The Gospel in Hollywood – Part 2
Previously, we have discussed some of the Gospel elements that appear frequently in Hollywood fiction. Movies often portray a Christ-figure who fights for truth and saves people. Often the Christ-figure experiences a (usually symbolic) death and resurrection, and defeats an imposing enemy against incredible odds. We have seen how the Christ-figure is generally the main character in superhero movies. We now examine the movie genres of science fiction and fantasy.
Unfortunately, most books, movies, and television shows of the science fiction genre are steeped in evolutionary mythology. Such films portray extra-terrestrial lifeforms as having evolved on other worlds over billions of years. Many science fiction franchises seem to promote secular humanism quite heavily. And yet, despite all these anti-Christian themes, science fiction often portrays the Gospel in symbolic form. So, you can usually find both Christian and anti-Christian themes in science fiction.
Why such inconsistency? I suggest this reflects the worldview schizophrenia of the unregenerate mind. Unbelievers know God in their heart of hearts, but inconsistently suppress that truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-20). Consequently, their creative efforts inevitably mix Christian and anti-Christian themes. But the Gospel is subtly there in the form of allegory. Let’s examine a few sci-fi / fantasy movies in light of their similarity to the Gospel.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
If you want to enjoy a delightful sci-fi classic, watch the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. In contrast to the disappointing 2008 remake, this old black-and-white gem featured a fascinating story with likeable characters. Needless to say, there will be spoilers below. So if you have not yet seen this movie, go watch it now and come back to the article. I’ll wait.
The movie begins with a saucer-shaped spaceship of alien origin landing at a park in Washington, D.C. Military vehicles and personnel quickly surround the ship, and tension is quite high. A crowd gathers as curiosity rises. Finally, a door opens and the ship’s occupant, Klaatu, steps out. His helmet obscures his face, but his form appears basically like a human being. Klaatu announces that he is on a mission of goodwill, and begins to present a gift to one of the people, but is shot by a nervous soldier.
This action triggers a robot (named Gort) on board the ship to shoot a beam from his visor that instantly destroys all weapons in the vicinity while miraculously leaving the soldiers unharmed. Klaatu orders Gort to cease and is then taken to the hospital. The doctors find Klaatu to be human in appearance, but are astonished at how quickly he heals.
Already we see many Gospel elements. Klaatu is the central Christ-figure who has come down from heaven with a message of peace and goodwill toward men (Luke 2:14). Rather than welcoming him in peace, his arrival generates anxiety, just as Christ’s did (Matthew 2:3). This is followed by an (unsuccessful) murder attempt, just as Herod tried to assassinate Christ (Matthew 2:16).
As Klaatu appears human, so Christ was fully human. Both had the power to heal. Both had great power available to them, but did not use it in vengeance against their oppressors. Indeed, Christ did not retaliate even when His critics crucified Him (Luke 23:34). Likewise, Klaatu orders Gort to stand down, even after being shot.
In the movie, Klaatu escapes from the hospital and dresses as an ordinary human, using the alias “Mr. Carpenter.” No doubt, this is an allusion to Christ’s human nature as the son of a carpenter. So again we have the dual-identity: one appearing as an ordinary man (Mr. Carpenter / Jesus), the other as a heavenly being of tremendous power (Klaatu / the Lord). Klaatu befriends a boy named Bobby. The dialog between these two characters is delightful. Michael Rennie (the actor playing Klaatu / Mr. Carpenter) is very believable as a gentle, wise, highly intelligent man from another world. Like Christ, Klaatu is full of compassion for the people of earth, and deeply disturbed by mankind’s violent ways.
Klaatu meets professor Barnhardt, a highly respected scientist, to whom he reveals his identity as the alien visitor. He asks for advice on how to get the world to listen to his important message. The stakes are high, for if Klaatu’s message is unheeded, “Planet Earth will be eliminated.” Barnhardt suggests that Klaatu should demonstrate his great power, but in a way that does not harm anyone. Klaatu’s solution to this puzzle is ingenious. He programs his ship to disable all electricity on Earth for precisely thirty minutes. No vehicle, light bulb, phone, or television will operate. Klaatu compassionately made exceptions for life-critical equipment, such as hospitals and planes in flight.
Again we see many biblical parallels. As Klaatu makes the Earth stand still metaphorically by disabling electricity, so God literally made the earth stand still on one occasion (Joshua 10:12-14). Likewise, when God’s message of repentance is unheeded, He is able to destroy the earth on behalf of human wickedness (Genesis 6:5-7).
Later, Klaatu is again shot, this time fatally. Anticipating this end, Klaatu had previously told a woman to get a message to Gort, lest Gort retaliate for Klaatu’s murder by destroying the world. The woman relays this message: “Klaatu barada nikto.” No translation is given in the movie. However, based on Gort’s response, the words must mean something like “Do not retaliate.” This reminds me of Christ’s attitude at the crucifixion: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
True to the Gospel, Klaatu’s death is followed by a resurrection. Gort rescues the body of Klaatu, and is able to resuscitate him using technology in the spaceship. People again gather to the spaceship, and Klaatu delivers his message. Essentially, the message is that humanity must give up its violent, wicked ways or be destroyed. Repent or perish. This is remarkably similar to Christ’s warnings during His earthly ministry (Luke 13:3,5). Klaatu goes back inside the ship, which then returns to the sky while the people below stare up in wonder. This is similar to Christ’s ascension at the end of His earthly ministry (Acts 1:9).
The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien’s engaging trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” is full of Christian symbolism and allegory. We see this both in the books and in Peter Jackson’s masterful movie adaptation. The story is complex and intended to be part of a rich mythology. It focuses on the adventure of Frodo Baggins, a “hobbit” of the Shire, who is given a magic ring that bestows great power on its keeper. But the ring is inherently evil, eventually enslaving and corrupting its keeper and strengthening its creator – the evil Sauron. The ring can be destroyed only by returning it to its place of origin in a volcanic mountain in enemy territory. The task of destroying the ring has fallen to the innocent Frodo and his companions.
The ring seems to represent sin. It answers only to Sauron, a nonphysical enemy representing Satan. Like sin, the ring is superficially attractive, desirable, and gives its wearer great power. But it inevitably destroys its wearer and enslaves him to the evil Sauron. Those who have been in possession of the ring find it nearly impossible to give up, even though it slowly destroys them. By way of backstory, we learn that many otherwise good men have been corrupted by the ring; they attempt to use it for good but it works its evil through them instead. Perhaps because of his innocent and selfless nature, Frodo is resistant to the corrupting effects of the ring, making him the ideal choice to carry it to its destruction.
At least three people typify Christ in the Lord of the Rings. First, Frodo is innocent and yet must bear the ring, just as Christ bore the sins of the world. Like Christ, Frodo willingly suffers great misery in his journey to undo the evil caused by others. Frodo ultimately defeats Sauron – the Satan figure. The analogy falls short because Frodo does eventually (though briefly) succumb to the ring’s power before it is destroyed.
Gandalf the Grey, who aids Frodo in his quest, also parallels Christ in some ways. Gandalf has a dual identity. He is humble and seems like an ordinary old man. Yet, he has existed from the beginning of creation and has tremendous seemingly supernatural power. Most significantly, Gandalf is killed early in the story, but is resurrected as Gandalf the White – as if to represent his glorified, eternal body.
From a creation perspective, the most interesting Christ-figure in this trilogy is Aragorn. Like Christ, Aragorn has a duel identity – one ordinary, one extraordinary. He goes by the name “Strider” – an unassuming ranger from the North, of humble apparel and few possessions. But secretly, he is also the rightful king of Gondor. Aragorn is a warrior who fights for good against incredible odds. He is able to “heal” people using herbs. In the movie, Aragorn falls in battle, and his comrades think he is dead. But he returns to them later, as if resurrected.
The First-Adam / Last-Adam connection here is remarkable. Aragorn’s distant ancestor was King Isildur. Isildur had the opportunity to destroy the ring, but he instead succumbed to temptation and kept the ring for himself. This led to his death, and plunged the world into an age of darkness, much as Adam’s sin brought death and suffering into the world. But Aragorn succeeds where his forefather failed. Aragorn does not succumb to temptation. He is not tempted by the glory and power the ring promises (see Matthew 4:8-10), but wants only to save the world from the evil bestowed upon it by his ancestor. After conquering evil, Aragorn is officially installed as the king. Likewise, Christ came into the world to save people from sin; Christ succeeded where Adam failed. Christ defeats evil and is installed as King (Psalm 2:6-9).
Many sci-fi and fantasy films contain such Gospel elements. These are not always intentional, nor are they always obvious. They are sometimes mixed with anti-biblical elements as well. The blending of Christian and anti-Christian themes may reflect the unbelievers’ mindset: having knowledge of God but suppressing that truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). So the next time you watch a movie, see if you can pick out biblical and anti-biblical themes. Cinema may be entertaining. But why not let it serve to practice discernment as well?