-by Pastor Mike Middaugh
In Seminary I took a class called “Christ in Film” (or something close to that) where we explored Christological symbolism in popular American movies. As students, this course was appealing for obvious reasons. We watched together, among others, Cool Hand Luke, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Matrix, and The Big Lebowski ( which our prof. got in a little hot water for showing). The point was to open our eyes to the Christological themes that flow through so many of our cultural plot-lines.
We were taught to look for miracles (Paul Newman’s character was presented with the challenge that “no man could eat 50 eggs,” which of course he does), bondage to sin in a fallen world (The Matrix is a false world that holds people captive and shrouds the Truth), and a resurrection (The Dude falls into a deep sleep and descends into a terrifying dream followed by a re-awakening).
I was reminded of these Christological themes when Sandi, Scarlett and I watched Disney’s popular animated film Frozen a few weeks ago. (Spoiler Alert) In this movie a young princess named Elsa has the magical ability to freeze things around her. Unable to control this special power, she finds herself doing harm to those she loves. She runs to a distant mountain convincing herself that she doesn’t need anyone, just herself and her freedom.
But the question remains, is Elsa really free? Trapped in an ice palace, alone, and unwilling to face her problems or other people, she is, in fact, imprisoned.
Elsa’s sister, Anna, comes to her rescue showing her the true nature of her situation and the harm she is causing to others. In the process of saving Elsa, Anna willingly sacrifices her own life, stepping under the sword that was meant for her sister. Anna is then brought back to life and a new, brighter, world unfolds where Anna and Elsa are able to live together and Elsa’s magical power is used for good.
This got me thinking once again about why so many of our fairy tales, plays, books, and movies seem to carry a theme that goes something like this: a curse is revealed, a hero is needed, a great sacrifice is made, and the world is restored to a more perfect state.
When comparing our stories to the story of the Bible – our salvation through Jesus – none of them get it perfectly right. Many have major flaws and some may even be poking fun at Christianity. It is also quite possible, and often argued, that the symbolism we might see happens by accident or coincidence – we are reading too much into it. However, I challenge you to start watching for these patterns in movies or books and I suspect you will often find them.
So the question then is, do these themes just make for a powerful story? Or could they have a deeper significance, that this is the story our soul longs to hear because it is the reality we desperately need?
Either way, for Christians these stories are very meaningful. And the good news is that the White Knight, the magical kiss, and the sister willing to sacrifice herself are not trapped within the realm of fairy tale or animation. These are representative of the much greater truth that God has worked out through the Real Savior, Jesus our Lord.