Christianity and the movies

This tag is associated with 3 posts

Disney’s “Aladdin,” A Christian view – silence, tradition, and justice

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.

Justice

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
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.

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.

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).

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 Martian” – Hope, Humanity, and God- a Christian look at the film

the-martian-movieThe Martian is receiving some excellent reviews from critics, and for good reason. It is a stirring story about humanity and our capacities and drive to survive. Here we will look at the worldview htemes found in the film. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. I will not be summarizing the plot, but a summary can be found here.

Hope and Humanity 

A major theme of the movie is that of hope. Mark Watney, the astronaut left behind on Mars, becomes the center of hope of the entire world. All eyes were following as he continued to fight against the unforgiving Red Planet. When the mission to rescue him finally comes to a climax, there is a scene of people around the globe watching in anticipation and hope. They celebrate merely hearing his voice.

I can’t help but think about the hope of the shepherd in a certain story told be a Jew in Galilee, in which the celebration over but one lost sheep was immense. There is an inter-connectedness that humans experience as we seek to help others and exult in the triumphs even of strangers in need.

Perhaps the central theme in the movie is that of the very, well, human-ness of humanity. We need companionship, and the poignancy of that is found throughout the film. Mark fights against the loneliness he feels by fighting one problem after another. But simply hearing someone’s voice is enough to send him celebrating, and when the rest of his mission team come to rescue him–and he can hear his commander’s voice for the first time, the overwhelming sensation of emotion he feels leads him to tears.

Humanity was not made to be alone.

 

God?

By no means does this film offer much related to worldview issues about God, but there are a few moments worth mentioning. The first is when Mark has to whittle a crucifix in order to get some material to burn for making water. He looks at the figure of Christ on it and says that he thinks that Jesus wouldn’t mind him using it to save his life. Though this never develops beyond a joke, it is interesting to see how it ultimately is a kind of salvation through the cross–this time in a very literal sense.

Prayer is hinted at when the head of NASA asks the head of the Mars projects whether he believes in God. The answer that came was unexpected: with a Baptist mother and Hindu father, “I believe in several.” The response? “We need all the help we can get.”  Again, this joking moment does reveal a hint of truth: that God is the one who provides help. Of course, not the many gods of Hinduism, but the true God is the one who saves.

Conclusion

“The Martian” is a great film. It explores the human need more than most films ever even touch on. These needs reflect deeply ingrained desires that mesh well with the Christian worldview. Only in Christ can we ultimately find the consummation of hope.

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!

Andy Weir’s “The Martian” A Christian Look at the Book: Humanity, Community, and Hope– I look at the the worldview themes found throughout the book on which the film was based.

Also see my other looks into movies (scroll down for more).

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: An Unexpected Journey- A Christian perspective

the-hobbit-2012-84384Unless you’ve been living in a Hobbit-hole somewhere (forgive me!), you know that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was just released in theaters. Short, spoiler free review: It was amazing, go see it. Hereafter, I offer my thoughts on the themes present in the film from a Christian worldview perspective, followed by some links to great posts on the movie and related items. Yes, there are SPOILERS ahead.

An Unexpected Journey

Yes, there is an unexpected journey which begins in this film, believe it or not. Yet the journey was not just unexpected but also vehemently resisted. Bilbo Baggins did not want to go. He was too comfortable with his armchair, his full cabinet, and his total lack of adventure. He was comfortable in his home. He liked it there, and as long as nothing was bothering him, he’d like to stay put, thank you very  much.

I can’t help but think of how so many people today are in that same position. We are too comfortable in our pleasant (or at least largely undisturbed) lives, living as though we haven’t a care in the world. We avoid those things which make us uncomfortable. We don’t want to think about them, and we’d rather not even say the words that have anything to do with these hard topics which have become our “adventures.”

For the Christian, this is especially poignant. The scene where Bilbo finally decides to go on the journey has him waking up the next morning after his refusal. He sees his hobbit-hole cleaned up and looking as though the previous night had never happened. But then he sees the contract from Thorin Oakenshield on a table. He picks it up and realizes what he has been called to do. He has to step out and live that life in the great beyond. It is as Gandalf tells him: the world is not contained in books and maps, it is “out there.” Similarly, we cannot become too comfortable in our lives. We are to be in the world, changing it through our actions and through the call to repent and believe. Yes, we can have all the books, we can pray the prayers, but what are we doing? Are we running, leaping, yelling like Bilbo to join the adventure, to spread the Gospel?

Big Evil

Defeating Evil

When the party comes to Rivendell, they encounter Saruman,  who had summoned Galadriel. After a brief conference on whether the dwarves should continue their quest and a debate over the existence of a Necromancer, Galadriel privately confronts Gandalf. She asks him why he chose a Hobbit, Bilbo, to embark on such a dangerous quest as a burglar. Gandalf’s insight is telling. He says that “Sarumon thinks evil must be defeated with great power.” But Gandalf is not so convinced. He argues that it is the little things, the everyday choices, which can lead to the defeat of evil. When enough choices are made for good, evil cannot overcome the turning tide against it. Bilbo is weak, but he will become strong in his actions. He will be used for good, despite not having great power.

We can fight evil in that same way. The choices we make everyday have larger consequences. How will I spend my time? Will I make that nasty remark? Will I forgive? There is big evil in this world, but it can be fought, by God’s grace.

Its Reality and Our Resistance

Evil is real. There is evil everywhere in the world, and we need only to look at the headlines to see it. Gandalf is aware of the rising evil in Middle Earth as well. The evils which confront the adventurers are “big.” There are trolls, stone giants, a goblin with a grudge, and more. They are resisted at every turn.

Who can help but see how this theme ties into the last one? Christians are called into a world of big evil. We are called to go into a world which is resisting them–often violently–at every turn.

Evil’s Foothold

Evil seeks places to dwell. The things which are evil must be actively resisted, for any foothold evil gains, it will utilize. Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and Radagast the Brown must all fight against evil as it seeks its foothold in their lives. Radagast is a particularly poignant example. He runs through the forest, fighting evil as much as can be done. He is eccentric and seems crazy, yet he does what he can to fight the evil which seeks to penetrate at every level into the forest. Our hearts are too often willing dwelling places for evil. We must fight it.

the-hobbit-poster04Small Mercies

Courage is the strength to show mercy. Gandalf urges Bilbo to remember this as he considers the adventure. A mercy shown can have important ramifications in the future, as those who know not only the Hobbit but also the Lord of the Rings trilogy should note. By sparing Gollum, Bilbo opened the door for the defeat of a much greater evil far into the future. What mercies can we show? Certainly, we don’t often have a life-or-death situation placed at our feet, but we have the capacity to show mercy on a day-to-day basis.

Evidence and Will

Saruman was confronted by Gandalf with evidence for the existence of a great evil, a Necromancer, who had been discovered by Radagast. Saruman–perhaps already in the thrall of Sauron–seeks any avenue to redefine the evidence. He says that Radagast cannot be trusted, for he is too eccentric and perhaps crazy. Saruman says Radagast spends too much time in the forest, eating mushrooms. Even when confronted with physical evidence, a blade full of evil, he seeks to offer an alternative explanation.

This dialogue between Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf is a powerful example of how our will can change the evidence. If we do not wish something to be true, we will seek every avenue to escape its truth. Perhaps Saruman was not yet in the thrall of Sauron, perhaps he merely did not want to think evil could gain such a foothold in his world, but he nevertheless made a decision to doubt his brother wizards. If he had trusted them, he perhaps would not have trodden down the path he takes in Lord of the Rings.

Back Again- Conclusion

JRR Tolkien wrote one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time. He was also a deeply thoughtful Christian. The themes which appear throughout his novels are portrayed vividly on screen. I urge readers to see this movie. When you put on those 3-D glasses, don’t forget to put on your worldview glasses as well. What themes are occurring in this film? How do they relate to my worldview? What worldview can account for these things? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a fantastic exploration of these themes. We are called to live in the world, we are called to adventure, no matter how much we want to resist. We are called to Christ. 

Links

The Call to Adventure– What does the call to adventure mean? Garret Johnson offers a thought-provoking look at the call to adventure in literature and how it can inform our worldview.

Tolkien Experts Talk About His Christian Themes– A video with a number of experts on Tolkien offering their thoughts on the Christian themes in his body of work. Definitely worth watching.

Big Truths from the Hobbit– An excellent post calling Christians to step out of their hobbit-holes.

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.

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