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Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Limitless_PosterSo I finally saw Limitless, the premiere team-up of Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.  Pretty good — definitely different.  It’s one of those relatively (note, relatively) short movies that are pregnant with (more…)

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Today is the Feast of the Assumption, which is ordinarily a Holy Day of Obligation (abrogated this year in the United States, as it falls on a Saturday).  Last year I shared my own reflections.  This year, I’ll defer to the wisdom of Brett Fawcett 🙂

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A little play on language — was it obvious?

Anyway, I saw this in a clothing store yesterday.  I guess there aren’t too many commodities that cannot be successfully endorsed with the face of a wookiee, or any other iconic denizen of the world of cinema lore.

Chewbacca

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Schwarzenegger_LentCourtesy of Matt Swaim

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Elliott_ET

For part one, click here

We took a look at E.T. as a healer, as well as at how he must suffer in order to heal others, in part one.  Now let’s take that a step further by pointing out that his stay on earth involves, at one and the same time, suffering and identification.

It is particularly in the case of Elliott that we see the latter.  By way of some strange psychic connection that develops between them, Elliott feels what E.T. feels, experiences what he experiences.  And we may reasonably suppose that the reverse is also true, though this is never made explicit in the film.

Christ_cleans_leper_manAnother vital aspect of Jesus and His mission now comes into the purview of our exploration.  Jesus became a human being, like us in all things except sin.  He didn’t just “put on a body;” He became one of us, identifying Himself with each and every person.

For that reason, I think it is very important that E.T.’s suffering and identification coincide.  After all, Christ’s identification with us includes identification with our sufferings — physical, psychological, emotional, and even spiritual (though again, without sin or its attendant disorders).

E.T. phone homeThen there is the film’s most famous phrase: “E.T. phone home” (I apologize that I could not find a picture of the phone scene).  E.T.’s yearning to contact the kin who left him behind, to return to his home planet, forms the central dramatic drive of the film.

Here we see yet another Christ-analogy.  While Jesus never gave any hint of wanting to “escape” this world or betrayed any “homesickness,” He did constantly make reference to His Father in Heaven, in Whose Bosom He had rested in perfect bliss from all eternity.  At various points throughout the Gospels, you can see Him seeking solitude and spending long periods of time in prayer, communing with the Father.

Agony in the GardenWe may not see anything of E.T.’s plight in these examples; but the closer Our Lord gets to Calvary, the greater the resemblance grows.  A key moment occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26: 36-46, Luke 22: 39-46), where the Author of Life begins to experience the desolation, pain, and darkness of death.  He Who had known only infinite goodness and life from all eternity was about to be plunged into our deepest darkness, our deepest pain, our deepest fear.  He Who was from all eternity the Only-Begotten was about to experience alienation from the Father on Calvary.

Not to knock E.T., but he doesn’t hold a candle to Christ on this one.  What is more, it is worth considering that E.T. gets stuck on this planet by accident, with no specific intentions with regard to humanity.  Jesus Christ knew what He was doing, and He did it for us — that’s how much, how profoundly, how unreservedly He loves each one of us.

And I think this is a good place for another break.  Thanks for reading.

Image from Wikipedia

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E_t_the_extra_terrestrial_ver3It is never a bad time to talk about the classics.  But especially around Halloween, it seems appropriate to touch on Steven Spielberg’s moving and timeless alien/family tale, “E.T. — The Extraterrestrial.”

It would not be fair to call “E.T.” a Christian parable.  It came, after all, from the imaginations of a Jewish director and a screenwriter (Melissa Mathison) who, if I’m not mistaken, leans more toward Buddhist spirituality (someone please correct me if I’m wrong about that).  But I think the very solid analogies you can find nonetheless demonstrate two things, both of which are far more interesting and significant than any explicit allegory:

  1. Jesus Christ has insinuated Himself irreversibly into the thoughts and imaginations of Western culture, so that even the secularist age in which we are living cannot entirely expunge His influence;
  2. Jesus is the Eternal Word, who speaks to the depths of all men’s hearts and, at times, even causes them to say something of Him in spite of themselves.

Okay, so let’s get started:

eliottsaygoodbye.jpgFirst, what do we think of when we hear any variant of the phrase “aliens come to earth?”

We think of an attack.  We think of monstrous or tyrannical beings who far surpass us in power and come to take over our lives and our world.

And yet when Elliott (Henry Thomas) and his family meet E.T., what do they find?  A gentle, vulnerable creature no bigger than a child, and with an abundantly kind heart.

Three MagiIn just such a way, the Divine came into the world.  Many of the pagan cultures of the ancient world generally believed that the gods were fierce, capricious, and cruel.  Even many Jewish people were expecting God’s Messiah to come as a mighty, avenging warrior who would destroy the enemies of Israel.

But when the Messiah — who was none other than God in the flesh — finally did come into the world, it was as a little baby — too weak even to lift His own head, and born into obscurity and poverty.  And ultimately, He was to reveal Himself as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

ET-flowerFrom there, we’ll go a step further and look at E.T. in his role as healer.  At numerous points throughout the film, we see him applying strange healing powers to things such as cuts and bruises, and even reviving a dying plant at one point.

What we notice, however, is that this seems to take something out of E.T. each time he does it.  He becomes weaker, sicker…almost as if he were drawing from the store of his own life to restore the health of other creatures.

AGN35544If we read the Gospels carefully, we will notice something similar in Christ’s healing ministry.  When we read of Him performing healing miracles, we also read that “the power went out of Him” (cf. Luke 8:46).  This indicates that when He cured illnesses, gave sight to the blind, drove demons out of people, etc., it cost Him something.  We can well imagine His disciples seeing this become more and more apparent as His ministry progressed, just as Elliott and his siblings see it progressively take hold of E.T.

Let’s take a break, and return to this exploration shortly.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; movie poster and other images obtained from Wikipedia

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For part one, click here

Just a quick quote from St. Paul to start:

For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now… (Romans 8:19-22 — bold mine)

Dawn_Apes

Throughout the Old Testament, we see that while Israel is indeed the nation of the Chosen People, God gives the advantage to the nations surrounding Israel whenever the latter strays from its divinely appointed mission.

It is interesting to think of what it would look like if God were to go a step further.  What if He were to respond to the failure and sin of humanity, His true Chosen Race on earth, by giving the advantage of reason and en-soulment to the animals, or to anything else in creation?

Certainly, if He were to do so, the apes would seem to be the most logical choice.  They are, after all, the closest to us on the “Chain of Being” among all creatures in this world.

KobaMatt Reeves’ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” shows us what this scenario might look like.  In the film, apes have effectively dismantled human society, reclaimed nature for themselves, and basically taken charge of the earth.

Beyond that, their very attitude toward human beings is a kind of judgement.  We can say this particularly in the case of the antagonist ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), who learned hatred from humanity after years of being subjected to torture in their laboratories.

What does this have to do with the opening quote?  Well, that goes back to the Orpheus analogy in Part one.  Creation relies on us to exercise good stewardship; if we fail to do so, we will learn about it one way or another.  Science fiction and fantasy scenarios that explore this reality in extra-ordinary ways are worthy of our reflection.

movies-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-jason-clarkeAs for humanity itself, it is interesting to note that its trajectory from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” to “Dawn” is not all that different from the trajectory of mankind in the Book of Genesis.

Confusion_of_TonguesHumanity’s sin reaches its height at the Tower of Babel, which men envisioned as a way of reaching heaven itself.  Likewise, the scientists in “Rise” — and many in today’s society — show forth a modern day Babel in their overreaching of ethical bounds in scientific and technological advancement.

The aftermath of Babel is well-known just about everyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible:

…there the LORD confused the speech of all the world. It was from that place that he scattered them all over the earth. (Gen. 11:9)

In “Dawn,” the human community to which we are introduced is isolated, cut off from whatever remains of humanity.  That, in fact, is why Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his team go into ape territory in the first place: They are sent to gain access to a hydroelectric dam that could potentially bring electricity and, by extension, contact with other surviving communities back to their own.

Jason Clarke _ Andy SerkisSo how does it end?  I won’t give anything away, but I will say this: We do not easily learn from our mistakes.  Throughout the Bible, throughout human history, in current events, in our own communities, families, and lives, and alas, in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” we see something resembling the Orpheus story: It is much easier to turn around then to forge ahead, to turn to the darkness and to oneself in defensiveness or despair than to turn toward the light, so that our “works might not be exposed,” and lest we “be converted, and (God) heal (us)” (John 3:20, 12:40).

“Babel” image from Wikipedia; movie images obtained through a Google image search

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Orpheus_EurydiceUndoubtedly one of the saddest myths of the ancient world was that of Orpheus and Eurydice.  After charming his way into Hades to find the soul of his deceased wife (Eurydice), Orpheus is promised that he can have her back from the dead as long as he does not turn around and look at her until he has reentered the Land of the Living.  Alas, he looks back too soon, and loses his beloved forever.

Orpheus is a sort of shadowy Christ-figure (albeit a failed one).  I imagine him walking forward towards the light with his beloved bride behind him, relying upon him to show him the way.

In my mind, there are a couple of analogies that could work here: Jesus Christ is the Orpheus-figure, and Eurydice represents His Bride, the Church.  And unlike Orpheus, Christ leads His Beloved unfailingly toward the light of the Kingdom.

Alternatively, we could look at it this way: Christ is the light at the end of the tunnel; mankind is Orpheus; and the remainder of creation is Eurydice.  And it is our “Orphic” duty to lead creation to its fulfillment in the Sabbath Rest which is the coming of God’s Kingdom.

But what happens when we turn our backs to the light?  What happens is we forfeit life — for ourselves, and for the creation subjugated to our dominion.

Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_ApesOkay…so what does any of this have to do with Matt Reeves’ recently released film “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?”  A decent amount — but what I have to say bears on the recent “Apes” franchise in general.

Rise-Planet-Apes-TrailerThe 2011 film “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” directed by Rupert Wyatt, shows us the genesis of the apes’ takeover of the earth.  Basically, the apes develop their human-like intelligence as a result of being the subjects of experimental drug testing.  Clearly, this is an example of human science and technology gone awry.  Good in themselves, they are divorced from a moral and ethical framework and subjugated to the modern technological hubris of man — or the idea that we should do something simply because we have the capability.

It is interesting, in this case, to note the ancient sense of the word “hubris.”  Blogger Alex Jones brought this up in a comment he made on my most recent post:

The opposite of wisdom is the ancient word “hubris.” Hubris in the ancient sense is belief in an opinion that is contrary to how it is in reality. (Bold mine)

Not that science and technology are the only areas of human endeavor that can be affected by, and in turn affect, this impulse; but they are particularly strong in conveying to man a degree of control over reality, and therefore take on a particular danger if not handled carefully.

Original Sin

In any case, this understanding of hubris is the essential aspect of the sin of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace.  By eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — that is, by arrogating to themselves the uniquely divine prerogative of determining right and wrong — they presumed to make themselves the masters of reality.

So from the very beginning, we have been guilty of the “sin of Orpheus.”  We have abandoned our “Light” (God), and we have failed our “Eurydice” (creation) — and with disastrous consequences.

I’ll talk more about “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” — though without spoilers — in part two.

Still from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

 

 

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Note: This is essentially a “reblog” of the October post titled “Why Huge Monsters Destroy Big Cities (I Think…),” but slightly edited to go with the recent “Godzilla” movie.

The King Kongs, the Godzillas, and all the “Its” from beneath the sea or outer space are among our cult favorites and also, ironically, our worst nightmares.  One thing is for sure: While we haven’t seen any of these revered titans roaming our cities yet (knock on wood), in terms of popular culture they’re not going anywhere.

I have yet to see the new “Godzilla” movie; but from what I’ve heard, the film sets the monster scenes in the background while primarily focusing on the troubled relationship between the main character and his son.  I always welcome this sort of approach, as it makes incredible situations seem more real by putting real people with real problems in their midst.

I think being confronted with realism in the context of the unbelievable — or vice versa, depending on how you look at it — has a way of getting us to think about the greater meaning of the unbelievable from a gut level, rather than in a cerebral and detached fashion.

It_Came_From_Beneath_The_Sea_poster

I happen to think guilt and fear have something to do with many narrative preoccupations, including this one.  So what does it mean when we see giant monsters attacking big cities, exactly?

In some sense, it might be intended as a commentary on nature’s resurgence against the pride of a hyper-technological society.  But at bottom, I wonder if there is not something deeper at work here.

Elsewhere, I have written about the fact that

(h)uman beings have sinned.  The animals, the trees, and the rest of nature have not.  But when we turned away from God, we dragged the whole of creation down the road to destruction with us (“Wolves and Whales: Man and Nature in ‘The Grey’ and ‘Big Miracle’ — Part Two”).

But there’s something else we have to keep in mind as well.  In the second century, St. Irenaeus of Lyons made a key observation when reflecting on God’s determination that mankind should not be lost in spite of Original Sin:

It was for this reason, too, that immediately after Adam had transgressed, as the Scripture relates, He pronounced no curse against Adam personally, but against the ground, in reference to his works, as a certain person among the ancients has observed: God did indeed transfer the curse to the earth, that it might not remain in man. Genesis 3:16, etc. (“Adversus Haereses,” III:xxii — bold added)

FullMetalJacketDeluxe_1I am reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket,” in which an inept private named Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D’Onofrio) brings the wrath of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) upon his fellow basic trainees.  A little ways into the film, Sergeant Hartman announces to everyone that from that point on, whenever Private Lawrence messes up, they – not he — will be punished.

And what do Private Lawrence’s comrades do eventually?  They gather around him as he sleeps and pelt him with rolled-up socks.

Obviously, this is an imperfect analogy in many ways.  But being in a sense the carrier of our curse, nature — whether in the form of natural disasters, animals (fictional or real), or otherwise — is not one to cry “(p)eace, peace … though there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).

But St. Irenaeus did not stop there…

But man received, as the punishment of his transgression, the toilsome task of tilling the earth, and to eat bread in the sweat of his face, and to return to the dust from whence he was taken. (Adversus Haereses, III:xxii — bold added)

Our task of stewardship over the earth was never abrogated (though it was made more difficult).  And especially now that Jesus Christ has Himself borne our curse upon the Cross…well, just as we led creation into darkness, we must now lead it into redemption.

To the extent that we are fulfilling our task, we have nothing to fear.  But the more we are leading lives dedicated to worldliness, self-indulgence, luxury and greed, the more of a “wake-up call” we need.

“It Came from Beneath the Sea” still from Wikipedia; “Full Metal Jacket” still obtained through a Google image search.

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Catching Fire Arena 2For parts one through four, click here.

Imagine being in the Hunger Games for a moment.  It’s very difficult for most of us.  But despite the stress of it all, the tributes endure their challenges with resourcefulness, perseverance, and bravery — and I think we would all do the same if our survival were at stake.

That’s the drawback of living in a society that has achieved unprecedented scientific and technological progress.  Yes, these are good — even praiseworthy — in and of themselves…but it may be that we have become a little too comfortable.

For all its perks, our society seems lost and unsure of itself, as do many individuals within it.  And no wonder…we have forgotten that we are at war.  Not for our physical survival, but for the fate of our immortal souls.

I typically try to avoid “preachy-ness” in my writing, as I don’t feel this is a good way to dialogue with people.  But I will take this opportunity to assert that if we want to rediscover true meaning and true purpose in our lives, we must once more acknowledge that we are at war.

It is very important, however, to realize that our war is not with people.  It’s not liberals vs. conservatives, East vs. West, etc.  Rather, our war is “with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

But we should not be somber, nor should we feel like we are walking on eggshells.  Indeed, our war is a joyful war, for the Good King has already won the victory.  While spiritual warfare may seem overwhelming at times, He supplies us with superabundant strength for it.

So let us abandon our own “hunger games,” and take on the fight nourished by the Bread of Life.

Image obtained through a Google image search.

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