Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Silence, is in theaters and gaining positive critical attention for its depiction of Christian conviction and struggle. People are often reluctant to discuss religion, and many filmmakers are unwilling to present it, because it may sow division as often as it brings people together. So Optimism Vaccine decided now would be a great time to look at films that subtly carry Jesus’ message. Some so gently that viewers may not even notice.
Disney have been the subject of plenty of criticism over the years. An image of a topless woman sneaked into The Rescuers, and that sure looks like a penis on the cover of The Little Mermaid. Whether on purpose or by accident, they've courted controversy. Understandable since their wholesome image vies for the youngest and most impressionable minds. Disney usually stay away from religion. After all, why distance atheists and other paying customers? Frozen changed all that, carrying a clear Christian dimension. Unable to reign in her icy magic, Elsa flees. She seeks to escape her regal duties and exercise her free will with total abandon. Her selfishness ushers in a wintry Hell that engulfs her kingdom. It is her younger sister, Anna, who emerges as a surrogate for Jesus' selfless sacrifice. She pursues Elsa and refuses to give up on her. In the end, she pays the ultimate price. Anna saves Elsa but dies by her hand. Through this ultimate sacrifice Elsa finally understands her responsibilities. This newfound grace literally resurrects Anna, allowing for a traditionally Disney-esque happy-ending, a rousing musical number, but also an affirmation of the Lord’s covenant.
This gruesome 80’s sci-fi yarn doesn’t seem like it would be imparting the wisdom of the scriptures but upon closer examination, director Paul Verhoeven has subtly woven in a host of details for the attentive viewer:
- Near the close of the film, a low camera angle suggests that Robocop is walking on water as he approaches the film’s villain, Clarence Boddicker. A clear allusion to Jesus' miraculous feat
- During his death, Murphy’s hand is cruelly mutilated by a gunshot, a violent flourish evoking the stigmata- the wounds Jesus suffered
- Upon hitting the beat, Robocop destroys a liquor store while capturing a perp (a sinner?), reminiscent of Jesus driving the vendors from outside the temple
- Jesus died and came back three days later. Robocop also dies and resurrects. It probably took longer than three days but Verhoeven cleverly leaves the exact timeframe ambiguous
- Jesus said he would come, bearing a sword. Although he more frequently employs a semi-automatic pistol, Robocop finally relies on a sword. He uses his retractable data-point "sword" to defeat Boddicker
- Robocop is littered with crass television commercials, imploring us to buy products. Each Christmas, Jesus demands we buy products to celebrate His life and works
- Pontius Pilate washed his hands of the blood of Jesus. Would you buy that for a dollar?
- Jesus was betrayed by Judas in exchange for 30 pieces of silver. Physiologically, overexposure to silver compounds can result in a health condition known as Argyria, which turns the skin blue. Now remember when that guy in Robocop gets doused in toxic waste and he’s crawling around everywhere croaking, “Help me! Help me!” and then he gets hit by a car and he pretty much explodes all over the place and his head just flies off into a ditch? Man, that scene is fucking baller!
- Tipped off by Judas Iscariot, the Roman soldiers came for Jesus in The Garden of Gethsemane. Although the Evangelists didn't commit his exact words to paper in their Gospels, it’s likely the guard said, “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”
- Robocop has an unquenchable thirst for vengeance that extends beyond the grave, just like Jesus
As discussed above, master-filmmaker Martin Scorsese is no stranger to religious symbolism and complex moral parables. But many don’t realize his ultra-violent cops-and-robbers tale, The Departed is also a grand religious allegory. Watch it a few times and the pieces all come together…
- Leonardo Di Caprio is Jesus
- Matt Damon is Judas Iscariot
- Vera Farmiga is Mary Magdalene
- Alec Baldwin is Pontius Pilate
- Mark Wahlberg is St. Peter
- Martin Sheen is St. Joseph
- Ray Winstone is The Last Supper
- Boston is Jerusalem
- Leonardo Di Caprio’s car is a donkey
- The Massachusetts police force is The Roman Empire
- The Irish Mob are the Pharisees
- Jack Nicholson is Jesus’ bad uncle, The Devil
- The Dropkick Murphys are that guy who wails a lot on The Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack
- Contrary to popular opinion, the rat in the final shot is just a rat. No symbolism there.
Pixar’s family-friendly animated adventure was a critical and commercial hit. It revolutionized computer-animation but it also revolutionized religious allegory. It teaches children about the wisdom of Jesus, dressing it up in a bright and engaging story about a band of sentient toys that wish to unite with their master- a young boy who holds their fate in his pernicious sway like that of God Himself. Pixar wisely keep things light until the final scene. It’s only then, as Woody the Cowboy is stripped bare and nailed to a cross, while Jessie the Cowgirl yodels her empty protest to the uncaring sky, that we realize their quest was only ever about salvation. With that established, the sequels openly invoked the Good Book, as evident in Toy Story 2: The New Covenant, and Toy Story 3: The Lamb of (Slinky)Dog.
The Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson’s slice-of-life dramedy reminds us that we all have bad days. Living with his mom and perennially single, The Christ is just a regular guy trying to get by, when he gets caught up in a crazy plot that involves him getting horribly maimed, nailed to a cross, and left to die. It’s a series of events that really puts things in perspective. It reminds us that even though we've all been brutally whipped in front of a jeering crowd and left for dead on a hill, at least we’ve kissed a guy/girl before or held down a job. But here’s the crazy thing. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find some startling similarities between what happens to The Christ and what happened to Jesus. And then you realize Gibson’s clever ruse. Ask yourself, “Why was this film presented entirely in ancient Aramaic?” It was no gimmick or accident. In ancient Aramaic, The Christ IS Jesus! They are exactly the same guy.
Mind = Blown!