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Framing Salvation: Biblical Apocalyptic, Cinematic Dystopia, and
Contextualizing the Narrative of Salvation
Abstract
Christian biblical authors used the apocalyptic genre to help contextualize the meaning of salvation for their
audiences. Today, dystopian film can serve a similar function. In each case, the narrative diagnoses a sinister
mis-ordering of human civilization and attempts to prescribe ways in which it can be overcome. Just as
apocalyptic gave biblical authors the ability to make statements about what salvation was salvation from,
dystopian narratives can similarly demonstrate what social conditions today remain in need of remediation.
When these dystopian narratives do so by making use of symbols and themes associated with Christian
soteriology their diagnoses can become the subject of theological reflection and the hope they offer for
alleviation can be cast in soteriological tones.
Keywords
Dystopia, Soteriology, Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, Valhalla Rising
Author Notes
Caesar Montevecchio is an Instructor of Religious Studies at Mercyhurst University in Erie, PA. He is
currently a doctoral candidate at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, studying systematic theology and
concentrating in the use of imagination in theological method.

Introduction One of the most powerful ways in which popular culture can aid theological reflection is by providing insight into the meaning that classical theological categories might bear for contemporary society. As an example of such a dynamic, I will in this essay examine the genre of dystopian film and the way it helps frame soteriological understanding. Key to this examination will be a parallel between the commentary made by dystopian imagination on problematic elements of the current human condition and the influence of apocalyptic imagination on the gospel interpretations of the cross. This parallel will assert that in a similar way to how apocalyptic imagination gave early Christians a context for seeing what the salvation of the cross was salvation from, dystopian film helps accentuate specific patterns of contemporary experience from which salvation is needed. In each narrative strategy, sharp accent is placed on the mis-orderings of worldly existence and salvation becomes seen as alleviation from those conditions. This dynamic will be demonstrated through analysis of three dystopian films, focusing primarily on the core engine of each film’s mis-ordered civilization1 and how it reflects a unique problem addressable by unique contextualizations of soteriology— that is, a particular understanding of what salvation is from. The three films of focus will be: Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006), as dystopia of disconnection; Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), a dystopia of totalitarianism; and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising (2009), a dystopia of triumphalism.

Global Catastrophe in Motion Pictures as Meaning
and Message: The Functions of Apocalyptic

Cinema in American Film
Wynn Gerald Hamonic
Thompson Rivers University, geraldhamonic01@gmail.com

Abstract
The steady rise in production of American apocalyptic films and the genre’s enduring popularity over the last
seven decades can be explained by the functions the film genre serves. Through an analysis of a broad range of
apocalyptic films along with the application of several theoretical and critical approaches to the study of film,
the author describes seven functions commonly found in American apocalyptic cinema expressed both in
terms of its meaning (the underlying purpose of the film) and its message (the ideas the filmmakers want to
convey to the audience). Apocalyptic cinema helps the viewer make sense of the world, offers audiences
strategies for managing crises, documents our hopes, fears, discourses, ideologies and socio-political conflicts,
critiques the existing social order, warns people to change their ways in order to avert an imminent
apocalypse, refutes or ridicules apocalyptic hysteria, and seeks to bring people to a religious renewal, spiritual
awakening and salvation message.
Keywords
Apocalyptic Films, Comedy Films, Christian Films, Crisis Management, Film Functions, Ideologies, Social
Criticism, Warning
Author Notes
Wynn Gerald Hamonic, Ph.D. (Brunel University, London, UK), MLIS (University of Western Ontario,
London, Ontario), Graduate Certificate, Online Teaching and Learning (Thompson Rivers University,
Kamloops, B.C.), acts as a content expert in the area of apocalyptic film for Thompson Rivers University in
the development of online film studies courses. His areas of academic interest include apocalyptic cinema,
animation studies, film noir, horror and supernatural film, and film theory and analysis. His book Terrytoons:
The Story of Paul Terry and His Classic Cartoon Factory, a biography of cartoon pioneer animator and
producer Paul Terry (1887-1971), is scheduled to be published in fall 2017 by Indiana University Press.

The Functions of Apocalyptic Cinema

1. To Make Sense of the World and to Order Chaos

: ‘No longer imminent, the end is immanent’16

J. David Velleman notes that Kermode’s text leads us to speculating about
our “inability to keep our balance without horizons; or for our desire for endings
that we can outlive…”19 These endings which we survive and which give
‘consonance’ to our lives are present in films such as Armageddon (1998), as Harry
Stamper (Bruce Willis) presses the button that sets off the bomb successfully
splitting the asteroid thereby avoiding the collision with Earth; with the Martians
succumbing to microbes present on Earth in Byron Haskin’s War of the Worlds
(1953), later remade in 2005 by Steven Spielberg; and with the destruction of the
alien destroyer ships in Independence Day (1996). In Edge of Tomorrow (2014),
director Doug Liman reinforces our need and struggle for ‘coherence’ by having
Major William “Bill” Cage (Tom Cruise) endure multiple deaths until he is finally
5
Hamonic: The Functions of Apocalyptic Cinema in American Film
Published by DigitalCommons@UNO, 2017
able to drop a belt of grenades into the Omega’s core thereby neutralizing a race of
extraterrestrials called Mimics that had taken over continental Europe. As Elizabeth
K. Rosen notes: “Apocalypse is a means by which to understand the world and one’s
place in it. It is an organizing principle imposed on an overwhelming, seemingly
disordered universe.”20

2. To Attempt to Work through Historical Traumas or to Negotiate Our Way Around Human Horrors

Cinema with plots of global devastation is ideally suited for “equipment for living” messages. Many apocalyptic films provide audiences with the message: “You can survive the impending cataclysm, and here’s how”

3. To Document our Hopes, Fears, Discourses, Ideologies and SocioPolitical Conflicts

Apocalyptic films, as Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo rightly point out, function to document our fears and our responses to these anxieties.29 Following Douglas Kellner’s claim that “Hollywood films provide cinematic visions concerning the psychological, sociopolitical and ideological makeup of U.S. society at a given point in history,”30 the authors argue that the increase in apocalyptic films can be traced to specific anxieties generated by the September 11, 2001 events, exacerbated by official government rhetoric that created an “us and them” dynamic that reactivated old ideologies and created new ones.31

 

2012 (2012) channels the fears and anxieties existing at the time over the 2012 phenomenon, the range of eschatological beliefs that cataclysmic or otherwise transformative events would occur on or around 21 December 2012. What fears, ideologies and socio-political conflicts will future apocalyptic films channel? Challenges for global humanity include transnational organized crime, terrorism, climate change, and ever present deadly pandemics all offer interesting possibilities for screenwriters of apocalyptic film.

4. To Critique the Existing Social Order

As the decades passed, film producers have become more explicit and less allegorical in their attacks on social institutions. In Escape from New York (1981), 16 Journal of Religion & Film, Vol. 21 [2017], Iss. 1, Art. 36 https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol21/iss1/36 the entire island of Manhattan is turned into a large maximum security prison. No one enters. No one leaves. New York has at last been turned over to the criminals. But this does not render America safe. The country is ruled by a phony Democracy, a fascistic national police force, and threatened by uncontrollable terrorist groups and international nuclear flash points.

In George Romero’s Land of the Dead (2005) a zombie assault on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, takes place where a feudal-like government exists. The survivors in the film have fled to the Golden Triangle area of downtown Pittsburgh. The region is protected on two sides by rivers and on the other by an electric barricade that survivors term “the Throat.”

5. To Respond to Social Crisis, Warning People to Change their Ways in Order to Avert an Imminent Apocalypse

Tales of the neo-apocalypse involve collapse of the social order, the punishment of human sin and error, and pessimism about humanity’s capacity to rehabilitate itself. Unlike apocalyptic tales, neo-apocalyptic stories posit no happy ending. There’s no Deus ex machina, no hope for the rehabilitation of humankind: “This degeneracy is so complete that the Ending can only be so, too. There is nothing beyond this Ending, no hope of a new heaven on Earth, precisely because there is nothing worth saving.”54 The message of these movies is clear: if mankind does not change their ways, the events on screen will occur bringing about the extinction of the human race.

6. To Argue that the End of the World is Not Near and to Refute or Ridicule Apocalyptic Hysteria

All doomsday predictions over the last few millennia share one thing in common; they all never came to pass. Some of these failed predictions include the philosopher Seneca (A.D. 65), European Christians (1666), Prophet Hen of Leeds (1806), Millerites (April 23, 1843), Mormons (1891), Halley’s Comet (1910), Jehovah’s Witnesses (1914), Heaven’s Gate (1997), Nostradamus (August 1999), Y2K (January 1, 2000), and God’s Church Ministry (2008).55

Drawing upon theorist Mathew Winston, Robert Lamm in Can We Laugh at God?”: Apocalyptic Comedy in Film argues that the black comedy in apocalyptic films performs a very important prime millenarian function of assuaging fear: “‘comedy in black humor helps us overcome our fears’ by providing the invulnerability of the ego, which walks away from the blackness unscathed.”56 He also notes that, “the blackest humor in Dr. Strangelove shows that the noblest human virtues may be misdirected against us. Religion, altruism, and logic, in the service of an inhumane cause, are more insidious than a legion of madmen.”57 While referencing such science fiction film comedies such as Whoops, Apocalypse (1982), A Boy and His Dog (1975), Zardoz (1974), Atomic Cafe (1982), Dark Star (1974), and Sleeper (1973), Lamm argues that we cannot laugh at God without laughing at ourselves.58 As Michael Foucault notes: “No society is in good health 22 Journal of Religion & Film, Vol. 21 [2017], Iss. 1, Art. 36 https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol21/iss1/36 without laughing at itself quietly and privately; no character is sound without selfscrutiny, without turning inward to see where it may have overreached itself.”59

7. To Bring People to a Religious Renewal, Spiritual Awakening and Salvation Message

A key part of apocalyptic Christian narrative involves the rise of the AntiChrist, whose government will mark those left behind with the numbers 666 on their forehead or hand. These riveting plot devices provided screenwriters with a 24 Journal of Religion & Film, Vol. 21 [2017], Iss. 1, Art. 36 https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol21/iss1/36 fertile field for the dramatic invention of terror and suspense. While the birth of film occurred in the 1890s, it was not until Carlos Baptista had produced The Rapture (1941) and Blessed Hope (1943) that apocalyptic end-time events had been explored on celluloid. However, the first Christian filmmaker to effectively employ such shock-and-awe narrative techniques was Russell S. Doughten, Jr. After forming Heartland Pictures to produce low-budget B-movies, Doughten teamed up with Don Thompson to form Mark IV Pictures to produce Christian dramatic films.64 The central theme of their most successful films dealt with overt end-times narratives, stories rooted in dispensational perspectives, namely, “the Rapture” and “the Tribulation.

Is mankind approaching a time of global upheaval and catastrophe when an accumulation of events decimates the planet’s population, leaving the remaining survivors fighting each other for what is left of Earth’s precious resources? Are we near the end of civilization where those events we envisioned in films such as Soylent Green (1973) and Logan’s Run (1976) (overpopulation), The Andromeda Strain (1971) and Contagion (2011) (pandemics), Waterworld (1995) and The Day 28 Journal of Religion & Film, Vol. 21 [2017], Iss. 1, Art. 36 https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol21/iss1/36 After Tomorrow (2004) (climate change), and On the Beach (1959) and Panic in Year Zero! (1962) (nuclear war) will soon transpire? While the answers to these questions are subject to much debate among scientists and academics, what is certain is that the diverse number of functions served by end-of-the-world narratives has made apocalyptic motion pictures one of the most popular and enduring film genres over the last seventy years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_apocalyptic_films

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dystopian_films

ANTHROPOCENE, DYSTOPIAN NIGHTMARE OR A NEW ENLIGHTENMENT.

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UNIFIED THEORY OF ALL THE CORPORATE BULL SHIT LIES DAMNED LIES AND STATISTICS

Distinction.

What things are and what things are about

Contextual Conceptualist

singular duality

duplicitous dichotomy

essentially Ironic

Plastic Plurality

a busmans journey
selling coals to newcastle

Travellers gathering knowledge
Tourists consuming

“computer codes”
“Computer codes” is currently in the lede twice. Do we mean algorithm? Computer program ? Pedro :  Chat  19:28, 16 September 2010 (UTC)
Definitely not algorithm. “Computer codes” covers a broader type of model; algorithm would just be a way of doing one particular bit William M. Connolley (talk) 21:33, 16 September 2010 (UTC)
Good points. “Process” maybe? Or “system(s)”? Either are surely better “computer codes”. Pedro :  Chat  21:44, 16 September 2010 (UTC)
The wording appears awkward, so I will try to patch. Feel free to correct my changes! rewinn (talk) 05:05, 27 April 2011 (UTC)
[edit]soros influence
[1] James Hansen, a man billed as a lonely “NASA whistleblower” standing up to the mighty U.S. government, was really funded by Soros’ Open Society Institute , which gave him “legal and media advice”? … Hansen was packaged for the media by Soros’ flagship “philanthropy,” by as much as $720,000, most likely under the OSI’s “politicization of science” program. Redhanker (talk) 21:47, 11 November 2010 (UTC)
Not a reliable source, and Hansen was a well-known scientist and public figure 20 years before the incident. And please clearly indicate when you copy something somewhere. –Stephan Schulz (talk) 21:57, 11 November 2010 (UTC)
http://www.tlio.org.uk/History
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