The current essay represents the discussion of the changing conceptions of Christ throughout the centuries, starting with the period of the Middle Ages and up to these days. The theme of Christ is very interesting and thought-provoking even without taking into consideration its influence on the cultural aspect of our life. People always wanted to know the answers to a great number of questions; all the questions deal with our predestination, our mission on this planet, the secrets of the world we live in, and the figure of God.
Julian of Norwich represented the core for the contemporaries who created the literary heritage of their period for the successive generations. Thus the author had to follow the contemporary ideas and trends of the period. The influence of church and religion is one of the integral parts of the period of the Middle Ages. This influence can be retraced in the literature of the British authors who created their works in the Middle Ages. The figure of Christ is considered from different points of view, suchlike the life of Christ, passion, his death, and miraculous resurrection (Palliser 123). The author describes the figure of Christ as both the human being that suffered and died for the human sins and the Holy Spirit showing the fact of reincarnation.
Different religious aspects and contradictory questions have always haunted people in every sphere of their life and activity, in all expressions of their life. These haunts do not depend on whether the man is in a state of grace or set himself up for an atheist. These kinds of expressions do not leave any in different people, as everyone has an opinion about this issue, which he/she wants to reveal or to argue about some statement. Thus religions, a variety of religions, different beliefs, various interpretations of the contradictory facts of various religions are very popular from the point of view of screening. Thereby it is a small wonder that the dream factory is using this scope of contradictory opinions while creating a great number of films on this issue. Religion is not just extremely important for the production of films. It also has a great effect on those who make those movies. I mean that most movie stars are members of some persuasions. This fact makes people become members of the same religion as their favorite stars, even if they do not support that very point of view as their favorite movie stars. Thus because of some famous stars to be a religious man means to meet the requirements of the latest fashion.
Besides the fashion religions are spread in a great number of movies, but in some, they show the religion is depicted shown and above board, and some movies just show the implicit meaning of religion, its signs, symbols, identify different movie characters with various religion images and heroes. Thereby here comes an attempt to explain some religious motifs and transcendentalism in Hollywood films. The films “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) directed by Mel Gibson and “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) directed by Martin Scorsese are extremely vivid examples of the movies depicting the figure of God, attempts to explain the history of mankind. But the subject of this particular essay is the implicit religious meaning in the cinematography.
Oliver Stone’s film “Platoon” set during the Vietnam War in 1968 is chocked full of religious symbolism. Although an atheist himself, Stone no doubt reflected on his upbringing by a Jewish father and Catholic mother. His view of the Vietnam War is from the bottom up as he recounts his own experience in Vietnam for which he received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He also adds a dramatic and historic component to this gripping, Oscar-winning, film. Much of the religious allegory in “Platoon” can be found in its characters. Chris Taylor, a young and idealistic ‘Adam’, joins the Bravo team and quickly loses his innocence to the atrocities of war. In a letter to his grandmother, Chris compares himself to his fellow grunts and hopes to become something he is proud of “from way down here in the mud, maybe I can start up again” (Beck 46). This is a clear parallel to God’s formation of man/Adam from the dust of the ground.
Labeled as a crusader and “the resurrected”, he becomes a Christ-like figure throughout the movie. Chris/ Christ/ Christian, as the name implies is tempted by good and triumphs over evil. Like the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Chris is a lookout deep in the Vietnamese jungle and becomes fearful when a snake slides between his legs. Just as Satan tries to lure Jesus to sin, Chris enters a village and is tempted through the revenge of a fallen comrade to murder a mother and son who were hiding. Jesus, in the wilderness, was tempted but triumphed over evil and then entered the world to begin his mission. Chris after the triumph over his temptation then is integral in stopping the rape of a young girl by his fellow soldiers (Beck 48). The film culminates in a mock battle at Armageddon where Chris is knocked unconscious by a bomb/ a “flame of fire” in Revelation 19. Upon awaking in blood-stained clothes, a vengeful Chris (crucified Christ) kills Barnes (the beast from Revelation) in the ultimate triumph of good over evil (Beck 53).
Sergeant Elias, whose compassion quickly identifies him as a persona of good can be paralleled with Elijah/ Isaiah as well as a Christ figure and even some resemblances of John the Baptist. According to Beck’s interpretation, Elias in John the Baptist fashion “baptizes” Chris through narcotics ingestion. Elias sermonizes Chris over the moralities of war and ultimately a true prediction of the US losing the war. They share a sacramental joint, which Beck finds reminiscent of the Last Supper. Elias and Chris discuss death and reincarnation; similarly, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells Peter the agonies of his fate. In the Old Testament, Elijah flees into the wilderness and God’s word comes to him. Elias tells Chris he’s going to come back as wind, or fire, or a deer. Fulfilling this prophecy, Elias’ death, wind, fire, and grazing deer all appear near the end of the movie (Beck 50-51). Probably the most recognized religious symbol in the movie is Elias’ death/ his martyrdom as his fellow soldiers watch from a helicopter above, his arms are outstretched like Christ on the cross.
The role of Barnes in “Platoon” is in stark contrast to that of Chris and Elias. As evil incarnate or the beast of Revelation, Barnes shoots the wife of a village leader in the head and threatens to murder his little girl. Only an interruption by Elias prevents this. Good sergeant Elias report Barnes’ villainous actions, and at this point we hear of Barnes’ plans of foraging Elias (whom he calls a water walker) to prevent an investigation. Barnes is remarked to have been wounded 7 times, a number with religious significance. At the end of the film when Chris finds Barnes wounded and crawling like a snake, Chris shoots him in the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
The setting of “Platoon”, the Vietnamese jungle can be compared to the Garden of Eden. The first thing Chris encounters upon arriving in Vietnam is a cart of body bags. His loss of innocence continues through exposure to drugs, killing, and brutality. As Adam is tempted and sins in the Garden of Eden, so do Chris’ encounters mirror the fall of man. Early in the film, Chris is wounded in the neck and thinks he is dying. In his article, Beck compares this to Christian baptism, where through the death of the flesh, the Christian is then reborn in the Spirit (Beck 47) In an interview conducted at Berkeley, which can be watched on YouTube, Oliver Stone was asked if he in any way felt that “Platoon” was a catharsis for movie watchers. In my own words, to feel moved by the story of Jesus Christ, like the pain felt of the American soldiers in “Platoon”, is as a cleansing/ a spiritual rebirth. As Oliver Stone stated, if you have been moved and terrorized, then you are cleansed.
The next film worth mentioning is the famous “Matrix” (1999) directed by the Wachowski brothers. This work of cinematography is the embodiment of symbolism and religion. From the first look, one cannot even realize the number of implicit meanings in this very movie. But after more careful examination a great number of implicit meanings, symbolic characters, and actions can be found. The “Matrix” itself brought a kind of revolution into the movie industry and the understanding of the movie.
The whole world of the matrix is on the warpath with the machines, as every religion fights for some persuasions. The main character seems to be not only the embodiment of strength, wisdom, and courage, but a result of reincarnation, as if all people who were fighting severely for freedom gave him their knowledge, their experience, and revealed to him the truth about the essence of the matrix. Thus Neo uses the comprehension of the matrix’s nature to resist it and to lead people to rebellion against machines. In every religious teaching, there is a charismatic leader who directs the people. According to the transcendental point of view, “Matrix” arises issues of reality (what is truly real? why do people consider it real? is the reality simulated? is it the result of belief or do people just know it intuitively?) and understanding, as it presupposes the intuitive cognition.
The main implicit symbol that can be viewed in “Matrix” is Christianity. The main source of knowledge, the Bible, can be interpreted in many ways. Bible gives the idea of the system of the world and everything in the world. People in “Matrix” strive for a change of the world order. So I shall try to apply practically the Biblical symbols to the “Matrix”. Thus in the film, Neo is called ‘the One’ by analogy with the Messiah; he has a group of people who believe in his high destination and follows him as the Biblical apostles; Cypher is a man who betrayed the group of rebels as he preferred to live ignorance by analogy with Biblical Judas, the traitor.
Any religious direction is a way to govern the consciousness of the society to reach absolute power over this society. Thus in “Matrix’, the highest intellect in the range of machines, that live using producing energy of human bodies; these machines control the consciousness of people to maintain the vital functions. “In Freud’s view, religion is the neurosis which develops when people refuse to give up the need for a father figure who watches over and protects them” (Lyden, 1994). Thus the films with implicit religious motifs or features of transcendentalism are called upon to describe the inability of people to act by themselves, without being regarded by God or some other creature, that is believed to be a god, the highest intellect.
People always need something or somebody to believe in, to idolize. “Religious films are diverse for they operate in a performative context that is open to both religious and quasi-religious content. The essence of the model is the incarnational gesture at the center of the film, in which a primary narrative is disrupted and made ‘holy'” (Fraser 1998). Though this statement can be rather implied in really religious films, which describe the life of the saints, the history of some religions, sacrifices made to godlike creatures. The implicit meaning of religion can be found in all spheres of our life, as religion did not develop some new rules or prescriptions, it only systematized the scope of experiences and traditions to limit the life of people with strict rules. The British literature of the Middle Ages can be traced throughout the history of literature; moreover, it found its application in modern movies.
Abrams, Meyer Howard. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.
Beck, Avent. “The Christian Allegorical Structure of Platoon”. In J. Martin, & C. Ostwalt, Screening the Sacred: Religion, Myth, And Ideology In Popular American Film, 1995.
Fraser, Peter. Images of the Passion: The Sacramental Mode in Film. USA: Praeger Publishers, 1998.
Lyden, John. Enduring Issues in Religion. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1994.
Palliser, Margaret Ann. Christ, our Mother of Mercy: Divine Mercy and Compassion in the Theology of the Shewings of Julian of Norwich. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1992.