears. The Master of Laketown succumbs both to his own greed and to the mob which has formed around the debate.

Evil

One of the more interesting things for me to reflect upon in the film was the way evil was portrayed. Clearly, the unjust rulers discussed above are each, in their own way, a kind of evil. However, the orcs were the clearest portrayal of evil. Yet their evil, to me, seemed to be inherently unreasonable. There was little reason for them to act as they did apart from pure hatred. Sauron was calling out to his evil minions as well, and his motivation seems to be simply the destruction of any who are not subject to him.

Reflection upon this depiction of evil leads to an insight: evil is, at its core, irrational. There is no reason to it. It goes against what genuinely makes sense in the world. This applies not only to the fanatical lust for murder which the orcs had, but also to the injustice of the rulers mentioned above. A viewer cannot help but think that Thorin, Thranduil, and the Master are each acting in an illogical fashion. Their greed corrupted them. For the orcs, their lust for suffering has consumed them. Evil is illogical; those who practice it are chasing fantasy.

Conclusion

I admit I did not enjoy “The Desolation of Smaug” as much as I enjoyed “An Unexpected Journey,” though I did still like the movie. I think the themes found here are worth reflecting upon, and the way they are presented forces viewers to really sit back and think as the movie continues. In particular, the feeling of injustice throughout the movie was unexpected, but it touched upon a number of areas related to our own lives and how we live them.

There is, of course, much more which could be discussed regarding the “Desolation of Smaug,” and I turn to you, readers, to start that discussion in the comments.

Links

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- A Christian Perspective- check out my look at the first of “The Hobbit” trilogy.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

The picture featured in this discussion is an official movie poster and the property of MGM/New Line/WingNut films. I do not claim any rights to it.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Catching Fire”- A Christian Reflection on the Film

the-hunger-games-catching-fire-fan-movie-poster-01“Catching Fire” is likely to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. There are an extraordinary number of things to discuss in this movie. It is filled to the brim with points of interest. Christians would do well to see it and reflect on some of these themes. I have drawn out a number of them below. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

The Aftermath

Early in the film, Katniss is hunting alongside Gale. They see some wild turkeys, Katniss draws her bow to fire, lets loose and hits… Marvel? Marvel was the young man she killed in the Hunger Games about a year before. How could he be here? How did he get shot? The screen pans in, and Katniss is hyperventilating, struggling to comprehend the horror she has just witnessed. But… it wasn’t real. She comes back to the present. The nightmare, however, is not over.

The film explores this issue in moving, distressing ways. Katniss seems to be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The memory of the violence she has wrought has come back to haunt her. Later, she is confronted by the families of those who died in the Hunger Games that she and Peeta “won.” Her heart is broken. She wakes with nightmares. Violence… is horrific.

But you, in the audience, are forced to deal with another level of the drama: is Katniss to blame for this? Yes, she did kill; but she was forced to kill or be killed. The system dealt her the cards she is playing with: did she merely play the part? Who is to blame? Surely, the system is to blame every bit as much as Katniss. Indeed, is Katniss to blame? An unjust system yields nightmares.

Friendship

Katniss and Peeta are forced to put on a show to meet the expectations of the Capitol. In one (somewhat comical) scene, Peeta is trying to learn more about Katniss, who reveals that she doesn’t feel she has friends. But what is it that makes friendship? As I noted in my look at the book, Katniss betrays her own pragmatism in many points. Her compassion wins out, and demonstrates that she really does have friends and even–shock!–understands what friendship is, though she may not realize it.

Her willingness to sacrifice for her friends proves just how much she understands about the nature of friendship. It is self-giving, self-sacrificing; and not based upon the mere exchange of information, as the scene with Peeta shows.

The Rich

The stark contrast between the lives lived by the people of the Capitol and those of the district comes through very strongly throughout the movie. One cannot help but shake one’s head when considering the way that Caesar Flickerman–the Hunger Games’ gameshow host–first somberly reflects that the people going into the games have been favorites of the Capitol for years but now will all die but one… and then his face turns into a grin and he says “it’s so exciting!”

To the people of the Capitol, it really is all a game. It is a show. But to those who are suffering, it is a remarkable sign of the great line of division between the haves and the have-nots. I think perhaps the most poignant image of this was when Effie Trinket, the escort for the tributes for District 12, is trying to grasp the reality of the horror with which she is confronted. The year before, she was just excited to have potential to win; it really was all just a game. But now, she is faced with the thought of losing her beloved winners. Now, it has become real. But the only way she can try to cope with it is to make them “a team” by purchasing gold things for everyone. Her hair is gold, Katniss’ pin is gold; everyone else should have a gold item as well!

But Effie should not be castigated; indeed, she has become enlightened to the brutality. As one who has awakened, it is right that she should try to fight against the unjust system in whatever way she knows how. Whether her struggle is successful or not, one should commend her for breaking out beyond her closed reality.

cf-1Sacrifice

The theme of sacrifice runs strong throughout the movie. We have already seen that it comes out in friendship [and love] when Katniss is willing to lay down her life for Peeta; but there is another agenda going on of which she is unaware: she has become a symbol of hope for the people of the Districts.

As such, many of the other tributes in the Hunger Games are willing to sacrifice themselves to protect her. Time and again others give up their lives to defend both Peeta and Katniss from the dangers in the arena. But the plot to rescue Katniss is not revealed until the very end. Instead, the theme of sacrifice centers around Katniss and Peeta. Peeta is willing and fully committed to giving his life to save Katniss, but Katniss instead wants to give herself to defend Peeta.

Not only am I reminded of one extremely powerful quote: “Greater love love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” – John 15:13, but I also reflect upon the figure who spoke them himself: Jesus. Jesus did exactly that: he laid down his life for his friends; indeed, for all people (John 3:16). Could there be echoes of this same self-sacrifice to be found in the story of Katniss? I would suggest that yes, there indeed are; though they are by no means explicit or even intentional.

Yet the theme of hope draws out this theme even more strongly, such that one must wonder: who or what is Katniss?

Revolution

Hope, President Snow realized, was the most dangerous thing of all. It was fine to have fear; one could use fear. But the moment hope was injected into the equation, fear no longer worked. With hope, people were willing to die for an ideal; for a person. Katniss, Snow found, was that embodiment of ideal into a person. Her action of being willing to give up her life in the Hunger Games a year before had become a symbol; the fact that she continued to live had become a rallying cry.

Yet Katniss herself did not realize the extent to which she had become just such an ideal. To Katniss, all she had done was try to survive. And it is in this that her story most clearly displays the disconnect between her and the one true Savior. But thematically, the message remains. A revolution needs hope; one spark can light a fire.

Consider the history of Christianity. It was the hope of the resurrection which brought about enormous social upheaval. Suppression did not work, for the Christians had hope in the risen savior. When I saw the people of District 11 reach out their hands in a symbol of defiance to the Capitol, I considered the defiance of the early Christians in refusing to bow the knee to false idols.

Bringing It Together

Of course these are extrapolations. Anyone could point out holes in the way I drew these themes together to point to a Christian message. But the film itself is so thought-provoking that it demands such extrapolation. It calls for interpretation. How might we apply it to understanding our own times?

First, we must consider the nature of the “system.” There is a call to action found within the Hunger Games, but it is not a call to violent rebellion; rather, the violent rebellion is symbolic of the call the film makes to us to end oppression.

Second, the imagery of Effie’s realization of the injustice is perhaps a wake-up call to those of us who are sleeping with the societal ills of human trafficking, hunger, and racism (to name but a few). Not only must we, like her, be awakened, but we should also make use of the tools we have been given to fight against these injustices. And, thankfully, there are many effective ways we can do so.

Third, the movie features a powerful call to realize the power of hope in what seems like a hopeless world. That power is found in the message of Christianity to a world which is in great need of hope.

Go see “Catching Fire.” I hope it lights a spark within you to fight against the iniquities of injustice in our world. More importantly, I hope it brings you to the realization that the Christian message provides the most powerful hope to the world. The self-sacrifice of one Lord has provided endless hope for all nations, districts, and yes, even the Capitol.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

Check out my look at the themes in the book, “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins.

Christian Reflection on The Hunger Games Trilogy- I discuss the entire Hunger Games Trilogy, with a number of comments upon the themes and events found therein.

The Hunger Games Movie: A Christian Perspective- I wrote about the movie, “The Hunger Games” and provided some insight into what Christians may take away as talking points from the film.

Do you like The Hunger Games? Check out my evaluation of Ender’s Game both in movie and book form.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Some quick thoughts on the “Noah” trailer

Russell-Crowe-in-Noah-2014-Movie-Image (1)It’s coming, folks. A big-budget movie about Noah and the Flood. A trailer was recently released for the film, in which Russell Crowe plays Noah.

I thought I’d share some thoughts on the brief glimpse we’ve had on the film, after a brief narration of the trailer. See the end of the post in which I reflect on a couple things not in the trailer.

The  Scene

The trailer opens with Noah having some weird vision which seems to depict the Fall of humanity. He wakes up and says “He’s going to destroy the world.” Some old dude tells Noah about a story passed down from his father about how if humans continued in their wicked ways, the “Creator would annihilate this world.”

The old man  also tells Noah that this Creator is able to communicate with him in a way he understands, which is apparently by dunking Noah in water and showing lots of burning things and then a flower growing, because, you know, that is really understandable. But apparently Noah gets it because he decides to build a big boat. One problem: the local King is upset about it for some undisclosed reason.

Lots of animals come to load up the Ark. It starts to rain. People try to get on the Ark but get blown up by water. The fountains of the deep are depicted as big geysers blowing up all over the place. Rain.

By the way, Hermione plays someone [I looked it up and she plays "Ila" who is apparently Noah's adopted daughter and a heartthrob to Shem(?)], so that’s kind of cool.

Thoughts

Well, it looks like we have some Hollywoodization here. I’m not really sure what to think. First, I appreciate the fact that in the trailer the responsibility for the Flood is placed upon humans, who continued to behave in clearly brutal ways.

Clearly the random king showing up with some reason to be angry with Noah is fictitious in the sense that it is not recorded in the Bible. I suspect it is there to add drama to the narrative, but what will it add in addition to that? What plot exposition will be given that diverges from the biblical account? The Old Testament in many places is very terse, not many details are given. It is tempting to fill in the details, and it is clear this film will do so.

The movie also seems to be thankfully not avoiding the theological issues. I will be very interested to see how God interacts with humanity. Despite my tongue-in-cheek narration above, I think there is a point to be had that God may communicate in phenomenological ways, and that the biblical narratives often do report things from the viewer’s perspective.

Also: those clothes! Why is Noah wearing a tailored shirt made out of some weird attempted period-piece? What kind of styling is this!?

Joking aside it looks kind of cool. As a film, it looks like it will be exciting. Lots of special effects; extra tension added in; you name it. But how much correction of faulty understanding of the biblical narrative will need to be done afterwards? I don’t know. On the other hand, perhaps it will get people talking more about the Bible. It may help spur discussion of the issues raised in that passage, which could expand beyond that. Could this be a tool for believers? It may be best to read up on the Flood story yourself.

The movie is clearly generating a lot of discussion already, and having drawn in a big-name director as well as actors/resses, it will likely be discussed broadly.

Be assured that, God willing, I will reflect on the movie when it comes out next year. Until then, let me know your thoughts!

Having Written This, I discovered something else:

Apparently there may be quite significant additions to the film from the pseudepigraphal Book of Enoch, including some scenes with 6-armed angels and the like. I’m disappointed to learn about this divergence from the Biblical story. I get creative license, but this is a bit much.

Check out this excellent post which discusses the screenplay. My disappointment continues to mount as I read more about it. Note that I wrote this post 100% based upon the trailer, with almost no prior knowledge of the movie. The post I just linked to has major spoilers for the differences from film to movie. It looks like what we’re getting is something which is not faithful to the biblical story. I find that deeply disappointing. I get the use of creative license, but based upon this reading of the screenplay, it goes beyond creative license and into exploitation of the Bible to forward a specific agenda.

I wonder whether the rumors floating around about the studio wanting to make significant cuts to the film might be do to this negative reaction from Christian viewers. I suspect that it is possible that the studio wants to make it more palatable to Christian audiences.

The Image was found on Google and is not mine. I could not find rights to it, and do not claim them.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Ender’s Game”: Fear and Hope in the Face of Annihilation- A Christian look at the film

EndersGameMoviePosterEnder’s Game is one of my all-time favorite books, so it was with some great anticipation that I looked forward to the release of the film. Here, we shall investigate some of the major themes that the film adaptation brings up in its portrayal of this epic science fiction novel. There will be MAJOR SPOILERS for the film in what follows.

Children and Violence

The first and most pervasive feature throughout the film is that of the boundaries crossed when placing children in situations which they should be protected from. It is much like the Hunger Games [I want to clarify: Ender's Game was written long before Hunger Games and so any connections flow from Card to Collins!] in this regard, though Orson Scott Card’s book and the film take it much deeper.

The first and perhaps most poignant example of this is found early in the film, when Ender thinks he has been washed out from the possibility of command and so he no longer has the protection of adults monitoring him to make sure he is safe. He is approached by a group of bullies, but he uses his strong tactical sense to shame them into fighting him one-on-one. Then, he ruthlessly beats down one of the larger boys and continues kicking him while he is down. He does this, he explains later, because he wanted to make it so that his enemy could never come back and hurt him again. The key, for Ender, is to ensure not just that the enemy is unable to fight back now, but that they will be unable to do so ever. This survival instinct leads Colonel Graff to believe that Ender is right for battle school. But it leaves the viewer wondering about justice.

Elsewhere, the film deals rather pointedly with bullying. Ender continues to be alienated by his fellow students and they react with two common bullying tactics: they ostracize him and eventually, one tries to physically harm him. One scene shows how one can break the grip of bullying: by simply reaching out to the one who is bullied. The camera shifts to a top-down view and shows as one-by-one, students begin to sit next to Ender and abandon the bully. If we teach our youths to do the same: to reach out to understand instead of to conform to the pattern of the world and ignore the downtrodden, we could make steady strides against bullying.

The scenes of violence involving the children also do something that very few scenes of violence with adults are able to convey: the complete horror that is involved in such activities. One cannot help but be gripped by sorrow when one sees children reacting violently to each other. Very often, movies are unable to capture the wrongness of violence. I do not think it is far afield to suggest that blockbusters are even worse at doing so. One can imagine the amount of collateral damage wrought in a movie like “The Avengers,” yet the heroes are glorified and the violence justified by the end. “Ender’s Game” incredibly portrays the real awfulness of violence of human against human, and even of human against environment or nature. It is raw, powerful, and gut-wrenching.

Ends Justify…?

The viewer wonders throughout the entire film whether the cost is too high. Colonel Graff and Major Anderson engage in a brief dialogue on the question late in the story. Anderson notes that using children used to be a war crime, but Graff counters by arguing that humanity must do what they have to in order to ensure survival. In a way, his reasoning takes Ender as a foil. Both he and Ender agree upon the notion that the ends may justify the means.

However, the film doesn’t end with that message. Instead, Ender is forced to confront the reality that he has been used–lied to–in order to bring about the utter extinction of an entire alien sentient race. When faced with this truth, he reacts with extreme remorse and anger. Graff tries to reason with Ender, suggesting once more that they struck the enemy in such a way so as the enemy might never strike them back. But Ender suddenly realizes–with horror–that this is insufficient reason to justify his wiping out an entire species. He reacts angrily and is eventually sedated. The viewer is left to reflect upon the sheer enormity of what has happened. An entire sentient race has been extinguished by the activity of a child who was deceived into thinking he was merely playing games.

The child realizes it is horrible; the adults are the ones rejoicing.

From Death, Life: From Xenocide, Hope

I’ve already pointed out the way “Ender’s Game” depicts violence in such a way as to prevent it from being gloried. I’ll admit I was unsure of how I would react to the big reveal towards the end, when Ender discovers that he has been fooled into exterminating the “Buggers” [Formics--the alien race]. I wasn’t sure if the movie would depict it in such a way as to make the audience cheer and delight in the destruction of the enemy. However, I was totally blown away by the way it showed the scene. I couldn’t but be horrified when Ender turned to Graff and the other commanders of Earth’s military and said triumphantly, “Game Over.” I knew the twist that was coming, and that perhaps made it even more horrifying to me. Ender thought he was playing games, but those in charge knew he was not and cheer gleefully in the complete annihilation of a species which wasn’t even acting the aggressor any longer.

That alone would be an incredibly powerful message to leave viewers with, but Orson Scott Card did not write a book[and, by extension, the movie it spawned] that merely shows the horrors of such violence. Instead, the seeds of hope are scattered therein. The very end of the film shows the birth of life from death. One of the “Bugger” Queens has survived, and one egg for a new queen has been preserved. The Buggers had been trying to communicate with Ender, and they succeeded in getting him to find their last hope for preservation. Ender realizes almost immediately what he should do: take the egg to a place it will be safe. The film ends with Ender’s voice echoing the future story: that he would seek out a new home for the Buggers so that they could begin life anew.

Conclusion

“Ender’s Game” is a fantastic film. It is one with powerful messages for today. Yes, it has the moral message against bullying, and people who walk away only with that will have done well. But more deeply–and more powerfully because of this–it also shows the absolute horrors of violence. Harming others is not in any way glorified in this film. Ender realizes the wrongness of his own actions too late. Yet viewers are not spoon-fed this message. Indeed, the story begs to be debated. Do the ends justify the means in this case? Or perhaps Ender is right–understnading is more important. The themes provide much for anyone who watches the film to discuss.

Yet the most powerful message is saved for the very end: Life comes from death. It is brought about by an outsider, using means which could not have been predicted. And that is the most powerful and true message of all. It is a message which Christianity teaches: hope comes from the most hopeless situation, and it comes from the least expected direction, provided by God.

Links

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card: A Christian Reflection- I analyze a number of themes from the classic science fiction novel. It is extremely important to look into the

The Importance of Being Ender: A Closer Look at Orson Scott Card’s Modern Classic- Check out this look at the book by Anthony Weber at one of my favorite blogs, “Empires and Mangers.” It is well worth the read and also ha some very interesting links for more discussion of the book.

You liked Ender’s Game? Check out John Carter.

The Image is one of the official movie posters. I claim no rights to it.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Resource Review: “Flight: The Genius of Birds”

FLIGHTBRD-1Flight: The Genius of Birds” is the latest from Illustra Media, “a non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation specializing in the production of video documentaries that examine the scientific evidence for intelligent design.” In this film, the argument is made that the complexities of avian flight present a challenge to naturalistic scenarios in which such mechanisms may have arisen.

The Complexity of Birds

The film traces the incredible development of birds from single cells into babies and the way in which their bodies must work in order to achieve flight. One of the people interviewed in the film notes that flight is not an incremental phenomenon; the entire body must be set up in order to accomplish it. The way feet work, the shape of the wing, the structure of muscles, and the weight of bones are all factors which must come into play in order to make up an animal capable of flight.

Hummingbirds

“Flight” presents a number of different birds as case studies the complexity which the systems that make up a bird show. Hummingbirds’ flight muscles comprise, on average, 43% of the bird’s body mass. This allows the birds to have an enormous amount of precision in order to move in the ways that they can, such as hovering, moving backwards, laterally, etc. The hummingbird generates lift both on the back and the front strokes of their wings. This capability is grounded in the shoulder joints found in the bones which are at the bases of the wings. The hummingbird’s heart must beat at an enormous rate, which means that it also must eat quite a bit in order to sustain the energy level required for the bird’s metabolism and constant movement. The hummingbird’s tongue is particularly interesting, for it has a number of functions on it which allow it to draw up nectar far more efficiently than had been thought.

European Starlings

These starlings, sometimes flying in groups in the hundreds of thousands, move in a stirring, beautiful way, seeming to shift as if they comprised one organism. The way that these birds continue flying without running into each other is by monitoring those starlings which are closest to each other. Rather than monitoring the entire formation, they simply move when those around them move, which lends itself to the movement of a flock as one kind of organism. Their movements must take place within very minuscule spans of time in order to maintain the formation. They follow air flows to minimize the turbulence they encounter, and their formation also serves as a defense mechanism.

Arctic Terns

Arctic terns have the longest migration of any animal on earth. They cross the planet from pole-to-pole to seek out nesting and feeding grounds. From the North Atlantic, they head south, eventually splitting as half go along the African coast while the other half goes along the coast of Brazil. In the south, near Antartica, they feast upon small fish before heading back north. They must arrive back near Greenland and other areas in the north for a nesting period of about 8 weeks. Then, as winter sets in in the north, they head back south.

How did the complexity arise?

The film here presents an argument that a materialist must use Darwinian evolution to explain the unique functions of flight. No design may be invoked in order to explain these things in a materialistic worldview. Dinosaurs were the precursors of birds, and natural selection selected for those dinosaurs which began to develop better means by which to avoid predators and catch prey.

The Feather

One feather may contain around a million individual parts, from the shaft to the individual strands, barbs, which compose the feather, and each of these are made up of barbules. These are constructed in such a way as to interlock with each other. Yet the feather is but one of the many factors which must go into the mechanisms required for flight.

Other Mechanisms

Other than those already noted (muscles, bones, etc.), birds require a navigational system which allows them to migrate and follow food. They must have instincts to cue and direct their movements across continents and even oceans. One could see how these latter functions came into play in the case study of the Arctic Terns.

Natural Selection?

The film makes the argument that natural selection cannot account for the mechanisms required for flight. The primary problem presented by “Flight” is the “lack of foresight.” Natural selection cannot look ahead and select for various factors in order to put them together into an integrated whole. The argument is that the multiple and independent functions needed in order to get a functional bird which would have some chance at survival is impossible to get to by means of a process which is blind.

Evaluation

First, I have to say that there were moments I found myself with my mouth hanging open and the gorgeous imagery in “Flight.” This was particularly the case following the starlings’ movements, the icy regions the terns flew through, and the overall imagery related to the hummingbirds.

The use of particular case studies over the middle section of the film was particularly effective at showing the problems which may come up when trying to describe certain characteristics and behaviors which birds exemplify that cannot be explained so easily by naturalistic mechanisms.

The film also did a good job of noting that there are presuppositions when it comes to the scientific enterprise. Given naturalism, neo-Darwinism is the only game in town. However, as was asked repeatedly throughout the film, if one is capable of acknowledging design and intelligence when it comes to certain things, why should one preclude the possibility of an intelligent agent when it comes to higher orders?

One problem with the film can be found in the format. It is necessarily short, making only the briefest points and only touching upon those things which it discusses. I suspect that those who hold to a naturalistic worldview will be largely unimpressed, while those who hold to the possibility of intelligent agency in biology will see it as backing their own positions. However, those who may be on the fence will see that there are reasons to ask questions.

Overall, “Flight: The Genius of Birds” is a good way to introduce the topic of intelligent design. It is a beautiful film which raises a number of questions. However, it does so in such a way as to ground these questions in very real conditions. By using case studies focused around particular birds and the problems they may present to those operating with a naturalistic worldview, “Flight” paints the debate in such a way as to allow either side to present their case for meeting the challenges head-on.

Disclosure

I was sent a copy of Flight: The Genius of Birds to review by Illustra Media. They neither asked nor required any specific type of feedback regarding the film. My thanks to Illustra Media for the opportunity to review the film. My thanks also to them for providing the above image.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ben Hur- The Great Christian Epic

ben_hurThere was a time when Hollywood battled for which studio could churn out the best epic, the greatest film, the most splendor upon the big screen. “Ben Hur” was a film which towered above all the rest. It won 11 academy awards, a feat matched only by two other movies (“Titanic” and “The Return of the King”), but it was also the only one of those three to win for acting (Best Actor: Charlton Heston as Ben Hur and Hugh Griffith won Best Support Actor).

Although best remembered for its famous chariot race scene, the film’s themes continue to echo with our own times. At the heart of “Ben Hur” is a struggle between ways of viewing the world set alongside an epic story which relates that struggle to the cosmic struggle for redemption and salvation of the people of God. There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows.

Background

It is important to note that “Ben Hur” is based upon the novel of the same name by Lew Wallace. Wallace, a general during the Civil War, was disturbed by a conversation he had with a prominent skeptic of the time, Robert Ingersoll. Ingersoll’s challenge against the historicity of Christianity gave Wallace a great desire to search the historical acconts around the time of Christ and compose Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, his literary apologetic for Christianity (“Introduction,” Tim LaHaye, cited below). The book is itself a masterpiece and well worth reading. It gives an excellent background for understanding some of the themes of the film.

A Battle of Worldviews

The question of worldview is explored throughout the film. What is it that makes hte people of the Roman colony of Judea so obstinate? They seek after Messiahs, after a different savior each day of the week. One conversation poignantly illustrates the heart of this conflict:

Sextus, a centurion in charge of the Roman garrison asks Messala, who has come to relieve him, “How do you fight an idea?”

Messala responds “You ask how to fight an idea? Well, I’ll tell you how: with another idea.”

Messala realizes that at the heart of the people’s will is their worldview. Their hope is in the destruction of Rome. They long for a Messiah who will lead them to a successful revolt to throw off the Romans. Yet Messala desires to fight this hope with his own worldview: that of the power of humankind. Rome is power, and for him, the Emperor is that power deified.

ben-hur-16Revenge

Vengeance. It’s a theme which seems initially to drive the movie. Messala betrays his friend, Judah Ben Hur, towards the beginning of the film. The Hur family is thrown into prison to languish there, and Judah is sent to the galleys to row as a slave. Judah swears to Messala that he will take revenge upon him upon his return. In a deeply ironic voice, Messala responds, “Return?” The life of a galley slave is not expected to be long.

But Judah does return. He rescues the Roman Quintus Arius who is in charge of his ship and is eventually adopted into the Arius family. He returns to Judea as the son of a consul, with all the power and privilege his rank implies. After learning of a way to take revenge upon Messala without the possible legal ramifications–by besting him in the circus maximus in a chariot race and leaving Messala destitute from debt–Judah succeeds in the arena.

The climax of the quest for vengeance can be found in the scene in which Judah Ben Hur confronts Messala for the first time since seeming to come back from the dead. He slams his seal–the seal of the Consul QUintus Arius–into a document and stares Messala down. Now, Judah is in the superior position. He is the one whose victory is inevitable. From this point on, his vengeance seems assured.

However, after Ben Hur’s epic defeat of Messala in the chariot race, which leaves Messala not only broke but also leaves his body broken, it turns out that revenge is not as sweet as it may seem. Messala informs Judah “the race goes on”–his family is still alive, but they are lepers, left to flounder on the edges of society as unclean, cursed wretches.

It is not revenge which pays. It may give some kind of satisfaction for the briefest moment, but Judah learns its satisfaction is only fleeting. His glory must be found elsewhere, and it is not a glory he can bring himself.

Redemption

Judah is devastated by his discovery that his mother and sister are lepers. He realizes there is nothing he can do to save them, and it seems Messala’s own plan has achieved victory after all. Judah, moved by compassion, takes up his mother and sister in his arms despite their protests, almost guaranteeing that he, too, will contract the terrible disease.

He and Esther, a servant of his former household, take his family through the streets of Jerusalem. The latest Messiah, Jesus, is set to be crucified, and a crowd gathers there to watch. As Jesus dies, his blood runs through the rainwater as it spreads out symbolically to the world. When it touches the Hur family, they are cleansed of their diseases, washed utterly by the blood of Christ. In a stunning twist, it is not the hero who brings about victory, but rather the Messiah who has only been seen briefly throughout the film at pivotal moments. It is Jesus to whom all glory is given, not to Judah Ben Hur.

We have seen that Messala hoped in a human who took upon deity for himself. But the film (and indeed Wallace’s earlier book) show that this hope is misplaced. The God-man that humans should look to is not the conqueror; he is not god because he has human power; instead, the God-man Jesus Christ took on flesh in order to save, to humble himself and become obedient to death on the cross. It is a subversive tale. It is a story of redemption and salvation. It is an idea against which the powers of humanity and the devil muster all their strength to attempt to overthrow, but the idea lives on. It is the idea which cannot be overcome, cannot be outshined.

Conclusion

“Ben Hur” is my favorite movie of all time. The epic clearly portrays the truth that is above all truths: we are powerless, but God is powerful. Judah Ben Hur is unable to save that which he loves and must ultimately rely upon another, who saves them through the washing of his blood. Ben Hur’s story is our own in many ways. We continually struggle against the powers of the world and we often have motivations which are, at best, questionable. But ultimately, we find that when we rely upon ourselves, we are unsuccessful. Only when we rely upon God do we find success.

Sources

Tim LaHaye, “Introduction” in Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Signet Classic Edition: 2003).

Ben Hur.

SDG.

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