10 Sci-Fi Movies That Can Help Shape Your Theology
March 6, 2015
Eric is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles, California. His occasional musings on film, God, and pop culture can be found at his blog, pickingupshells.com.
This weekend, the latest sci-fi epic from filmmaker Neill Blomkamp hits theaters. In Chappie, a police robot gains the ability to think for itself, putting itself in the crosshairs of its creator. Like other movies from the South African director (District 9, Elysium), stunning visuals and sci-fi adventure underscore big ideas about complex contemporary social issues and philosophical questions.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Blomkamp warned of the dangers of being too preachy in big-budget sci-fi epics. “If you really have a message you need to get across, you're better off making a documentary," he said.
However, the filmmaker explained why sci-fi is so effective at getting people to think about deep questions in a new way. “But what they are good at, especially science fiction and fantasy, is twisting a topic so that you view things in a completely different light. You can change the lens through which a person looks at something, but you have to do that without violating the reason that someone paid for a ticket in the first place."
Here’s a look at 10 classic sci-fi films that not only tell great stories, they take theological ideas and help you see them in a “completely different light.”
Neil Blomkamp's debut features humans interacting with aliens who are not treated with any of the reverence Spielberg characters provide celestial beings. The alien race in District 9 is segregated in shanty town ghettos, a thinly veiled allegory of the South African apartheid Blomkamp witnessed in his childhood.
The film is a social commentary on the lengths that humans will allow fear and misunderstanding to lead to the mistreatment of another race. Blomkamp, at times, criticizes how religion is used an imperial tool to justify prolonged harm and oppression.
Wall-E and Interstellar
The Earth has been polluted. Mankind has abandoned the planet that can no longer provide the resources necessary for life, or at the very least the modern conveniences humans have become accustomed to. While Interstellar seeks to find a new home planet, Wall-E wonders if we would not be better served staying on Earth, reversing the current habits of destruction and fulfilling our call as “maintainers.” What would that look like? Look no further than Wall-E’s end credits.
The blue pill keeps the Matrix alive. “You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe,” Morpheus reasons as he fights against a false reality of security and convenience, seeking instead the one who can truly break the flesh pods that bind.
A Biblical example of one who has taken the red pill would be Ezekiel, who prophesies against something quite similar to the Matrix in Ezekiel 13:10 NLT, “evil prophets deceive my people by saying, 'All is peaceful' when there is no peace at all! It's as if the people have built a flimsy wall, and these prophets are trying to reinforce it by covering it with whitewash!”
In the character of E.T., Steven Spielberg created an alien messiah with many parallels with Christ Himself. E.T. comes from the heavens and helps Elliot, a lost boy separated from his father. The little alien not only fills a missing void for Elliot, he also provides physical healing with the laying on of the glowing finger, and the two friends remain connected even when they are not together.
Need more similarities between E.T. and J.C.? E.T. eventually dies, is resurrected and ascends back to the heavens at the end in the final scene ... but not before assuring Elliot that he’ll always be with him.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris is a dense, complex three-hour film that befuddles the Western mind and defies simplification. A “scientific accountant” of a man, Kelvin, struggles with an unknown, mysterious force outside of Earth: Solaris. Those on Earth question the “miracles” that individuals are experiencing when coming in contact with Solaris and any effort to reproduce the miraculous are futile. Kelvin’s ultimate revelation, a lament more than a triumph, is that he will never fully understand the Solaris. He returns home, not with all the answers, but with the ability to simply wait on the unknown entity above.
The main characters in Signs wrestle with some with deep theological questions throughout:
Can enough coincidences equate to belief in a higher being? Should it?
What leads those who have endured great suffering continue to believe that all things work together for good?
How much sovereignty could an all-powerful being have when they allow for such catastrophic suffering?
It was certainly billed as alien movie, yet it could be argued that Signs is best seen as a “belief in god” movie with a few aliens thrown in.
With a truly alarming number of books written that explore the theological aspects of Lucas’ universe, I humbly offer: the Emperor = Satan, the Force = The Holy Spirit, Yoda = Methuselah? Jabba the Hut = the fat king, Eglud, in the Old Testament whose stomach completely engulfed the knife that was used to stab him death?
Maybe just read the aforementioned books.
One of the earliest examples of the science fiction genre in film, Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece serves as cinematic allegory of the Israelites journey from slavery to their savior.
In the futuristic Metropolis, (and almost every dystopian future) wealth and privilege are reserved for an upper crust of society, while an enslaved working class allows for excesses and keeps the city running.
The lower class citizens, led by the beautiful Maria, a combo of John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary, prophesy a coming savior who will break the endless cycle of fear and enslavement. Their savior does come when one of the privileged, Freder, assumes the identity of the enslaved, eventually becoming a mediator between the oppressed and the oppressors.
The theological discussion regarding Blade Runner does not revolve around the protagonist, Rick Deckard. Handsome Harrison Ford’s character is a mere witness to the character with a creator crisis, Roy Baty. The blond haired leader of a band of replicant rebels has rejected his intended work on Earth. He is a created being, with a short shelf life and seeks to prolong his existence on Earth by wrestling with his creator, Dr. Tyrell.
He struggles the entire film against his physical limitations and eventually submits to death, but not before the film asks “is death the end?” Right before Baty’s final words, a dove appears, and as Baty dies, the dove flies free from its physical restraints, straight into the heavens.
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