Guillermo Del Toro, the new king of monster movies, is about to unleash Hellboy 2.
But according to MTV.com, his mind is already busy with visions of what might be his his next big project. No, it’s not The Hobbit, and no, it’s not that Tarzan project he was talking about a while back.
Here’s a hint: For Kenneth Branagh, it was a big mistake.
Personally, I’ve had this particular monster on the brain lately…
…as I’m writing my own story about a monster with a conflicted conscience. Cyndere’s Midnight, the sequel to Auralia’s Colors, will be a variation on “Beauty and the Beast” stories… it’s as much concerned with the beastman called Jordam as it is the beautiful heiress Cyndere.
It’s hardly a new theme, but so many of my favorite storytellers on the page or the big screen find moments of insight in tales of spectacularly bad creatures who might not yet be doomed.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mike Leigh’s Naked, Tolkien’s tales of Gollum, Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood… all of these show monsters who are caught up in the conflicts of good and evil within their wicked hearts. And it’s a common theme in comic books as well: Will Batman and Wolverine and Spider-man learn to use power responsibly, or give in to those vengeful urges? Some find redemption, some fail.
And then, of course, there’s that great story in the scriptures of a mass murder, Saul, and what happened when the tide turned on his own heart’s battlefield.
Stories like these speak to all of us at some level, because we all know our own monstrous hearts, to some extent. We all know that we have the capacity for insidious deeds, whether that be in the form of murder, or even in the form of casting self-righteous judgment on others.
I read a lot of scary stuff as I peruse what often passes for “Christian film reviews.” And one of the scariest things I’ve ever read in Christian media’s engagement with the arts came from an activist who was bashing away at the latest Harry Potter movie.
Here’s the passage:
Watching 6- and 7-year-old children walk out of the press screening for the new “Harry Potter” movie (as well as the many reviewers and others with witchcraft symbols on their clothes and S&M dresses) is always an opportunity to reflect on the malignant corruption of our culture. Aside from the fact that these children are exposed to ugly creatures, fantastic violence and worthless incantations, this movie has some dialogue that sounds like it comes out of Stuart Smalley’s Daily Affirmations on “Saturday Night Live.”
Namely, when professor Dumbledore sits Harry down and tells him, “You are not a bad person. Every person has light and darkness. You have a choice.”
Imagine saying this to Cho Seung-Hui after he had his killing spree at Virginia Tech this spring. Or Adolf Hitler.
Contrary to Dumbledore’s idiotic aphorisms, there are bad people.
Such a statement contradicts some of the most important lessons from some of our greatest storytelling… from myth to scripture. It basically calls The Lord of the Rings a lie, saying that Gandalf should have told Frodo to kill Gollum, instead of encouraging the qualities of mercy, grace, and love. But Tolkien insisted that Frodo’s victory, if a victory it was, came in his care for that miserable wretch. This seemed like folly, but it “created a situation” (to use Tolkien’s words) that allowed grace to transform the world.
Looking at popular myths born on the big screen, I am convinced that the lasting appeal of the original Star Wars trilogy came not through its special effects, but through its subversion of the us-versus-them story to which we’d become accustomed. We were startled to find a hero who wasn’t going to blow the warlord to smithereens at the first opportunity, but instead dared to kindle a glimmer of conscience within the monster.
Imagine what evils might have been prevented had love and light been cultivated and encouraged in the hearts of men like Cho Seung-Hui and Adolf Hitler, before they became deluded and hardened their hearts in hate. These were, to the day they died, men made in the image of God, men with “eternity in their hearts.”
Or, if it makes things easier for us, we can always just write them off the “monsters” as “bad people”… evil from birth, with no conflict of good and evil taking place in their hearts. We might just abandon them to their badness. Won’t it be nice when they invent some kind of DNA test that will let parents know whether their child is one of the “bad people”?
Rather destructive historical movements have begun on ideas just like that: “Here’s how we know the good people from the bad, and now let’s exterminate the bad.”
God makes it pretty clear in the scriptures: All have sinned and fall short. He might have decided, then, to just write off all of us “bad people.”
Instead, his grace allows for the possibility of redemption… even in the hearts of monsters like Saul.
I think we need stories about monsters… especially those that remind us how sin has made us all monsters, and that our hope must come from grace and forgiveness that can fill our hearts with light and give us daily comfort and strength as we seek to overcome the influence of evil within our own hearts.
I look forward to seeing what Guillermo Del Toro does with his next few monster movies. Sometimes, when we learn to view a monster with compassion, we find hope for ourselves, and learn how to better love our enemies. We stop holding ourselves up as the great hope for the world’s salvation, and start to recognize that we too live in a state of grace, saved by someone who took compassion on us.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
John Newton, who carried slaves across the sea, wrote those words, haunted by God’s grace and forgiveness. He was a monster, and he knew it. Love cut through and saved him.
Am I to believe that a “renowned theologian” would argue that such grace should never have been shown to Newton in the first place? I think there was a conflict of good and evil in John Newton’s heart. I don’t think he was one of those “bad people.”
I choose to believe differently.