Finding Jesus in Wonder Woman

You may be thinking, “What does a Greek-based, pantheon-touting, superhero film have to do with Jesus?” And that would be a fair thought. But there is something to the idea of taking every thought captive and submitting it to Christ. And, really, if we want to help our kids, they need to learn to see God’s Big Story wherever they can. Sure, there are going to be some cultural moments that are born entirely from the muck and mire with little or nothing to redeem them, but these are rarer than we think. Take Wonder Woman, DCs latest film endeavor, for instance.

The following paragraphs contain spoilers galore, so continue at your own peril.

The story involves the child of a god who is sent into the world of “man” in order to provide a positive answer to the problem of evil and suffering at the hands of an enemy. The world doesn’t deserve this hero, but this hero must find a way to defeat the enemy, even at great cost to that hero. Sound familiar? It should.

Diana learns over the course of the film that she is a child of Zeus, who embued her with the ability to defeat the enemy of the Olympian gods and humanity – Ares, the god of war. Ares’ motivation is to prove just how evil humanity is, not by outright forcing people to make war or initiate cruelty, but by whispering ideas, inspirations, encouragements toward greater acts of violence. Before Diana leaves Themiscyra, her mother states outright, “Mankind doesn’t deserve you.” And, to all intents and purposes, her mother is right.

Diana encounters the effects of war on both soldiers and civilians and becomes indignant. She puts herself at risk multiple times in order to break the siege of a still-inhabited village. WWI still stands as one of the more gruesome and terrible wars of history, due to the clash of old and new warfare that no party involved knew how to handle, and those dark realities shock Diana. Diana discovers that her “team” is a group of outsiders, liars, murderers, smugglers, and thieves who use their skills to help her reach her destination.

Near the climax of the film, when Ares’ identity has been revealed, Diana finds herself reeling upon discovering that Ares’ hasn’t forced humanity into fighting, but has just encouraged their inner darkness. Diana up to this point has believed firmly in the inherent goodness of humanity, but her faith is shaken. One conversation with Steve has him saying, “We need you, Diana. No, we don’t deserve you, but we can save millions of people if you stay.” Diana ends up losing the man she loves as he sacrifices himself to destroy a weapon that could annihilate London. Diana defeats Ares in a rather flashy showdown that ends with some intense lightning bolts being thrown about – but seeing as Diana is Zeus’s daughter, lightning isn’t much of a problem.

This movie lends itself well to finding God’s Big Story. Jesus is God’s son, sent to a world that didn’t deserve him, on a mission to defeat an enemy that works through deception, lies, and whispers. Jesus, like Diana, is concerned with the plight of humanity, the poor, the oppressed, the outsiders, even his enemies. True humanity, as God created it, is inherently good – but that humanity has been corrupted by violence and selfishness, but Jesus’ work frees humanity from the slavery to and oppression of sin and death. And like the climactic scene in Wonder Woman, the moment the hero seems completely overpowered is the moment the victory is won which bring Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection to mind.

In so many ways I have praised this movie for its triumphs. I also understand it isn’t a perfect movie either, and have chided it for a few issues here or there. But the overarching plot does resonate with Jesus’ story. And, really, we should be looking for God’s Big Story in whatever we see. We spend so much time and energy looking for the negative, the evil, and the critical – why not spend that time and energy looking for whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable?

How can you help train your kids to find Jesus’ story in the media you view? What questions can you ask to help your child think critically about what they are watching, reading, or playing?

Movie Review: Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts

I understand that my movie reviews tend to come a little late to the party, but one a limited budget, we see these things when we can, which is usually why these reviews end up coming in twos. So Christmas weekend, my wife and I were blessed to receive some gift money, and we decided it was high time we saw some movies that were still in theaters and not five months after the DVD release. We visited two different local theaters in order to see one movie per day (Friday and Saturday) and managed to not overtax our minds.

I’ll start with Fantastic Beasts, since the Harry Potter universe is what helped kickstart my love of reading and fantasy, and possibly even writing in general. This is a movie crafted for my age and my generation, as the main protagonist is a full-fledged adult, and not a child going through a coming of age narrative. First off, I don’t remember there being much language, only light sexual scenarios and flirting, but plenty of violence, child abuse, and manipulation, as well as some religious themes that we’ll get to later. Honestly, I cannot recommend this for anyone younger than twelve, and certainly not without a discussion afterwards.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows the misadventures of Newt Scamander and his difficulty acclimatizing to the American magical community. Societal rules are far different and much more strict than in Britain with so much care being taken that magical and non-magical persons are not allowed to marry. Regardless, a non-magical man gets pulled into this magical world, and we get to see the wonder of Newt’s vast menagerie of magical creatures which range from cute, to ferocious, to terrifying.

Without spoiling the ending, let’s talk about the religious themes and child abuse present in this movie. Arguably, we can say that child abuse was present in the neglect and mistreatment of Harry Potter in the original series, but here the abuse is much more visceral with actual physical violence shown and implied. The religious society in this movie is fundamentally founded on opposing magic and its users as evil and corrupt. And the leader of this society is the main originator of the child abuse shown.

The main discussions I can see coming out of viewing this movie would tangle with sidelined groups who do not feel heard (Matthew 5), violence and abuse (Matthew 5-7), the importance and care of pets and other animals (Genesis 1-2), and maybe even some about the final decision of the US magical government in dealing with the final threat, asking what your child would have done or tried differently.

Rogue One, though lacking the pulse-pounding, ear thrumming¬† John Williams theme along with an opening crawl manages to capture the desperation and struggle of a rag-tag alliance who feel they are doing the right thing in opposing an oppressive Imperial power bent on domination through violence. The Rebel Alliance prepares for war by seeking out plans for the Empire’s new (yet familiar to most of us) weapon – the Death Star. The most impressive feat of this movie is that removing the credits from Rogue One and the opening text crawl of A New Hope would allow these movies to be played back to back as one (long) seamless movie.

Now, my enjoyment of this movie does come down a bit when considering how much darker this feels than A New Hope or even The Force Awakens. This feels, as I have heard others say, like a war movie. (Ironic, isn’t it?) Desperation drives characters to extremes, causing deaths, leading to more anger, and a willingness to sacrifice everything for the good of others. Death does seem to be a main story-driving force in this movie as the death toll for named characters seems higher here than many of the other movies. And for the first time ever, I felt myself actually afraid of the iconic villain Darth Vader in one of the final action sequences. If you are familiar with Hamlet or Game of Thrones, you know the deal coming into this movie – don’t get attached to anyone. So when it comes to younger children seeing this movie, I may recommend waiting a few years, as before, til around 11 or 12. Some discussion you might have: working together as a team, courage in the face of danger, self-giving sacrifice, violence and its consequences, and maybe even civil disobedience in regards to Jyn’s father’s efforts to stymie the Empire’s plans over and over again.

I have to praise both of these movies for different things. One, romance was not the main driver for either of these plots. Men and women were able to work together, share the spotlight, and solve problems without getting too romantically tangled. Rogue One does more to make sure relationships seem purely professional, but the romantic subplots in Fantastic Beasts weren’t distracting in any way. Both showed strong female characters who were active rather than passive and were only dependent in the sense that each team depended on one another for survival and success. These characters were flawed, but accepted those flaws, struggled through those flaws, and grew on account of that struggle, which is so important. Good characters were good, bad characters were bad, and those in the gray area were treated as ambiguously as their morality.

The next section is completely conjecture and may be me reading too much into these films, but it may be worth considering.

And now I will talk about context and art.Stories mean something. They means something in their immediate context, in the cultural context in which they occur and are viewed, and in the context of the individual’s experience. In our current context, these movies have something to say about our current cultural situation.

Rogue One wants to illustrate what happens when opposition groups go to the extreme, when violence becomes unhinged and desperate. In a notable scene, a group of Rebel extremists (which is what they are called in the movie) stage a surprise attack on the occupying Imperial forces who are present on this particular planet to take mineral resources to power their military. This does sound particularly close to the current situation across the world where certain groups feel pressured and desperate and lash out with extreme hatred and violence toward whomever they see as their oppressor. This movie might spark discussions about foreign relations, how diplomacy should work, and how each of us can work to make sure no one feels outcast or unheard. And Rogue One does a good job of showing how those that use violence to further their goals usually end up succumbing to that violence themselves as retaliation after retaliation ratchet up the casualty counters.

Fantastic Beasts also has a sub plot with its main villain that deals with people who feel marginalized, which is a loaded word, I’m aware. Questions are asked about who certain laws protect, which side has to work harder to prevent violence (magical or non-magical), and what responsible use of power looks like. One could easily (from the religious side) see this as a critique of the way those of the LGBTQ community have been treated over the past thirty or so years. But, looking deeper, we can all see this as an opportunity to look around us and consider who feels unheard, oppressed, or silenced. And then the question becomes directed to the viewer: how are those in the majority and those in power using their station to influence the lives of others for the better? Or better yet: am I the one with power, or the one without, and what am I doing about it? Either way, some discussion could be had here concerning how we treat others.

Long, strange section done.

I enjoyed both of these movies. I don’t necessarily recommend these to kids on account of their darker themes and some fairly scary images, but with parental guidance, I think these movies could create some great dialogue. So whether you’re into Apparating and Quidditch or are one with the Force and trying to get your time on the Kessel Run down, I think you’ll enjoy these movies for their structure, character, action, and fantastical realms.

Batmeh V Supermeh (A movie Review)

I feel… conflicted about this movie from a personal standpoint. I feel like the actors did well with their roles and didn’t overact too much. (Except for Lex Luthor, who they turned into the Joker.) The special effects in this Wagner-esque saga were quite well done, even if the camera work looked like a middle-school film project. (Can we please be done with the shaky-cam trend, now, please?) And about an hour of the run time could have been cut and very little would have been lost.

Usual bits here: violence (punching and stabbing and shooting), bit of language, some sexuality (bathtub scene), and an overall dark and oppressive tone that might be a bit much for some kids.

So, the main conflict here advertised heavily in advance of Marvel’s Civil War film with a similar premise felt shoehorned and forced. Superman and Batman had very little reason to actually fight, even though their ideals differed… that’s kind of the point of having the two characters together. Anyway, I haven’t been the biggest fan of DCs latest trend of gritty re-imaginings of their characters turning them into sociopathic murderers to pad out the tension. I won’t tell you who “wins” the fight, but let’s say that by the time you’ve sat through the build up, you’ll find yourself mentally shouting, “What’s the point!?”

I think the real issue here is that the production company is trying to create a franchise similar to the Marvel films, but doesn’t quite know how to set up future movies without being confusing. Then again, DC comics is no stranger to confusion, having to restart its entire comic book line several times because its own fans and creators couldn’t keep up anymore.

So why even bring up this joyless, gritty, forced confrontation between two beloved heroes? Because there’s some deep thought from the writers/director that you should know about!

And by deep thought, I mean some philosophical pondering by the semi-insane Lex Luthor. Having been turned from the traditional presentation of put-together, self-made businessman with an ego the size of Asia, Luthor is now a wacky, loose-cannon inheritor of a technology company and a self-stated abuse victim. Why mention this? Abuse is serious business and it needs to be discussed. Often times it gets tossed around as a short-hand excuse as to why a character has so many moral or mental flaws. And here, it feels that way. There’s no nuance, there’s little struggle, and it gets a halfhearted mention during a standoff with Superman.

The thought that stuck with me is the idea that because of the abuse he suffered, “God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful.” And this is an idea that gets tossed around a lot in today’s society. If God is all-good and all-powerful, he’d straighten everything out and no one would ever have anything bad happen. Conversely, because bad stuff happens he either doesn’t care or cannot act.

And this is where the big sticking point is for your family if you watch this film. How do you discuss this? Does the Bible even talk about this?

Part of this movie centers around the idea that humans would begin assuming Superman is some kind of god or messiah-like figure. (Hard to miss with all of the Christ imagery the director throws around like party confetti.) We see scenes of people bowing, reverencing, and treating Superman as if he were a holy being. Luthor’s scheme then is to “prove that god can be killed or corrupted.”

The Bible is clear that bad things happen to everyone. Why? Each day we make choices, and if we’re honest, many of them end up hurting others. We can justify our actions, but it doesn’t change the fact that we hurt people. And if the way we purchase, speak, or act causes the suffering of others, can we then ask the question, “Why me?” God makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous – God shows love to those who follow him and those who don’t. (Matthew 5.43-45) We all have good days and we all have bad days. Life is tough and full of danger and pain, but also full of joy and love. To blame God for every problem we have is a little short-sighted and selfish.

God has worked, is working, and will work to set things right. At the moment all of creation waits, groaning in anticipation of the day when God renews the world. (Romans 8.20-25) God also often chooses to work through His people who have caught a passion for His mission. So when I hear, “Why doesn’t God do _______?” My first reaction is, “What are you doing about it? Maybe you’re the one to do it!”

Think about the kind of conversation you might have with your child as you watch movies together. Anticipate what questions they might have. Look for the moments where you see echoes of Jesus’ story to latch on to and use.