Never a New Idea – How Hollywood Rips Off the Bible and What That Should Teach Us
I’m a bit of a movie junkie. I’ve never made much of a secret of that. I’m personally of the belief that movies are currently the medium through which our culture is most profoundly shaped. That may change. Movies might be replaced by “Arc TV” which can more accurately render more of the details of a complex plot, like those found in books, as opposed to a roughly 2 hour cinematic film. Nonetheless, being a “movie junkie” today is not entirely unlike being a “book junkie” 100 years ago. The medium changes, but the human craving for good narrative does not.
With the enjoyment (and learning experience) that I get out of movies, I’m generally on the lookout for what’s coming out as well as what’s making waves at the box office. In the past couple of months, few films have made the impact that “Looper” has. Without giving much of the plot away and without having you think I’m giving a ringing endorsement to any and all rated-R movies, I’ll say this. “Looper” is an action & sci-fi thriller, based in the future, about time travel, and stars Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The story explores the impact on the future that both our selfish and selfless decisions make and the universal cycles that are created by both negative and positive choices.
While the movie was marketed with reviews which included phrases like “refreshingly original” and “uncommonly smart”, while watching the movie, I couldn’t help but notice the obvious influences of other films. After the movie, as I typically do, I went on line for an hour or two to do some additional research. Sure enough, I found an interview with the movie’s writer and director Rian Johnson in which he mentioned how movies like “Witness” and “Blade Runner” and “Twelve Monkeys” and even “The Terminator” were strong influences in creating the film. In fact, Johnson goes so far as to say that one of the underlying themes of the movie is how little “new” there actually is in the world. He comments, for instance, on how in this futuristic culture, many of the trends harken back to the current era. For instance, referencing a scene in the movie where one of the characters is making fun of men wearing ties due to their lack of functionality, Johnson says, “Everyone still romanticizes neckties” and “He (the main character) is driving a Miata.” The interviewer then says, “I kind of feel the same way when I see some 15 year-old wearing the same sweater I wore in 1988.” The point that Johnson is driving home is the fact that our culture has arrived at a self-awareness that there is nothing really all that “new” out there anymore and there never will be. Pretty insightful. In fact, it reminds me of the words of a guy that the Bible says was the most insightful man not named “Jesus” who ever lived, Solomon – “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
I’m guessing you’ve noticed the lack of new ideas out there too. In the past decade or so, Hollywood, TV, and toy-makers have given us more blatant rip-offs than “Looper”. The super hero movies, Transformers, G.I. Joe. This is my childhood. And to a degree, it was my father’s childhood. It’s hard to tell if the lack of new ideas is more the result of creative laziness or if we’ve simply just dried up the well of creativity. And for that matter, the connection that most amazes me (that I suspect many miss) are the biblical undertones of most successful narratives.
You could start with most influential story-tellers in the world today. For instance, much has been made of the biblical allusions in horror-writer Stephen King’s works. King, like fiction giants J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis before him, believes that good fiction writing is rooted in biblical themes. Or consider how every single one of the classic Disney movies have biblical themes intentionally running through them. And what about 2012′s biggest features? “The Avengers” is a tale about how each individual is uniquely gifted so that they may serve their community for the greater good. Sounds a lot like what the Apostle Paul has to say about spiritual gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. “The Hunger Games” is the story of an innocent, ordinary, and unlikely hero, Katniss, who takes the place of her younger sister who is less capable of enduring the dangerous journey before her. Along the way, Katniss stands before colorful and corrupt political figures who are amazed yet unchanged by her combination of courage, capability, and innocence. Sounds a lot like the account of Jesus, a man who came to rescue his wayward people, who stood before the Jewish Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate (John 18-19). Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated “Alien” prequel, “Prometheus”, was actually criticized by mainstream media for its overtly biblical allusions – such as humans questioning why aliens (believed to be their “creators”) would allow suffering and death to come to their creation. Look, I could go on and on and on, Superman is the story of the son of the gods who came to save mankind. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, his creators, will tell you that his influences were guys like Samson and Moses. Even his Kryptonian name, “Kal-El” can be translated in Jewish as “voice of God”. “Pretty Woman” forced you to think about the story of Ruth. “Shawshank Redemption”…well, too easy. It’s everywhere and in everything. NONE of it is new and ALL of it, in some way, points to the Bible. The failure to see the connection comes either from a lack of understanding the movies or a lack of familiarity with the Bible.
Why is this important? It’s important for every person out there who likes modern entertainment forms but won’t give the Bible the time of day because, while they may not admit it, they think it is “boring”.
There was a time when I felt the same way. A little older, a little wiser, and now actually having the taken the time to study it without someone else forcing me to, I’m telling you, the Bible is many things, but it is NOT boring. Admittedly, many of us Bible teachers are guilty of “boring” teaching. But that’s our fault, not the Bible’s fault.
Furthermore, have you ever watched a movie and not entirely “gotten it”. Maybe you sensed the film was saying something important, but you just didn’t piece it together and then, instead of taking the time to consider it more deeply, you wrote the movie off as “stupid” because you didn’t understand it. Look, there’s no shame in not understanding something. It is embarrassing, however, to hide behind phrases like “it’s stupid” or “it’s boring” for things that are objectively brilliant. The Bible has sold more copies than any book in history. It’s influenced more lives than any other book. Objectively, millions of more people have died for the message of this book than for any other narrative. Clearly, nothing’s boring about the message.
Are you sure you “get it”? I’m often struck by how many people think they get it. In fact, most everyone thinks they get the Bible. I’d lump myself into the category of people who, at one point, thought they had the Bible all pegged down only to be humbled later by totally underestimating it. I’ve been humbled and amazed and awakened now too many times to be so arrogant as to suggest that I fully “get it”. But I now know how exciting it is to discover more and see more clearly. Additionally, God designed the Bible so that you would “get it” primarily through the teaching of others who know it better than you. So, while reading it on your own is worthwhile, it’s more beneficial to experience it in the community of believers through collective Bible Study. In a culture of people who want to do things on their own terms and consider every opinion equally valid, group Bible Study is a often a tough sell. But I’m telling you, it’s the God-designed way to be pushed further and grow.
Wouldn’t you love to be able to “get” every movie? How much more would you value “getting” the Bible, objectively, the biggest life changing narrative in history. I’ve got a Bible Study for you right here at rlrochester.com.
By the way, I said I wouldn’t give away too much, but in “Looper”, the main protagonist lays down his life to save countless people (arguably the entire world) in the future. Now where do you think that idea came from?