Thursday, May 2, 2013

Let the Right Film In - A Theology of Horror (part 4)

In part one of this blog series, I asked the question, what is a Christian theology of horror movies? In part two, I argued that horror films offer a clear morality in a relativistic culture. In part three, I claimed that horror films emphasize the spiritual realm in an empirical culture. Please use caution and discernment when choosing to watch any film, and particularly with horror films; not all of these films will be beneficial to all people.

The horror genre clearly points to human depravity in a humanistic culture. While many films advocate a worldview that human beings are inherently good, citing the common mantras of “follow your heart” and "believe in yourself," horror films brazenly point out humanity’s sinful nature, reminding us that “following your heart” might lead to one’s own destruction. "Follow your dreams" may end up creating personal nightmares; horror films point out the distorted side of our desires and affections. There are clear overtones between the depravity depicted in horror films with the downward spiral of humanity outlined in the opening paragraphs of the letter to the Romans:
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32 NIV)
(Side note: isn't it interesting that included with "God-haters" and "inventors of evil" is this indictment: "they disobey their parents." Right up there with greed, strife, and murder.)

Horror films are filled with depraved human beings as villains. Films like PsychoSevenMisery, and The Silence of the Lambs all feature evil humans as antagonists. In all of these examples, these are human beings as the monsters, broken and disturbed people, but people nonetheless. In Apocalypse Now, a corrupt and insane American colonel in the Vietnam war creates his own utopia in the jungle, a sort of self-made heaven. This "heaven" is littered with corpses of his enemies, strung up on trees or impaled on poles. He ultimately dies a violent death, uttering the words “the horror…the horror,” as his empire collapses around him, proving that his own heaven was a self-made hell.

In Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, a virus leaves the entire population of the United Kingdom as either dead or ravaging zombie-like creatures, filled with a bloodlust. While the infected are terrifying, the deeper horror is found in the actions and motivations of the human beings unaffected by the virus. The protagonist, Jim, finds himself betrayed by the band of soldiers he thought would protect him and his fellow survivors. Instead of sanctuary, they find manipulation and animalistic tendencies, like a zombie-motivated Lord of the Flies society.

Humanity lives in the tension of being both inherently good and inherently evil. We are good because we bear the image of God and are His highest creation, the delight of His heart. We are evil, because that image is distorted and broken by sin and can only be restored through grace and Christ's salvific work. This is perfectly embodied in the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; there are classic film versions of this story, ranging from 1920, 1931, and 1941. Our hearts apart from Christ do not lead to self-salvation, but to self-deluded destruction at our own hands. Horror films dare to point out that there is a sinful monster in all of us, capable of great evil if left unchecked by the Divine. To quote the Sufjan Stevens song about serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr:
"And in my best behavior, I am really just like him. / Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid."
Part five: the Gospel and the horror genre.

What do you think: should film open our eyes to the depravity of humanity, or is there enough non-filmic depravity out there already?

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