Some in Hollywood are poised to make the same error in their movies that Thomas Jefferson made with his Bible. They want to take the “super” out of the supernatural. We live in a scientific age. We expect to be able to know and understand everything. If there is a problem, we invent a technology to solve it. In an age brimming with hysterical optimism, a few filmmakers are dispensing with the magic. It’s a mistake.
One of the reasons that people come to horror, adventure and fantasy films is to connect with something beyond themselves. Will Rockett, in his book, Devouring Whirlwind, says that many churches essentially abandoned speaking about the supernatural from the pulpit, so film stepped in to fill that void in people’s lives. They screened it, and people came. But lately, some movies are trying to “demythologize” their own supernatural elements. Take, for example, Lara Croft, of the Tomb Raider franchise.
The first film, Tomb Raider, had clear supernatural overtones, dealing with life after death, the nature of time and even mystical societies awaiting a planetary alignment. The film did well at the box office (for a movie based on a video game)—$131 million in domestic receipts.
The second film is bent on dismissing the supernatural element. In it, Croft is seeking The Cradle of Life, the location of Pandora’s Box. The mythologies explain that Pandora’s Box was a container out of which flew all manner of supernatural terrors once Pandora could no longer curb her curiosity. Lara, far too clever to believe those old superstitions, tells us that the box is not supernatural, but is actually a primitive yet effective weapon of mass destruction. The race is on to see whether Lara can get it before the unscrupulous arms dealers, who are hoping to be long gone before the ancient technology can be unleashed. Once discovered, the box appears to be made of amber with a blinding light inside, suggesting some kind of tremendous energy—but it is never opened, never explored—it is just an artifact. Yawn. Cradle of Life is bringing in about 40 percent of the receipts of its predecessor. People don’t care.
In the early 1980s, I had to drag my best friend to a midnight preview of a film. He did not want to go because it was about some archaeologist—a guy named Indiana Jones. Steven Spielberg has never been shy about incorporating supernatural, transcendent themes in his films, and Raiders of the Lost Ark was no exception.
The film builds to a climactic moment when Indiana and his love interest, Marion, are tied to a stake. A rival archaeologist and his Nazi cohorts attempt to uncover the secrets of the Ark to bend it to their will. Jones is not like Croft—he recognizes the supernatural when he sees it. As spirits begin to emerge from the Ark, described as “beautiful,” Jones knows that he is in the presence of the Holy. He calls out to Marion with some advice worthy of the Old Testament—“Don’t look, Marion. Keep your eyes shut!” But the audience looks, and it is awestruck as God wreaks His vengeance on the impudent Nazis, finally descending in a whirlwind to wipe out any trace of their existence. It struck a chord with American audiences, raking in over $247 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $492 million today.
People go to certain types of films to connect with a mythology beyond themselves. When filmmakers turn transcendent evil into everyday evil, and refuse to incorporate supernatural solutions when they are called for, audiences smell a rat. Western people are starving for a relationship with Someone beyond themselves. Many find a taste of that experience in film.
Pastors are like missionaries who come into a culture, discover the people’s myths, and then explain how those myths point to Christ. Scientism, as a philosophy, fails to satisfy in film—or in life. It is time the Church reached out to the masses though their own mythologies—not to sneer at their simplistic supernatural desires, but to help the people understand them in light of the Gospel.[Marc T. Newman, Ph.D. is the president of MovieMinistry.com. He teaches at Palomar College in Southern California.]
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