Friday, March 6, 2009

Christian allegory in the movies

There is a young man, different from other young men. Ancient prophecies foretell his coming, and he performs miraculous feats. Eventually, confronted by his enemies, he must sacrifice his own life—an act that saves mankind from calamity—but in a mystery as great as that of his origin, he is reborn, to preside in glory over a world redeemed. Tell this story to one of the world’s 2 billion Christians, and he’ll recognize it instantly. Tell it to a science-fiction and fantasy fan, and he’ll ask why you’re making minor alterations to the plot of The Matrix or Superman Returns. For reasons that have as much to do with global politics as with our cultural moment, some of this generation’s most successful sci-fi and fantasy movie franchises follow an essentially Christian plotline. .... [more]
That is the beginning of "How Science Fiction Found Religion" by Benjamin A. Plotinsky, in City Journal. The focus is on the film genre, not books, so even those of us who don't read much contemporary science fiction, but who go to the movies, will understand the argument.

Update, 3/9:Douglas LeBlanc at GetReligion thinks Plotinsky needed to know rather more about Christianity and Christian heresy:
Plotinsky discusses the Matrix series without once mentioning the concept of gnosticism. He’s aware of Joseph Campbell’s importance in shaping the Star Wars story arc, but he seems unaware of pantheism or panentheism. He describes Star Trek, which Gene Rodenberry happily connected to a secular utopianism, as primarily a story of the Cold War.

Plotinsky’s essay will be great fodder for people who see biblical themes between the lines of almost any screenplay or who believe that God speaks directly through any well-made film. What it lacks is an informed vocabulary to describe how non-Christian filmmakers borrow Christian imagery — sometimes elegantly, sometimes awkwardly — to spread non-Christian messages. Such writing does justice neither to Christians nor to non-Christians.
How Science Fiction Found Religion by Benjamin A. Plotinsky, City Journal Winter 2009, Straining for the cosmic Christ » GetReligion

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