Next Sunday night I will once again enjoy a guilty pleasure as I indulge in my tivo’d copy of the 86th Academy Awards show. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is 94% white, 77% male, 14% under the age of 50, with a median age of 62, which explains why only one of the movies I am about to talk about received a nomination (Star Trek for best visual effects). But in honor of of our society’s inventive and stimulating visual literature, I want to point out how the movies in 2013 had a very interesting theme that Christians have a lot to say about: the end.
The end of the world as we know it
I suppose that Christians should take some of the blame for how moviemakers were a bit obsessed about the end of the world last year. We Jesus followers have a great capacity to receive the goodness of each moment, but we also have an eye on the end of time when Jesus completes the graces of this age and returns to inaugurate the age to come. As we will see in a minute, Paul teaches us to assess each action for how it will endure the fire that is coming to test it! Over the years, the church has contributed in good ways and bad to how our culture views the end of the world. But if the moviemakers are channeling the zeitgeist well (and that is what makes them money!), then the general population must be very interested in the end — and afraid! The following six end-of-the-world, post-life-as-we-know-it movies grossed $739 million domestically and $1.75 billion worldwide in just 2013 – and there were more of their ilk.
So, what does this interest in the end mean? As any movie fan (or sci-fi aficionado) knows, this isn’t new. After the dawn of the atomic age, end-of-the-world B-movies proliferated like mushroom clouds across American drive-in screens. As Cold War paranoia grew, higher-profile films like Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe charted the same bleak territory, continuing on into the 80s with a slew of it-could-happen-here dramas like Red Dawn (remade in 2012 with Thor in the lead) and Miracle Mile.
That said, though, there’s even more of it now. More than 20 years after the official end of the Cold War, film makers seem focused on the mess we have made of things or the mess we are about to be made by things. We’re a dozen years after 9/11 and sort of emerging from a ten-year war and a lingering economic crisis. Hollywood seems to think that cinematic destruction — as well as the accompanying hope, heroism and homegrown humanity — will act as a kind of balm for the beleaguered public.
Who are the real doombusters?
In 2013 the doombusters had some regular themes.
- They have a melancholy for bygone days, especially in Oblivion and Elysium: in an age of increased technology, the simpler pleasures of 20th-century life are already haunting us.
- They are frightened about unknown predators that might pop up at any time: the crew of Star Trek is battling an unleashed evil from the darkness; in The World’s End and Oblivion they meet aliens; in World War Z it is Zombies; in Elysium it is the one-percent and their machines; in This is the End it is God.
- They think we have the weaponry to fight the battle: Pine, Pitt, Damon and Cruise are quite serious about it all, teaching us that one person can make all the difference against the powers that oppress us; Franco and Pegg periodically wink at the camera and pretend their mockery of the subject will solve the problem.
Jesus followers who live as the body of Christ have so much to offer in the atmosphere created by the filmmakers! There is always the danger that a saved person will forget that they mean something. Now is not the time to do that. Sometimes we see our freedom from fear as a freedom from reverence; so we just live in our moment with our great community and neglect our larger importance. The Bible writers are always quick to point out that we dare not do that. If anything, our freedom from fear of condemnation for what we do makes us even more responsible for what we do. Our freedom demonstrates that the Spirit of God dwells in us and that we have what people need as their end draws near. The rest of creation is locked in time, but Jesus has opened us up to eternity, now. We live in the beginning of the End. Jesus is the dawn of the Day. Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-20.
What Paul teaches us from his wonderful awareness of his undeserved importance is very relevant in a year when people all look like the actors above, facing the crazy, scary things that are happening to them. He makes sure we remember that Jesus is a sure foundation whether times seem shaky or the whole world is afraid. We should build on that foundation with the best stuff we’ve got. Because the world and its film makers are right about one thing: the end of the world as we know it is near. One way or another, our time will end and the life we lived and the things we built that were fit for eternity will be rewarded. In such a time, we people of God, who are the home of the Holy Spirit, need to take ourselves seriously. The standards of our age have some powerful, cinematic ways of teaching us their crafty futility. But we must not be deceived by them. If they think we are fools and James Franco makes fun of us, that just proves even more that we are truly on to something.