Naysayers vs Yaysayers

When I posted some brief thoughts about Avatar on December 19, 2009 I started the post with this comment:
While I am sure many Christian groups will (negatively) comment on the “pagan” religious elements of Avatar, I was surprised at the biblical correlations.
avatar
Indeed they have.

One in particular touched our family directly. My home schooled son takes a number of classes at a local Co Op. While at classes a few weeks ago the students were invited to hear a special guest speaker talk about media, specifically Avatar.

My son, who loved Avatar by the way, was disappointed when the first point the guest speaker made was that Avatar was of the Devil.

While I have no doubt that his intentions are sincere, I do believe that this guest speaker missed an incredible opportunity to teach God’s story with Avatar.

Instead of focusing on the film’s presentation of Paganism and Pantheism I wished he would have used it as parable (much like Jesus did) to teach God’s story.

The movie itself is a beautiful parable of the Incarnation. The way Jake Sully uses his avatar to be born as a Na’vi is telling.

His avatar is Na’vi and is also completely Jake Sully.

He is human.

He is Na’vi.

We are also told why they created the avatars; so that the Na’vi would accept the humans.

The humans became one of them so that they would be accepted by them.

I would assume that James Cameron is no friend of Christianity (he produced The Lost Tomb of Jesus in 2007 rejecting the divinity and resurrection of Jesus) but it does seem that he has made a masterful parable explaining to us – showing us – the first chapter of John.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
John 1:14

Also visualized in Avatar is the idea of being again (Jake even says that the day is his birthday) and of resurrection (life after death).

Does Avatar visualize pantheism? Yes.

Does it also tell part of God’s story? Yes.


I wish the guest speaker would have used the opportunity to encourage and teach his audience instead of frighten then.


I wish he would have shared God’s story with Avatar.

Get my free e-book, How to See God’s Story in Movies. This free download will help you share God’s story with your kids and students by showing you how to see God’s story in movies.

Not only will this guarantee that you get the latest Reel Parables posts, but you will also get my most popular downloads, including “How to Time Travel.”

And be sure to check out our new Start Here and About pages!

Until next time, God bless.

Simon L Smith

Sharing God's Story with Atonement

SPOILER FYI
The following discussion assumes that you have already seen Atonement, do not plan to see it but want to discuss it what friends and family who have, or simply don’t care if the movie is “spoiled.” Consider yourself warned.
Atonement
Atonement – Review

I really, really wanted to like this film.

I really did.

First, I don’t mind Keira Knightley. I do, however, think she may want to back away from the period pieces for a bit. Second, I might like Mr. Tumnus, sorry, James McAvoy, especially as he makes his transition from Mr. Tumnus to a real Leading Man. As with just about all the other actors, these two did an amazing job.

In addition, the cinematography was spot one. This was an amazingly beautiful movie, for the most part, to watch. Other than these there are really only two things about the actual moviethat I liked:1.The musical score
2.And the library scene.

I really liked the score for one very simple reason; the score of Atonement appealed to my love of Industrial music. Yea, I know this may sound odd, especially for a “period piece,” but at the heart of the score is the use of a typewriter as a musical instrument. This, at a very basic level, is a foundational element of Industrial music; take everyday non musical/instrumental items and use them to make music (i.e., Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten, early Depeche Mode, etc.). The way Dario Marianelli weaved the typing of the typewriter in and out of the score was masterfully done! Also, as a “narrative” element it was very successful in connecting the dots of Robbie’s (McAvoy) writings to Briony’s (Saoirse Ronan, Briony age 13 and Romola Garai, Briony age 18).

In the same way that the score was masterfully composed, so was the library sex scene. As a “Christian” writer, critic, etc., I almost feel obligated to mention how inappropriate, uncalled for, and immoral it was. The problem is I really, really liked this scene; so much so that it makes me want to take my wife in our library, pushed up against our books.
Anyway, the events building up to their rendezvous, coupled with their modest intensity, were perfectly executed allowing for a very satisfying explosion of their sexual tension.

Atonement – Reel Parable

In addition to being a well acted and beautifully filmed epic love story and period piece, Atonement is also a reel parable of biblical truth. As the film’s title implies, well, as it actually states, this is a movie about atonement, and therefore penitence, penance, punishment, apology and making amends. While it may seem that the movie is about Robbie (James McAvoy) and Cecilia (Keira Knightley) this film is really all about Briony, her sin, and her quest for atonement, redemption, and restoration.
Out of what seems to be a combination of confusion, jealousy and resentment Briony testifies that she saw Robbie rape Lola (Juno Temple). We know that he didn’t and that he is wrongly accused and unjustly punished.
As the “twist ending” shows us, Robbie and Cecilia are never reunited after they are separated as a result of Briony’s sin; specifically breaking the 9th Commandment and bearing false witness against Robbie. We then spend the rest of the movie waiting for – looking for – atonement.
Although there were more than just the two, these specific movie “tag lines” shed light on the world view presented in Atonement and the atonement represented.
You can only imagine the truth.
Joined by love. Separated by fear. Redeemed by hope.
These tag lines make sense as the older Briony reveals the twist ending via her interview at the end of the movie. The truth we see – the happy ending where our two separated lovers are reunited to live happily after – is only imagined in Briony’s new book, Atonement. It is in this book, this fictional retelling of the true story, that the lovers are redeemed by hope. In the “reality” of the movie they were never reunited and became young casualties of the war.
And in the context of this movie that reality – that TRUTH – becomes inescapable, even for Briony. Even after a long life and successful writing career she is still tormented by her sins.

She gained the world – she lived a long life and established a successful writing career – but lost her sole – even after decades she was still longing for redemption and reconciliation. (Matthew 16:26/Mark 8:36)
Although it is played out in a very post-modern narrative our twist ending lives our two very specific biblical ideas on forgiveness:
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
James 5:16
If we confess our sins, He (Jesus) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
I John 1:9
It is only after Briony confesses her sins – through the writing of her book, Atonement – that our two lovers find their peace and “eternal” happiness.
And that is source of my love/hate relationship with this movie. It presents such a clear reel parable of forgiveness; Briony confesses her sins our two separated lovers are reunited and live happily ever after. But at the same time the atonement it presents is shallow and unfulfilling.
At the end of Atonement I wanted Briony to feel the forgiveness and cleansing she longed for, but her confession was hallow and misdirected. And Atonement ended without any real atonement.

Sharing God's Story with The Incredible Hulk

SPOILER FYI
The following assumes that you have already seen The Incredible Hulk, do not plan to see the Incredible Hulk but want to discuss it with people who have, or simply don’t care if the movie is “spoiled.” Consider yourself warned.

The-Incredible-Hulk
I enjoyed Iron Man more than The Incredible Hulk (I enjoyed the humor more, if not the product placement) but think that The Incredible Hulk makes for a better Reel Parable.

I understand there is no real “redemption” story in The Incredible Hulk. Instead, the movie is more of a compare/contrast study. Specifically, the Reel Parable in The Incredible Hulk is in the differences between the Hulk and the Abomination.

  • Bruce Banner – the Hulk – learns self-control (humility?), which is really a fruit of his relationship with and submission to Betty Ross, and finds the hope he is looking for.
  • Emil Blonsky – the Abomination – becomes controlled by his own lust for power (pride?).
Bruce makes a comment that he does not want to learn how to control “it” but would rather get rid of “it.” Now, I do not mean to sound like a religious nut-job, but I think the “it” in The Incredible Hulk is a good metaphor for the biblical/theological concept of sin. Bruce wants to be free from “it” while Blonsky wants to indulge “it” so that he can be more; more bigger, more stronger, more powerful, MORE!

At one point a scientist describes the Hulk as “godlike,” to which Blonsky replies “I want that.”

This desire – to be like God – echoes Isaiah 14:12-14 where the Devil says “I will make myself like God (the Most High)” and reverberates through his temptation of Eve in Genesis 3. Here the Devil tells Eve that if she will disobey God then her “eyes will be opened” and she “will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Adam and Eve do disobey God and their eyes are opened. They are ashamed of their nakedness which leads to the first death to cover – literally – their sin. Because they now know the difference between good an evil, so they are a *little* like God, but they are not *really* like God. They have simply disobeyed God, introduced the world to its first taste of sin (which has one nasty aftertaste!), and ushered in the “fall” of man.

In the context of The Incredible Hulk we see Bruce Banner going through great strides to control “it.” He does his best to remove himself from situations that will cause him to lose control (literally!) and even gives up what he wants – and who he loves – in order to control “it.”
The Hulk

Blonsky, however, does whatever he can and everything he can to indulge “it.”

Bruce tries to control “it.”

Blonsky tries to feed “it.”

Blonsky finally becomes the Abomination, the very personification of evil and self-indulgence.

Bruce finally learns self-control, but only when he – as the Hulk – learns to submit to that still and quiet voice; the voice of Betty Ross.

OK, so here’s there deal. I don’t want to push this metaphor too far and I do not want to sound like that religious caricature that sees Jesus in his waffle, toast, soap scum, etc. But, in the context of the movie – and in the context of the metaphor – I think it works. In the movie Betty Ross is very much like the Holy Spirit. In Galatians we are told that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit.

Bruce as the Hulk learns to control “it” only when he submits to Betty Ross, much like when a Christian submits to the Holy Spirit. He can not – and does not – control “it” on his own.
As we submit to and obey the Holy Spirit we learn self-control (as well as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.
As the Hulk submitted himself to Betty he also learned self-control, and finds the hope is has been looking for.
The Incredible Hulk is an incredible Reel Parable. This movie shows us the differences between someone who submits and humbles themselves to the Holy Spirit (the Hulk) and someone who does not (the Abomination).

One learns self-control while the other one is controlled by pride.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Sharing God’s Story with Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

I love Tim Burton movies. Not only is he one of my favorite directions, but some of his movies are high up on my list of favorite movies. While I don’t care for horror or slasher films, but I do enjoy a good dark Gothic tale. And Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is one of those movies!

Spoilers Ahead!
The following discussion assumes that you have already seen Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, do not plan to see it but want to discuss it what friends and family who have, or simply don’t care if the movie is “spoiled.” Consider yourself warned.

Corpse-Bride

 

Although Corpse Bride is not my favorite Tim Burton movie, it is worth a watching!

Simply put Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is about a Gothic love triangle. The Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter – Voice) loves Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp – Voice).Victor, however, loves Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson – Voice), who loves him back. The hitch is that Victor, though a small misunderstanding, marries the Corpse Bride. What plays out is a stunningly subtle love story extolling the importance of sacrifice and humility.

Corpse Bride, a Reel Parable

While there is much that many Christians/Churches may not like about this movie (a non-biblical view of the afterlife, ghosts, hauntings, occult-like images, etc.) there is much about Corpse Bride that is actually very biblical. At its core, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is indeed a Reel Parable teaching us two very specific biblical truths;

  • True love is a sacrificial love.
  • The afterlife is not something to fear, but is instead freeing, liberating, and to be enjoyed forever.

While a small part of the film, the end of Act II, where Victor is willing to die for the Corpse Bride, and the end of Act II, where the Corpse Bride is willing to sacrifice for Victor, illustrate that true love is a sacrificial love. As the individual character’s story lines collide into the climatic ending we see the Corpse Bride show her true love for Vincent by sacrificing her own interest for him. She loves him so much that she is willing to sacrifice what she wants to give him what he wants. As Jesus said:

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

True love sacrifices for the object of that love.

A man will sacrifice for the woman he loves.A woman will sacrifice for the man she loves.

A child will sacrifice for the video game he loves.

God will sacrifice for the creation He loves.

Why? Because true love sacrifices.

While the ending is a good illustration for true love, the entire film is a parable teaching us about death and the afterlife. Tim Burton very carefully visualizes the difference between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The world of the living is dark, dreary drab, and very monochrome in color. There are a lot of blacks and whites with a little gray thrown in for color. : )

The world of the dead, by contrast, is full of color, music, feasting, enjoyment, merriment, etc. In the Corpse Bride death is not something to fear, but is instead something to look forward to!
In the Corpse Bride we see that death is freeing.

In death we are free from the trappings and concerns of the world.

In death we are free!

corpse2

This is illustrated in the Corpse Bride by the use of butterflies. At the beginning of the movie we see Victor drawing a butterfly, then letting it go, and it flying a way to freedom. At the end of the movie, after the Corpse Bride has emptied herself of her own ambitions for Victor’s sake, we see her turn into hundreds of butterflies, which fly off to the same freedom as our first butterfly.
It can be no accident that Tim Burton used the butterfly, a symbol of rebirth, as a metaphor for true freedom.

Death is not final.

Death is not something to be feared.

Death – like the butterfly illustrates – can be about rebirth.

This is true.

It is not true because Tim Burton says it is true.

It is true because God says it is true.

Regardless of your understanding of the specifics of what the Bible says about the afterlife (whether we spend eternity in Heaven, on a new Earth, etc.) the Bible clearly teaches that death does not have to be feared and that death is not the end. As Paul said to some friends in Corinth;

O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING? (I Corinthians 15:55)

(FYI, this quote is in all caps because the New Testament writer, Paul, borrowed this saying from the Old Testament, specifically Hosea 13:14.)

Like Tim Burton, Paul tells us that death is not something to fear. Paul even says in a letter to his friends in Philippi that;

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better. (Philippians 1:21-23)

Do you fear death?

If so there is no need to. Although Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride deals with death, it does not deal with redemption. Paul, however, makes it clear that death and redemption are tangled up in the dance of salvation. Salvation is not, and never has been, free. It may be a “free gift” to us, but God paid a great price in Jesus’ death. Death need not be feared because Jesus conquered it once and for all through His death and resurrection.

Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; (John 3:14b-18a)

 

test

 

Hey, would you please do me a favor?  Would you share this with someone you think would enjoy it?

Get my free e-book, How to See God’s Story in Movies. This free download will help you share God’s story with your kids and students by showing you how to see God’s story in movies.

Not only will this guarantee that you get the latest Reel Parables posts, but you will also get my most popular downloads, including “How to Time Travel.”

And be sure to check out our new Start Here and About pages!

Until next time, God bless.

Simon L Smith