DARKER SHADES ARE COOLER
The fashion for casting screen heroes in a darker mould is truer to the biblical characters we know
‘The Greatest Battle Lies Within’ claims the tagline for the third Spiderman film. Overcome by yet another alter ego, Peter Parker, New York’s finest hero after Batman and Rudy Giuliani, is compelled this time to face the darkness inside him. This is a rather clichéd component of action films, as heroes with special powers struggle to control their inner nature. Yet Spiderman, of all the franchises, has tended to set rather than follow fashion.
The first film was nearing completion when the September 11 attacks happened. One of the planned publicity posters for the film was a picture of Spiderman’s web spun between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The image was desperately poignant and had to be scrapped, as America had no superhero to save them that day.
The ensuing film’s basic premise, that with great power comes great responsibility, was to become the essential political dilemma that the United States wrestled with in the aftermath of the attacks, for better or for worse.
Since 9/11 many of the populist fictional heroes have undergone a psychological make-over, becoming more self-doubting and morally ambiguous. The good guys are acting from mixed motives, reflecting a world where in the struggle against evil, ostensibly good people are drawing on their sinister side to resource a vocation. The re-creation of James Bond is a fine example of this.
The re-shaping of the secular saviour in a darker mould is truer to what the Christian faith tells us about our nature. The Bible is full of flawed people whom God was still able to use to fulfil his purpose: Abraham the liar, Joseph the big head, Moses the murderer, David the adulterer, Jonah the racist and Paul the persecutor, among many others. Yet there are two fault lines between the secular and the biblical hero. Although God uses imperfect people, there is no indication from the New Testament that he intends them to draw on their old nature to fulfil his will. The Apostle Paul sought to contain the Christian faith before his conversion by coercion and intimidation. As a Christian he renounced such methods and made his case by debate and persuasion. There is a clear distinction between the methodologies of light and darkness.
The other fault line concerns the eradication of evil. In secular stories the good guys invariably beat the bad guys by being better at violence. Jesus understood his calling to be to defeat evil by allowing it to be inflicted on him until it was absorbed by love, like water by a sponge. And now he waits for the day when God will call people to account for their response to this sacrifice of love. There are few analogies in our culture. From my recollection, only Aslan (the creation of a Christian writer after all) would seem to provide one.
The Christian calling is not to re-shape this world for good by the use of the kind of violence that Jesus pointedly renounced at his arrest, but to win hearts and minds with the unfathomable love of God by personal demonstration. A Nietzschean world where power remains the universal language will continue to look upon this narrative with contempt as both naïve and impractical, while the faithful hold to the scriptural observation that ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom’ (1 Cor. 1:25). It’s just a shame that our culture is so impoverished in its understanding of this narrative of peace. Our evangelism might find more fertile ground were Die Hard to get a lighter make-over.
But then, who would watch it?
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