Action blockbuster season is upon us and there are no shortage of big movies to go and see. What dominates the movie scene this summer, like many other summers? Superhero, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi movies. I’ve already seen Captain America: Civil War (awesome!) and Batman vs. Superman (lowsy!), and hope I get the opportunity to take in X-Men: Apocalypse, and the new Star Trek movie. I’m also really excited to see Finding Dory with my daughter – Fish that talk to each other – that’s a fantasy movie, right?
Check out imdb’s most anticipated movies of the summer and you’ll find that every single one of them are about aliens, space, superheros, something paranormal, or contain some other fantasy elements (e.g. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Alice Through the Looking Glass). The most “normal” on this top ten list is Tarzan, which is still technically fantasy.
What is so appealing about these kinds of films? When I was a kid I used to think I loved these kinds of movies because of the action and the special effects. This was why I thought Star Wars was the best thing ever. I still think it is the best thing ever, but not because of the action or the effects. These movies are tapping into something far deeper than our desire for spectacle, at the least the good ones are.
The best of these films deal with good versus evil, give us someone to root for, provide heros and villains, teach us to hope even when the situation seems hopeless. The best of these films tug at our heartstrings while the wonder, magic and spectacle whirls across the screen. The best of these films show us not the fantastic, but very human stories where the weak are defended against the powerful and the corrupt. The best of these films tap into our longing for goodness to triumph, for beauty to be present, for healing to take place, and for justice to be done. And the very best accomplish all of this in unexpected ways.
Star Wars works so well because the Rebel Alliance is pitiful in power compared to the Empire, and the not so subtly named Death Star is taken down by a reformed smuggler and a whiney farm-boy from a place farthest from the brightest spot the galaxy. The best stories have justice and peace brought about through unexpected means. Look at what the ewoks do in Return of the Jedi! (I bring this up, and I don’t even like ewoks!). Don’t relate to Star Wars? Shame on you, but try this one…
Think even of the leader of the X-Men – he’s a guy in a wheelchair. A really smart guy, yes, but still, it’s unexpected. The X-men are unexpected all-round, and we love them for it. Part of the mystique (pun intended) of the X-men is that they accomplish justice and peace through unconventional and unexpected means.
The ancient myths were this way as well. Think of the battle of Troy. How did they win the battle? (Insert Monty Python joke here). They were severely outnumbered and they accomplished victory through ingenuity, imagination, and in an unexpected way. Whoever came up with that wooden horse idea was totally the MacGyver of ancient Greece. The heroes of mythology often accomplished their quests through unorthodox means, and the story would always turn around at the point where everything seemed lost. Does that sound familiar? It should, because these stories have shaped us for thousands of years, and they are still being told in books, on stage, and on the screen.
Myths, ancient and modern, teach us about the way things are, and point us to the way things ought to be, the way we hope things could be. Even though they contain violence, they give us glimpses of a world healed of corruption and violence. They show us the beauty that is possible and worth fighting for, even though there is a lot about the world that doesn’t look beautiful right now. Some may say these stories are an escape from reality. I think they are glimpses of our longing for a better reality.
Why do these stories resonate with us so much? It’s almost as if we were born with this longing for something better, something more. Almost as if someone planned it that way.
Which brings us to another myth. A myth that operates in a similar way to all the others. It effects us powerfully, telling a story of good triumphing over evil, of peace reigning in the end, of hope when all seems hopeless, and of the final act of justice and compassion coming in the most unexpected way. The difference between this myth and all the others, is that this myth isn’t a fantasy in the sense that it is “all made up.” This myth happens to be true. It is a great planned out drama that speaks to our actual hope for a better life and a better world.
More than twenty years before he wrote any of the Narnia books, C.S. Lewis wrote the following in a 1931 letter to his friend Arthur Greaves:
Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.
So as you go to the movies this summer, or as you re-read Harry Potter for the eight time, or dare I say, read one of my own Del Ryder books, think about how each of our human make-believe stories is but an echo of the grand story that God has written in and through Jesus Christ.
Don’t get me wrong—not all of our stories work, nor are all our stories equal. Some miss the mark entirely. Some misplace hope. But each of our human myths, ancient and modern, are an attempt to reach beyond ourselves. For those of us who wish to see it, we can know that our longing for something better, for justice, for peace, are not just longings unfulfilled. We don’t need to check them at the door and just escape from “real life” to see what Captain Kirk is going to do this summer. God has, and will, continue to redeem and transform our “real life.” God, in Christ, gives us hope that justice and peace will reign—not just in our stories, but in His one true story.