Disney’s “Aladdin” is a remake of a beloved animated classic. The film is a feast for the eyes and ears, with a few tweaks to the original that will be debated by longtime fans. I’d like to offer a reflection on the film from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS, of course.
Aladdin and Temptation
One of the major themes of Aladdin is that of character. What kind of people are the characters, really? Aladdin at first appears to be nothing but a common criminal, but we quickly find that his thieving is in order to survive. He sings: “Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat” and, though the song presents it as a tongue-in-cheek moment (“I steal only what I can’t afford/(That’s everything)”), it already presents viewers with questions about the society in which he lives and the rightness or wrongness of his actions.
Aladdin is then faced with a huge test: what will he do with three wishes that seem to have no limits other than his imagination (or to wish for more wishes, of course)? As his relationship with Jasmine encounters a few lumps, he considers using his last wish to improve his situation even more, going against his promise to the Genie. The Genie, for his part, has acted as a moral compass throughout, asking whether Aladdin really wants to go “that way” and variations on that question multiple times. Aladdin is facing temptation, and he ultimately passes the test. After stopping Jafar, he gives Genie his freedom.
The temptation Aladdin faced was made more acute by his social situation. Coming from utter poverty, he was faced with the choice to descend into decadence and deceit in order to maintain his newfound power or to risk what he’d gained being honest. Of course, it certainly helps that he’d already saved the Kingdom multiple times.
The temptation of Christ in the desert is something I thought of as I reflected on this scene of temptation of Aladdin. In that part of Christ’s life, the deceiver offers Jesus all the power in the world if he will but bend the knee to him. But Jesus rejects this temptation, staying on a path that would ultimately lead to his death for us.
Agrabah is a Kingdom full of injustice. The streets overflow with people in need, and Princess Jasmine is touched by their plight and determined to do something about it. Her exploration of the city is not portrayed in this film as a flight of fancy, trying to escape for a day of adventure from the palace. Instead, Jasmine is trying to determine the state of her people and use that, she hopes, to rule better than she could have otherwise.
The Christian faith makes it absolutely clear that we are to care for the poor. Time and again, Jesus warns about the dangers of wealth and the fact that we cannot serve money and God. Additionally, throughout the Bible demands are made that we care for the poor and the refugee.
Jasmine’s own concern for the poor is a model of character. Placed into a position of great poverty and wealth, she seeks to understand the plight of those who are in need. The movie doesn’t go beyond a resolution that places her as Sultan, though her character leaves us in little doubt over what her actions will be.
Silence and Tradition
Jasmine is also central to the plot in another way: as a challenge to the silencing of marginalized voices and the wielding of authority to do so. She briefly hints at the concept of being told to go “speechless” early in the movie. Both her father and Jafar have repeatedly told her that women are to be silent, seen and not heard. In a climactic scene in which Jafar takes over as Sultan, she erupts into a powerful song that pushes back against this silencing of women that. She sings, in part:
I won’t be silenced
You can’t keep me quiet
Won’t tremble when you try it
All I know is I won’t go speechless
She here makes the decision to speak up, appealing to the guards to push back against blind allegiance to tradition and authority and instead look to standards that go beyond that. Though not made explicit at all, it is clear in this scene that there is a higher standard than that of tradition or the authority vested in a seat like the Sultanate. Her wisdom challenged the tradition to show that it was mistaken.
Too often in our churches, appeals are made to authority or tradition to do the very same thing that Jafar and the Sultan tried to do to Jasmine: silence women. Instead, we are taught that there is “no man and woman” in Christ (Galatians 3:28) and that women were prophets, deacons, and apostles in the church. Like Jasmine, let us raise up women who won’t go speechless so that we can hear their wisdom as they wisely point us towards Christ.
Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.
I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).
Star Trek: Beyond has just released, and it is garnering critical praise. Full of special effects, the film has more heart and humor than might be expected. I quite enjoyed the movie. Here, I will discuss the movie from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows.
One of the earliest scenes of the movie is a breathtaking view of a space station, Yorktown. The space station has rings encircling the interior and intersecting each other, with gravity presumably holding people down in a kind of inverted globe with trains and other vehicles zooming past. Huge crowds are observed milling about. It is a kind of utopic vision of the future. One can’t help but sit back and think: look what we could accomplish if we just set our minds to it!
Star Trek has always been about offering a kind of humanist vision of the future. Of course it goes beyond humanism and into a kind of inter-species unity in which we can hopefully learn to interact without conflict. What is striking, however, is how swiftly this vision falls.
Unity vs. Conflict
The most prominent theme in the movie, one that is repeatedly emphasized, is that of unity vs. striving and conflict. Krall is obsessed with the idea that humanity has grown weak through unity. It has made humans complacent and taken away their drive. He seeks to push humanity to new heights through conflict, bringing destruction in his wake. As he put it, the Federation has been pushing into the frontier, but now “the frontier pushes back!”
Of course, this shows a significant contrast with the vision of humanism offered early in the film. Indeed, Kirk and others do everything they can to show that unity is strength rather than weakness. Ultimately, they succeed, but only through striving and conflict.
Is it therefore possible that Krall actually succeeded in his plan, in some way, after all? He did force conflict–he brought it to the Federation–and in doing so, he made Kirk and others strive for something further, seeking new solutions and pushing new heights. It’s a subversive way to interpret how the film ended, but the implications are interesting to pursue. Krall’s vision is one that is so similar to the humanist vision it is difficult to pull them apart. When we make humanity the measure of all things, we inevitably must strive to continue to better ourselves. We will never find a limit beyond which we cannot or should not push.
Unity is a worthy goal, but without something to unite us, it is a vain hope.
Fear of the Unknown
The message of exploring the frontiers and having the frontiers push back is particularly poignant in this film. We approach a time–and are in many ways already in that time–in which changing DNA is possible, we push more and more boundaries every day. How long until we push a boundary and find that we have delved too deeply? Such a fear of the unknown ought not to forestall any advancements, but it should serve as a cautionary reminder that we should not rush blindly into the beyond.
One thing I have really appreciated about the new Trek movies, and Beyond in particular, is their treatment of women. Lieutenant Uhura is assertive, decisive, and intelligent. Jaylah is a character who offers the kind of complexity that is too rarely seen in female leads in film. Moreover, her innovation and power help to save the day on multiple occasions. I hope that she continues to show up in future iterations of the franchise.
Star Trek: Beyond is a phenomenal film that will make viewers think. There are many more avenues to explore that I haven’t even touched upon here. What I think is most interesting, though, is the idea that unity is what we ought to strive for. I agree it is a worthy goal, but it is one that requires something around which we can all unite. Christ, I believe, has provided that something- we may guide our lives by his commands, and rely upon God’s grace when we fail.
“Star Trek: Into Darkness”- A Christian Perspective– I take a look at the previous film
Read more movie reflections (scroll down for more).
Eclectic Theist– Follow my “other interests” blog for discussion of sci fi, fantasy, movies, sports, food, and much, much more.
I’ll admit it up front: I love the movie “Avatar.” I know that admission will immediately garner scoffers and the like, but I’d like to take this opportunity to look over some of the themes in the film to show why I like it so much. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.
A Concern for Social Justice
First, it must be admitted that there is a strong concern for social justice throughout the film. This concern is borne out in three ways:
1) The disabled- Jake Sully is wheelchair-bound, and this leads to some overt thematic elements related to this. Other characters make offhand remarks over his state. “That’s just wrong”–presumably referring to sending someone with such a disability to Pandora; Jake refuses help from others and relies on his military background to keep himself motivated to do whatever anyone else can. In the extended edition of the film, Jake is also bodily thrown out of a bar early on, which highlights his feelings of injustice and helplessness, while also showing compassion demonstrated by his character. Jake’s veteran benefits can’t pay for a “new set” of legs, so he looks to Pandora for a fresh start.
From these portrayals, one may draw two primary areas of discussion. First, the ultimate solution to Jake’s status is transcendence into the Avatar body. His state is ultimately not one he can overcome himself but one which is ultimately reliant upon others–even deity (see next section). Second, there is some concern here for those with disabilities: we should neither treat them as deficient nor should we ignore the possibility of increasing the well-being of those in such situations.
2) The Environment- Some may not consider notions of concern for the environment a “social justice” issue. However, it should be clear that impact upon an environment definitely brings about societal change. If a group lives in a jungle, razing that jungle to the ground will have profound impact on that people group. Although the portrayal in the film is very straightforward (perhaps even simplistic), the concern for how destruction of an environment can lead to societal ills is certainly portrayed. In the Bible, we are given the command to care for creation. This should translate into a concern for societal well-being as well.
3) The “Other”- The Na’vi (interestingly similar to the Hebrew word for “prophet”) are the “other” in the film. From the human persepctive, they are a strange people. They have a seemingly paganistic nature worship along with inherent pantheism. They prefer to live in trees and tribal communities than building roads and buildings. The way in which the humans interact with the “Other” is ultimately a question of major concern and conflict. By downplaying the needs and disrespecting the culture of the “Other,” humans fail to learn from them and perhaps come to mutual understanding and a better relationship. Rather, the “Other” is seen as one to exploit for one’s own ends. For some discussion of how the “Other” is used in religious contexts, see my post on “The Myth of Religion.”
Deity- Or, Avatar is not Pantheistic
One aspect of the film I have heard other Christians complain about is that the religion of the Na’vi is pantheistic. However, it seems clear that Eywa is no friend to pantheism. Indeed, this “goddess” is far from the pantheistic all-in-all. Rather, it turns out in the climactic battle near the film’s end that Eywa “had heard” Jake’s prayer and in fact answers in rather extraordinary fashion. Eywa (again, interestingly similar to the name of the LORD in Hebrew) turns out to be not so much a pantheistic, monistic One as a theistic deity capable of activity within the natural realm.
Thus, the ultimate reality of the film is that there is such a thing as deity interfacing with the prayers of persons and with power to answer them. This is not to say the film is entirely friendly to Christian theism. For example, one line Jake Sully says to Eywa is that the inhabitants of Earth “killed their Earth-Mother.” Surely this is not an affirmation of theistic faith but rather hints at a kind of pantheon of deities for each planet! Well, not so fast: Jake says this before he even knows that Eywa is truly a deity capable of activity on the planet. He is trying to describe the situation in his doubt, and his prayer is that of a skeptic trying to make sure he’s covered all his bases. The answer of the extent of Eywa’s rule over Pandora (or beyond?) is left unanswered.
Again, I am not trying to suggest that Eywa should be identified with Christian theism. Rather, within the context of the film, it is clear that a deity exists and acts within the “real world.” I think it must be admitted that this is a far cry from the outlook of many films which are either anti-theistic or generally ignore the question of deity altogether.
“Avatar” is a film that’s worth talking about for more than its beauty. Although many mock it for its emulation of some story tropes (Pocahontas in space!), there are more thoughtful elements in the film worth discussing. In particular, the question of divine activity is poignantly brought to the forefront. Moreover, the themes of social justice brought forward call into question our own assumptions about what is the best way to address various needs and issues.
What I’ve written here is only the beginning of possible discussions. A whole slew of topics remained untouched (what of mind/body connections and the use of the Avatars themselves?; what of the use of mercenaries?; what kind of criminal justice system could one have in a corporate run entity like this?; etc.), so I’d love to read your own thoughts on the film.
Escaping to Pandora– J. Warner Wallace notes other issues of apologetic importance of the movie “Avatar.” He specifically focuses on the real hope in heaven and the transcendent.
Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals– I write about creation care from a number of perspectives offered at a recent panel of prominent evangelical thinkers in this area.
Also see my other looks into movies (scroll down for more).
I recently got “The Giver” from the library. I remember quite enjoying the book but admit I haven’t read it in… well over a decade so I didn’t remember it hardly at all as I watched the film. I enjoyed the movie and have taken the time to reflect on it here. There will be SPOILERS for the movie in what follows.
One thing that humanity in this apparently post-apocalyptic world lacks is freedom. They take drugs to prevent emotions, demand “precision of language” that eliminates the use of words like “love” from the vocabulary, and live under a set of rules in which sameness is not only encouraged but enforced. It is only “The Giver” and “Receiver” who know what humanity used to be like, with all the joys and sorrows that accompanied it.
Perhaps the most prevalent theme throughout the movie is the notion that this loss of human freedom, though it apparently ensures survival of the species and eliminates much evil, is itself doing great harm to humanity. People commit infanticide and euthanasia without even having knowledge of what they are doing. A kind of blissful ignorance surrounds acts that would be considered morally barbaric. But the people’s ignorance means that it is more sad than appalling at first.
The film asks us to reflect on our own nature and think what we have done with our freedom. How have we used our freedom of choice to bring about good or evil? Is it worth sacrificing this freedom in order to have a facade of civility and “ending” of suffering.
A theme that is extremely prominent in the movie is the notion that freedom leads to suffering. This is not because freedom is inherently evil or painful, but rather because humanity so often uses freedom to bring about suffering. As noted above, the society in which people live seems to be free from evil, but has real atrocities being committed even without knowledge of the magnitude of the actions.
The movie itself is a kind of exploration of the problem of evil and the “free will defense” to this problem. Supposing that our world was created by a benevolent being, why is there evil? The answer in “The Giver” seems to be that we have used our given freedom to bring about great wrongs. Even when we attempt to create our own perfect society, that society remains inherently corrupt. We have squandered our freedom.
What “The Giver” paints is a picture of humanity as being inherently good; not in the moral sense in which we are perfect, but in the sense that humanity as created–along with the freedom of the will to use for good or ill–is a good thing. At once this hearkens back to the notion of a “very good” creation by God in the beginning and also looks forward to a day of hope.
Jonas’ actions to bring back emotions and memories to humanity is a quest of salvation. It is salvation from a kind of hell that humanity built for itself, putting up walls around the very things that could be used for good. The answer to the problem of evil is a solution from the “outside.” From beyond the capacity of the humans themselves, salvation was brought to them in the restoration of their free will. Yet the ultimate hope remains fleeting: the hope for a world in which suffering can be brought to a final end.
“The Giver” has a kind of eschatological scope in its study: a human-made utopia has failed. Can there be better waiting for us? With questions of free will, the problem of evil, and more in view, it is a worthy movie to watch and discuss.
The image in this post is an official movie poster and is used under fair use.
Movies– Read other posts on this site about movies written from a worldview perspective. (Scroll down for more.)
The Hunger Games (category)– Like Dystopia? Check out my posts on the Hunger Games series of books and movies.
I recently had the chance to watch “God’s Not Dead,” a film which presents a story in which a college student decides to take a stand for his faith against the pressure of an atheistic philosophy professor. A summary of the plot may be found here. As an apologist with an MA in the field, I thought my comments might help provide some insight into the film. I’ll offer a look at some aspects of the film which I wanted to address. Feel free to chime in in the comments with your own thoughts.
The movie presents a clear picture of the need for apologetics. When challenged by attacks on the faith it is important to always have a reason for the hope within (1 Peter 3:15). Josh Wheaton–the protagonist–put together a decent presentation of various evidences for theism in the snippets that viewers get through the film. Of course, these are very simplified and don’t address several major issues with the arguments, but it gets the point across. It also, I have noted through conversations with others, spurred much interest in the area of apologetics. That’s awesome!
That said, I think there are some issues with even the arguments presented in the film. First, after Wheaton has presented the cosmological, design, and other arguments for theism, he is challenged by Professor Radisson on the notion that one just has to choose between atheism and theism. Wheaton acknowledges that yes, it is a choice. Now, there are a number of issues with this portrayal. First, it treats the balance of evidence as a kind of 50/50 proposition, which is, I would think, hardly the position of anyone. Second, it presents a view of belief in which we can just choose what we believe. This is called “doxastic voluntarism” which is a fancy way of saying that one can believe propositions at will. But that is a highly controversial position (just try to force yourself to believe that “Fairies fill my refrigerator every morning” and you’ll see the folly of it) and also flies in the face of biblical accounts of what faith is. Third, here I’ll tip my bias a bit and say I’m fairly well convinced that the balance of evidence is hardly 50/50 but actually compelling.
Another difficulty with the apologetic in the film is that it seems like the lynchpin argument offered was actually just a point of rhetoric. Wheaton presses Professor Radisson and asks “Why do you hate God?” and follows it up with [paraphrased]: “How can you hate someone who doesn’t exist?” This is the last straw and what prompts the class to vote by standing to say that “God’s not dead.” Although I think rhetoric has a clear place in the Christian apologetic (and has since the earliest times: see the apologetic works of Lactantius and Arnobius in the 200-300s AD), I thought it was an odd choice to make it the climactic argument for God. Perhaps it was because this added to the drama of the moment–and I suspect that’s right–but it did so at the cost of detracting from whatever apologetic the film could put forward.
I did, however, appreciate the interaction with some top scholars like Hawking and Lennox. I think it is very important for Christians interested in apologetics to read the top scholars in their fields in order to best get acquainted to the arguments.
Characters or Caricatures?
The way the Muslim father was portrayed was problematic. In the beginning of the film we see him dropping off his daughter and showing great concern for her. Later, he shares an intimate discussion of his faith and the importance of obedience in his background. But then, when it is revealed his daughter has converted to Christianity, he not only kicks her out of the house, but he also immediately hits her more than once. Now, I make no claims to being an expert on this, but I know from anecdotal evidence only that people are indeed kicked out of their homes for converting to Christianity (and sometimes for deconverting), and this is surely a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing to address this as an issue.
But the problem I saw was that the Muslim father’s immediate reaction was violence, without any explanation or any background for thinking this would be a reaction. The rest of the film up to this point had shown him as a caring father who was concerned for the faith and well-being of his daughter. To have him immediately turn to violence when she converted was jarring and I think it speaks to our cultural presuppositions about the religious “Other” to portray the “Other”–the Muslim–in that way. We need to move beyond such stereotypes and into genuine dialogue with those of other faiths, always looking to share the light and love of Christ with them.
On the positive side, the film did do a great job speaking to the importance of reaching out to others like the young man from China. It also emphasized missions in a number of ways, like centering some major plot points around a very amiable character as a missionary.
I appreciated the comments about the work of a pastor, in which Pastor Dave in the film was comparing his own work to that of a missionary friend’s and felt his own day-to-day tasks were mundane and trivial. The answer given by the missionary, however, was essentially that such work is part of the work of God as well and that we each occupy a place which God has put us in to make an impact on the world. I thought this was a great message and one that deserves further exploration.
On the other hand, I thought that the pastoral care at points in the movie presented some difficulties. For example, Pastor Dave’s conversation with Josh Wheaton before Wheaton decides to for sure stand up to his professor boiled down to a couple citations (not even quotations) of Bible verses to look up later and the comment that “It’s not easy, but it’s simple” [I may have the order in this quotation wrong]. I’ll be blunt: I think that this is actually a gross oversimplification. Quoting Matthew 10:33 (click for reference) does not actually make the issue facing Wheaton “simple.”
For example, would it be “denying” Christ to acknowledge that one might not have the resources available as a freshman student in a general studies philosophy class (and not a major) to take on a philosophy professor on the topic of God’s existence? I don’t think so. One could instead acknowledge that both the clearly adversarial tone taken in the environment and one’s own lack of knowledge or expertise in the area make it likely that one may actually harm the body of Christ by, well, looking like a freshman non-philosophy student outmatched by an atheistic philosophy professor. Wheaton, of course, has the benefits of film, so he is able to put together a beautiful powerpoint each week and manages to pound the books so hard that he can articulate the cosmological, design, and other arguments within a few days. But is this a realistic perspective? Moreover, is it a “simple” application of the passage to our lives?
“God’s Not Dead” awakens people to the need for apologetics. That is a great compliment, because it is a much-needed awakening. However, it has several issues (including those mentioned above) with the presentation of apologetics, its portrayal of the “Other,” and the oversimplification of several arguments, positions, and even pastoral care and reading of texts. In short, it’s a mixed bag.
The X-Men franchise has been my favorite of the Marvel franchises for some time, largely because of the worldview questions it brings up. Here, we’ll take a look at the themes in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” There will be SPOILERS for the film in what follows.
Evolution continues to be at the heart of many of the questions raised by the X-Men franchise. What does it mean to say that Mutants are perhaps the next step in evolution for humanity? For some, it means that Mutants should overthrow humanity; after all, they are the lesser-evolved form of life. How should humans and Mutants interact? Are they really a step of evolution, or is it simply a different expression of humanity?
These questions are obviously speculative, but I think the most poignant of them center around the notion of an evolutionary morality. If all we see is merely the product of naturalistic evolution without any sort of grounding for objective morality, who is to say that those Mutants and humans who say that there is a fundamental war between Mutants and humanity are wrong? It seems as though they are exactly right: it is a competition for resources, pure and simple. Yet the questions the movie brings up go beyond such simplistic reasoning. After all, it seems, there is right and wrong that goes beyond the reasoning centered around survival-of-the-fittest. Again, we must wonder: why? Moreover: how is it grounded? These questions get at the heart of worldview questions, and viewers who are left thinking that it is wrong to perpetuate a war between Mutant and human should wonder what grounds they have for thinking it is wrong.
The Heart of Hum…utant?
Many strands of Christian expression view humanity as depraved. That is, humans are sinful at heart, rather than being generally good. “Days of Future Past” aligns with this vision of humanity in a number of ways, but it also, interestingly, portrays mutants as just as frequently evil-leaning as humankind.
The inherent fear of the “Other” was felt throughout, as both Mutant and human worked to destroy each other. However, Mystique’s quest for revenge was a deeper look at aspects of character and worldview. Her quest, despite it being a futile gesture, was telling: she sought revenge despite the possibility that it could destroy all of her own kind. Professor X’s words, however, echoed through time: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their way doesn’t mean they are lost forever.” Mystique, through her choice to refuse to pursue the way of violence into oblivion, ultimately plays a kind of figure of reconciliation. The theme of darkness in the heart which may be redeemed is one which resonates powerfully with the Christian worldview.
A Spectrum of Morality
I think one area that is not explored frequently enough is the notion that there really is a spectum when it comes to that which is moral. I’m not advocating any kind of relativism, but rather the notion that there aren’t always (or even often) black and white moral choices. “Days of Future Past” brings this to the forefront as viewers are confronted with various ways to approach the question of the Mutant. Does one opt for a warfare model which is put forth by Magneto and Dr. Trask, a model which allows for coexistence with separation/secrecy as was generally being followed in the 1970s of the film, or perhaps even cooperation as Dr. X seeks? Perhaps instead, one should forge one’s own way like Mystique or (old) Wolverine, seeking a personal agenda in order to follow one’s own ends.
These aspects are front-and-center throughout the film, as viewers most likely will unconsciously lean towards a certain expression themselves. We discussed above the aspects of evolutionary morality, but I think the movie goes even deeper, trying to get at more basic questions like “What is truth?” and “What is moral/right?” The way viewers answer these questions may lead to further conversations. It seems to me the film clearly favored the kind of mediation road in which Mutant and Human could coexist. But what does that mean for those who favored evolutionary morality or a warfare model? Perhaps such notions are themselves outdated and put to rest because they are of a “Future Past.”
The latest X-Men movie has received much critical acclaim and box-office success. I think that’s for a good reason. It has a compelling plot, great action, and excellent pacing. Our analysis of various themes throughout the movie shows there is thoughtfulness behind it as well. Issues of morality are front and center, though many other themes are worth discussing as well. This is a movie that could be used to start discussions about the faith from many different aspects.
There are many more issues which could be explored in the movie. What are some that resonated with you? Let me know your own thoughts in the comments.
Movies– Read other posts I have written on the movies. Scroll down to see more!
The image is a movie poster for the film and I use it under fair use.
I had the chance to watch “Edge of Tomorrow” this past weekend and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. It was fantastic. Here, I’ll discuss several themes found in the movie from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. I will not summarize the plot, but a summary may be found here.
Major William Cage (Tom Cruise was brilliantly cast for this role) is presented with a number of choices throughout the film, and it becomes clear that he is not a typical save-the-world type of hero. He is flawed, he has passions, he loses hope. But throughout these aspects of the film, we find the notion of choice. Will Cage has been given an extraordinary opportunity to impact the entire human race. When his blood is mingled with that of an Alpha, his death sets off the “Omega” which resets the day. Over and over again, Cage is faced with a choice: what do I do with this day?
He finds Sergeant Rita Vrataski, who is one of the only people who also realizes what’s happening, though she herself doesn’t remember the days. The question, again, is what do I do with this day? Cage’s character is forced to consider that he has the ability to possibly save all of humanity. In such a situation, what choice does he have? But he does make some choices: he chooses to try to save Rita, to save others. But at other times, he gives in to frustration, allowing members of his squad to die despite being able to prevent it. Cage is not a knight in shining armor, but he confronts us with a human thrown into an impossible situation with the highest possible stakes.
Placing the concept of choice against such a backdrop makes for good drama, but it also begs the question: what are you doing with your day? From a Christian perspective, the choices we make are extremely important–we are called to be witnesses, lights to the world–but do our choices each day reflect that? Do we, like Cage, sometimes allow injustices despite having to put forth just a little extra effort? How do our choices impact our life in Christ? The movie demands that we answer questions like these.
Cage is also confronted with a kind of self-sacrifice. By admitting he is what he is, he must go through a cycle in which he dies continually, in often brutal ways, in order to try to improve, to save humanity. It is sacrifice, but a sacrifice knowing that he will be back the next day. One must ask, I think, whether that actually diminishes the sacrifice. I don’t think it does. Cage must steel himself each day knowing that death will come again, and again, and again. The only way to prevent it is to save all of humanity by destroying the Omega. Though, in the end, Cage ultimately does give up his life for humanity, only to be brought back by having his blood mingled with that of the Omega. One is left wondering whether he will retain the power or not.
The self-sacrifice of Cage (and Rita) for the sake of humanity is clearly a theme which resonates with the central Christian teaching of Jesus Christ as crucified and resurrected Lord. However, beyond the obvious parallels of giving up life for the sake of all (and subsequent resurrection/awakening), the sacrifice of going in knowing one is to die is something that resonates with the story of Christ. I have sometimes seen a challenge issued theologically to the Christian teaching saying Jesus didn’t really sacrifice himself if he knew he was going to be risen by God. But of course that hardly destroys the notion of self-sacrifice and the real price paid of death. Being risen does not destroy the sacrifice of death.
Live. Die. Repeat.
The theme is echoed throughout the film. It may cause one to wonder about the brutality of such a story and its appropriateness, but I think that from a Christian perspective one has to incorporate the rest of the themes found in the movie. The brutality of the cross is itself something from which people shy away, but set against the backdrop of salvation, brutality can become sanctified.
I have not read the manga that “Edge of Tomorrow” was based on, “All You Need is Kill,” but I have heard that there is some juxtaposition over the primacy of the community vs. individual in either. “Edge of Tomorrow” shows this kind of valuation in many ways throughout the film. First, there is Cage’s continued efforts to save Rita, despite what it might cost–including going on one part of the mission alone in order to prevent her death. Second, there is the concept of both Cage and Rita valuing the community of humanity over the self by willingly spending all the time they have left trying to defend humanity rather than find a way to survive themselves. Finally, both Cage and Rita choose to place the community over the self when rather than trying to save one or the other, they both do what needs to be done and give themselves to save humanity.
For Christians, themes of community and individual are extremely important. It is easy in the Western mindset to become obsessed with the self, but a true community of individuals exists in the body of Christ–each as important as the next. How do we go about living our lives in light of this truth?
There are many other themes to be explored from “Edge of Tomorrow”- what of the Alpha/Omega? What happens to Cage and Rita after the end of the film? Were there any efforts to try to make peace or reach out to the “Mimics”–the aliens that they fight against throughout the movie? These are important themes, and I’d love to get discussion of those started in the comments. For now, it should be clear that the film has many themes to reflect upon and it is well-worth seeing. What did you think of the movie? What other themes have you thought of in relation to it? Let’s get your thoughts in the comments below!
All You Need Is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow– “Edge of Tomorrow” is based upon this graphic novel. Check out Anthony Weber’s excellent review and critique of the graphic novel from a Christian perspective. I really recommend you follow his blog as well. It’s in my top five must-read blogs, and it is worth your time to browse at length.
Movies– Read other posts I have written on the movies. Scroll down to see more!
The image is a movie poster for the film and I use it under fair use.
Disney’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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- A Christian Perspective– check out my look at the first of “The Hobbit” trilogy.
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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.
Ender’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.
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.
“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.
“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.