The most common question I get about Reel Parables is, “how do you do it?” For the longest time I would simply say, “I don’t know” and not give it another thought. I assumed that what I do – see God’s story in movies – is nothing special.
The thing is, this question keeps coming up. A lot.
So, I decided to figure it out how I do it. And you know what? The more that I write here at Reel Parables, the more that I see a pattern. Here’s the thing – to see God’s story you have to know God’s story.
First and foremost, we should all be growing in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As we learn more and more about God we can more easily see a pattern.
That pattern usually looks like this:
- There is a corrupt world, usually with a counterfeit king or ruler.
- There is typically an outside – and dual natured – hero (savior) who is not a part of the corrupt world.
- The Hero will almost always sacrifice something, often his/her life.
- If the hero dies, he/she will often be resurrected or reborn. If the hero does not die, the world is often restored to its former glory. Also, relationships are restored and reunited.
- This resurrection/restoration usually leads to community (restored relationships) and a calling.
1 – There is a corrupt world, usually with a counterfeit king or ruler.
We may not know what it is, but we know that there is something seriously wrong with the world. The original creation is broken (think the Fall) and something is wrong.
Often, this world is under the control or influence of a fake ruler, a counterfeit king. This character wants to be in charge and acts like they are in charge, but they are not in charge. This antagonist often sounds and looks good, but is eventually revealed to be evil.
Example: Wreck-it Ralph
We find out at the end of Wreck-it Ralph that Kind Candy is not the real king, but is instead an imposter. He is a counterfeit king who has “reprogrammed” Sugar Rush. Yes, Sugar Rush is fallen. Part of his hacking – part of the fall – turned Vanellope into a “glitch.”
Because of Elsa’s actions, Arendelle is “frozen” and trapped in ice. And not only is Arendelle affected by this, but as the story unfolds so is Anna. As we are warned at the start of the movie, we must beware a frozen heart.
Also, Hans, who we think is a good guy, ends up being a bad guy. He looks good. He sounds good. But in the end he is seen to be a liar and a deceiver.
Both of these worlds are “fallen” – not what they should be – and both are (at least temporarily) under the control of a false ruler. This is our story.
We to live in a fallen world currently under the control (at least to some degree) of the Devil.
Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
There is always hope, though.
2 – There is typically an outside – and dual natured – hero who is not a part of the corrupt world.
Enter the hero!
To save this world and to defeat the counterfeit ruler, a hero will arise! This hero is usually from the outside or somehow unrelated to the other characters. Also, this hero often has two natures or at least a secret identity. He/she is like the other characters, but he/she is also different from them in some way.
Example: Wreck-it Ralph
Ralph, the bad guy from Fix it Felix, Jr. is not from Sugar Rush. But he is the hero of Sugar Rush.
He is like them – he is a game character – but he from the outside, he is from a different game.
Superman is a classic example. He looks and acts human, but he is not merely a man, he is a Super Man. This Super Man was sent to Earth by his father to be our hero, or example of what we can be. Bonus points for his Superman/Clark Kent secret identity.
Books like Superman is Jewish? (How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Server Truth, Justice and the Jewish-American Way) have done a good job of showing how these types of characters, especially Superman, are a type – or a picture – of Jesus Christ.
Example: Spider-Man 2
In the original – and far better – Spider-man 2, Spider-man’s true identity is finally reveled. The hero is unmasked and everyone sees that Spider-man is just a kid, Peter Parker. He is the hero, but he is also just a kid.
Jesus is both the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is God, but he also gets us.
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Yes, we have a savior who is like us and can sympathize with our weakness, but how is also so far above us that He was tempted, but did not sin.
3 – Sacrificial Death/Humility
This hero will almost always sacrifice himself or herself to save the others. If they don’t give up their life they will at least give up something significant.
Example: Wreck-it Ralph
While Ralph does not die to save Vanellope and Sugar Rush, he is willing to. He thinks he is going to die. And he tries to save her anyway.
Anna actually sacrifices herself to save Elsa from Hans. As Hans is about to kill her with a sword Anna jumps in front of her save her. She offers her life to save Elsa’s. Frozen even shows us her last breath.
Example: Terminator Genisys
Pops, Arnold’s most personal Terminator yet, sacrifices himself to save not just Sarah Conner, but the entire world. To prevent Judgement Day Pops willing goes to his death to save the day.
All of these examples show us what Jesus did for us.
But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)
Yes, Jesus loves us the way Ralph loved Vanellope, the way Anna loved Elsa, and the way Pops loved Sarah.
4 – Resurrection or Restoration
If the hero dies he/she is often resurrected. If not, the world is usually restored to its original glory or relationships are reunited and restored. Think Anna and Elsa from Frozen or Vanellope – a real Princess/daughter of the real king – from Wreck-it Ralph. (Jesus rose from the dead!)
Yes, Anna died to save Elsa. Her heart is frozen. But remember, only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart. While Frozen wanted us to think that this “true love” was a romantic love (like so many Disney Princess movies), Frozen shows us that unconditional love or sacrificial love is true love.
Because Anna saved Elsa with an act of true – unconditional and sacrificial – love, her frozen heart is thawed and she is “resurrected.”
Not only does she come back to life, but her relationship with he sister, Elsa, is restored. And to further show us the power of *the* resurrection, all of Arendelle is renewed and restored to its original glory!
Examples: Terminator Genisys
Yes, Pops, Arnold’s Terminator in Genisys, sacrificed himself to save Sarah, but he did not stay dead. Not only is Pops “resurrected,” but he is resurrected to a new and improved body!
We can go on and on. We see this idea of resurrection in the first Matrix. Neo dies, comes back to life, and has new powers that can defeat Agent Smith. We see this in Big Hero Six also. We know that Baymax dies to save Hiro, but later find out that he still lives! We see it yet again with Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. After giving up his own life to save the other Guardians we see a little baby Groot dancing. He lives again.
Yes, Jesus died for us. But, He also came back to life for us!
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 15:20)
Because of His resurrection, we too will live even if we die!
It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. (I Corinthians 15:42, read all of chapter 15)
5 – Calling and Community
This resurrection or restoration or reunion usually leads to community and a shared calling or purpose. The victory has been won. The characters are brought back together, but the story is not over. Here the characters are typically united by a common calling, by a shared purpose, but by a new reason to band together.
Yes, in the context of the movie this often sets up the sequel. This often leads to the next movie (sequel) as the story is not yet over. Just like us! Salvation is not the end, we too still have a job to do! (The Great Commission.)
Examples: Terminator Genisys
Pops sacrifices himself to save Sarah Conner – and the entire world – from Judgement Day. Pops is resurrected to a new and improved body. Yes, Pops, Sarah, and Kyle are united in a happy ending. But their story is not yet over. Now they must work together towards a common goal. Queue the sequel.
Not only is Anna resurrected and Arendelle returned to its former glory, but the city, which was closed off, is now opened. Not only are Anna and Elsa reunited with one another, but the whole city is united in celebration. The sacrifice, death, and resurrection ultimately lead to community.
The bible is BIG on community; confess our sins to one another, weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh, united in purpose.
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. (Philippians 2:1-4)
This purpose, this calling, applies to every Christian.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
I don’t know what this looks like for you. I don’t know where you are going or who you will come across. But I do know that God wants us to make disciples.
As you watch movies look for these big ideas.
- How is the world corrupt world. Is there a counterfeit king or ruler.
- How is the hero? How is he or she different from the others?
- What does the hero sacrifice? Did the hero sacrifice himself or herself?
- If the hero died, was he/she resurrected or reborn? If the hero did not die, who or what was restored and/or reunited?
- How did this sacrifice and resurrection affect community? Does this community have a common calling or purpose?
I know this is a lot, so I have created to resources to help up out. One is a cheat sheet summarizing this post, the other is a worksheet to help you walk through these questions so you can see God’s story in movies! Just click the image above to get your free copy of the How to Share God’s Story with Movies cheat sheet and work sheet.
And be sure to check out our new Start Here and About pages!
Until next time, – God bless.
Simon L Smith