western religion and popular movies

I was listening to the song Everything's Alright from Jesus Christ Superstar last night--several times, in fact--and it got me to thinking about recent movies.

Christ imagery has always been popular in movies on one level or another. The self sacrifice theme is just too strong and emotional a feeling to ignore. Recently however there's been two movies that have really worked the theme hard. Both Spiderman 2 and Superman Returns have repeated images of Christ-like poses as well as strong Christian themes running through each of the movies. How can you watch Spiderman, his arms extended across the subway car, trying to save 20 or so passengers, and not think crucifixion?

The reason that Everything's Alright had me thinking about this was because that song explores two sides of Western religion. On the one hand you have Judas' lament about how Jesus should do everything he could right now ("People who are hungry, people who are starving--they matter more than your feet and hair!") while at the same time Mary Magdalene was soothingly crooning "Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to problems that upset you" and "Let the world turn without you tonight".

To me this speaks of two motives, always competing in Christianity. On the one hand there's the tendency to try to keep a steady pace and maintain the status quo. That's a typical beaureaucratic mindset and Magdalene's role in the song. She wants to keep Jesus healthy and happy so he can preach and teach for a long time. Judas, on the other hand, plays the role of a reformer like Martin Luther, and reminds Jesus of his goals and that he shouldn't compromise those ideals--even if it means that his ministry will be shortlived as a result.

In the movies I named, Superman Returns plays the part of Mary Magdalene. Superman saves people via his supernatural powers but only when it suits him. Superman metes out justice in a fickle and arbitrary manner and absents himself for years while resolving his inner conflicts. He works a dayjob just for the Hell of it and to be near to Lois Lane, knowing that by doing so he's essentially condemming thousands of people to death due to his inability to take action while working and flirting. His super powers are as often as not a vanity he indulges in and he plays the role large and showy.

Spiderman, by contrast, is consumed with the need to serve to the point where he denies himself money, fame, and most of all love. His poverty is a statement of his priorities and when Spiderman has a moral crisis it is solved by his need to serve and save the common people. Superman, you might note, likes to save banks (and Lois Lane) whereas Spiderman saves people. This is the reformer role that periodically hits some segment of the Christian church where a pious individual tries to remind people of the true teachings of Christ. We often admire these people but it's usually posthumously. Reformation often requires martyrs--something to think about before accepting the job.

Of course maybe I just read too much into these aspects of popular culture but it keeps me entertained.


tiff said…
I would NEVER have thought of those movies like that. really interesting.
Pearl said…
Wow, that's a cool perspective.

Superman does pick and choose in a fickle manner doesn't he. He does seem a protector of the rich. Huh.

Spiderman the ascetic who probably gives himself ulcers for chasing martydom in way. Interesting filter.
Very interesting post Dave....I think you are reading these thibfs "right on the money"!

Thanks so much for stopping by...because the link on my roll to you wa all screwed up, taking me back to March!!! And I haven't been on Michele's very much...so, noew I corrected your URL and the link is right!! Hooray!

To answer your question: The neighbors right around this construction are pretty pissed off....betweeen the noise and the dirst and no place for people to park if they have visitors....well, let's just saym they are not happy about it at all, but realize that there is nothing they can do. Like I said...Progess....sometimes it sucks! (lol)
Utopia said…
Interesting perspective! I guess, on first watch at least, I don't analyze; that's the time to roll with the movie for me. Looking back on or a second watch of the movie, with your commentary, will be more enjoyable now.

What need would make you deny yourself love?

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