Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Top Ten Christian Stereotypes In A Movie - Part Two

Hello movie fans, Christian fans, stereotype fans, or top-ten-list fans, and welcome back to the top ten list of Christian stereotypes in a movie. Or the second half of it, at least. The first half is here. Let's cut to the chase with no further preamble, so as to leave plenty of space for ambling in the middle.

6) The Should-Know-Better Clunker

Your basic Should-Know-Better Clunker is someone who claims to be a Christian, but who apparently has no idea of what that means. Movies are rife with this character, which may well be because most screenwriters have no idea what Christianity is about either.

And behold, Denzel Washington smote the ground with his staff,
and the waters parted, and they kept on parting, and suddenly the
world was a post-apocalyptic desert full of cannibals. Oops.

Meet Eli. He's basically your classic number three stereotype (the Kick-Ass Black Dude), but I think he merits the dubious honour of being included in the Should-Know-Better Clunker camp for reasons I shall now expound.

So. This guy, apparently, knows THE ENTIRE BIBLE OFF BY HEART.

That's impressive.

You would hope that a guy who knows THE ENTIRE BIBLE OFF BY HEART would also have some idea of what it's about. Someone who can recite, off the top of their head, Matthew 28:19 ("Go therefore and make disciples of all nations"), or Mark 13:10 ("And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.") or 2 Timothy 3:16 ("All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness"), or zillions of other verses throughout the whole Bible which basically say JESUS IS KING, GO AND TELL EVERYONE - you would hope that someone with all that at their fingertips would have figured out that the Bible is meant to be shared... 

But no, Eli guards his Bible from outside scrutiny with the sort of violent single-minded zealotry you would expect from, ooh, a Scary Catholic Sect, maybe.

Still, at least he is kick-ass, unlike...

Doctor Elizabeth Shaw

That's not the fabulous Liz Shaw from the fabulous Doctor Who (the fabulous original Doctor Who, not the flashy new one). 

No, not this one. This one has test tubes and stuff and is therefore a REAL scientist.

We're talking about the deeply irritating Liz Shaw from the deeply irritating Prometheus, a movie that can best be described as the Phantom Menace of the Alien franchise.

Liz Shaw is A Scientist and A Christian. Now, there are many people in real life who are both scientists and Christians. The thing with Liz Shaw is that she is a rubbish scientist, and a rubbish Christian. In a rubbish movie.

There's an exchange early on along these lines which is clearly meant to speak deeply significant volumes about both Liz's faith and her scientific rigour:

One-dimensional-character-who-is-clearly-going-to-be-the-first-to-suffer-horribly: How do you know it's out there?
Liz-rubbish-scientist-Shaw: Because I choose to believe it is.


That is not science.
Nor is it Christianity.

One dimensional? But look how much characterisation
I've got in my stupid-looking hair-and-tattoo combination!

The correct response from one-dimensional-man, of course, would have been this:

"Don't be stupid! That's not an answer! Don't you have any evidence? Didn't you actually check up on this before sending us zillions of miles across the universe to an asteroid where I am undoubtedly going to be killed because I clearly have no function in this movie but to die horribly? Do you actually think that choosing to believe this place exists makes it real? What if I choose to believe it doesn't exist? What then? And is that really how you think Christianity works? That it's true for you because you decided to believe it?? Have you not read Dave's series of posts on whether or not Christianity is a crutch, in which he clearly explains that Christianity isn't some wishy-washy nebulous thing that you get to define for yourself, but is based on a real historic event which you can investigate and read the accounts of and so choose to believe in as a rational response to the evidence, like what scientists who aren't lame constructs in a sucky movie are MEANT to do? And by the way, what the hell is up with your accent? And why are you acting so badly? You were great in those Millennium movies but you are seriously embarrassing in this one. What's going on? I wish Sigourney Weaver was here, she'd kick your ass all the way to the moon without breaking a sweat. AND she's a better scientist than you any day. Hell, Jar Jar Binks is a better scientist than you. He'd at least have the sense to sidestep if a giant spaceship was rolling towards him. Sheesh."

Unfortunately he didn't say this. Pity. It would have made the movie like a squillion times better.
Still wouldn't have been worth seeing though.

Tolerable to audiences because: Actually, I'm not sure it is. I wanted to wring Liz Shaw's pointless neck. Then Ridley Scott's. Then my own, to escape from a) the movie and b) the sequels that I will inevitably end up going to see because I am a damned idiot.

7) The Nun

Calming down and moving on, let's look at some nuns.

Because we're worth it.

I could probably sub-divide The Nun into a whole bunch of other stereotypes. But I won't. Most nuns, of course, are either white men hiding from gangsters by pretending to be nuns, with hilarious consequences, or black women hiding from gangsters by pretending to be nuns, with hilarious consequences. Chances are, in any given convent, there is only one actual nun, and she's probably about to leave for an extended period of climbing every mountain and fording every stream.

If we're dealing with the rare artifact of a genuine nun who isn't about to be defrocked for waltzing on the way to mass, than she'll probably be old, wrinkly, and very stern, but will turn out to be Okay Really right at the end of the movie when, at the crucial point, she'll suddenly cheekily bend the rules with a knowing wink and save the day.

Tolerable to audiences because: Wimples are cute, and there is no danger of a movie nun actually talking about Jesus. For example, compare and contrast:

The Bible:

Job 4:6: Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?
Proverbs 3:25-26: Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.
Philippians 3:3: For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh...
Hebrews 10:19: We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus...

Sister Maria Von Trapp-to-be:

I have confidence in sunshine...
I have confidence in rain...
I have confidence that Spring will come again...
Besides which, you see, I have confidence in ME.

Whatever they were teaching each other in that convent, it wasn't the Bible.*

8) The American Creationist Idiot

Sorry to my friends across the pond, but the Dinosaur-denying Creationist Comedy Relief Character in a movie is usually American. Let's just put that down to the fact that almost everyone in a movie is American.

The Creationist Idiot is someone who insists on taking the Bible literally. Captain literally. Parts of the Bible should, of course, be taken literally. But not all of it. Oh no. Some of it is poetry. Some is allegory. Some is imagery. Start taking that stuff literally and you'll be in a world of trouble. The Bible is not a Michael Bay movie, where the less you think, the more you get out of it.**

Classic recent example from a movie I haven't yet seen: Ruth Buggs in Paul.

Yes, she is wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus shooting Darwin
and the words "Evolve this". I probably shouldn't find that funny.

The American Creationist Idiot will either remain obdurately idiotic for the whole movie, in which case they are the villain and will get their comeuppance, or they will see a dinosaur / an alien / some other evidence for evolution and will abandon their faith quicker than you can say "Wait! Nothing in the Bible says evolution doesn't exist; faith and science aren't mutually exclusive; Christianity is not founded on a blind refusal to accept scientific fact but on the well documented resurrection of a real person; wouldn't it be more sensible to consider the claims of the Bible carefully for yourself, and try to draw a distinction between what it says and what you just unthinkingly subscribed to because of the prevailing cultural attitudes you have been immersed in?"

Tolerable to audiences because: It makes the Bible look like a book of nonsense for idiots, and, since the audience aren't idiots, they therefore don't have to engage with the nonsense in it.

9) The Guy Who Has Lost His Faith Because His Wife Was Killed 

Hint to all the girls out there: Don't marry a preacher. It's got to be one of the most hazardous things you can do. It's right up there with tree surgery, Russian roulette, and wearing a red top in a Star Trek episode. You are quite likely to die, and leave your husband wifeless, faithless, and battling vampires / aliens / Satan.

From Dusk Till Dawn features Preacher Jacob Fuller, who lost his faith when his wife was killed in a car crash.
Signs features Reverend Graham Hess, who lost his faith when his wife was, um, killed in a car crash.
End Of Days features ex-cop Jericho Cane, who lost his faith when his wife and daughter were murdered.
The Visitation features Father Travis Jordan, who lost his faith when his wife was murdered.

I lost my faith, but they let me keep the mitre.

This can happen to women too, in which case they will probably find themselves working as professional sceptics in films with two word titles of the form definite article - gerund***:

The Reaping features missionary Katherine Winter, who lost her faith when her husband and daughter were murdered and who now debunks miracles for a living.
The Awakening features Florence Cathcart, who lost her faith when her lover died and who now debunks ghost sightings for a living.
I'm sure there are more.

Tolerable to audiences because: They have suffered, give them a break. Plus Really Exciting Stuff is happening, and if they do regain their faith, it will be right at the end and will be a necessary step in enabling them to nail the evil vampires / aliens / demons / whatevers. So that's okay.

10) The Arch Hypocrite Uber-villain 

Scary Catholic Cults are villainous, but only because of their centuries-old mandate, which is a sacred trust and can't really be helped.
Bible Bashing Psychos are villainous, but only because they are psychotic, which can't really be helped.
American Creationist Idiots can be villainous, but only because they are idiots, which can't really be helped.

But The Arch Hypocrite Uber-villain is just Plain Evil.

These are the guys who preach sexual purity on a Sunday and then boink their wives' sisters in the pulpit on a Monday; the guys who collect money for orphans and use it to fuel their Nazi-prostitute-coke-orgy habits; the folks who look just like Mother Theresa, except for the growing collection of dead bodies in their refrigerator.

Russia's favourite love machine. All kinds of disturbing.

The Unholy Trinity of Arch Hypocritical Uber-Villainy, who crop up as the big bad in dozens of movies each: Claude Frollo, Cardinal Richelieu and Rasputin.

But you will also know this stereotype from such movies as The Shawshank Redemption, where Warden Samuel Norton introduces himself early on with the words "I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible." Believe in the Bible he may, but he doesn't appear to have read it.

Then you have the corrupt paedophile Bishop of Westminster Abbey in V For Vendetta, or the loathsome Jack Amsterdam in True Confessions, who is a nasty piece of work but has met the Pope and given a lot of money to the Catholics, so that's okay then.

Women can also be Arch Hypocrite Uber-villains. If you are feeling strong-willed, check out The Magdalene Sisters. You will never see Geraldine McEwan in the same light again. Evil evil evil evil evil evil evil evil.

Tolerable to audiences because: It shows us that Christianity is naught but a swarming hypocrisy-infested force of evil, and the atheists are the only guys you can trust.

In case this is what you actually think, here is what the Bible has to say on the matter:

If anyone says "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar.
(1 John 4:20)

It's a pretty simple test. Is Geraldine McEwan's character in The Magdalene Sisters a Christian? No. Does Warden Samuel Norton love God? No. Don't judge Christianity by the hypocrites who claim to love God but treat their fellow man like dirt... because they are not actually Christians****.

So there we go. The Top Ten Christian Stereotypes In A Movie.
Was there a point to all this?
I guess my point is this: you won't find out the truth about Christianity by watching a movie. If you have questions, ask a Christian, open a Bible... but don't watch a movie.

PS: The best example of a genuine-seeming Christian in a movie that I can think of is... Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man. He holds to his faith, he's upset by paganism, he struggles against sexual temptation, he prays, he puts his trust in God and he goes to his death singing hymns and calling on Jesus. Legend. Tolerable to audiences because..? Britt Ekland.

On no account watch the Nicholas Cage remake.

"Great blog Dave, what's next? I shiver with antici-"

*Proverbs 28:26 - Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom [i.e. the fear of the LORD] will be delivered.
** I'm quite pleased with that line. I might use it again.
*** No, I didn't know what one of those was until last night.
**** Everyone can have an off day, of course. But someone who follows Christ and loves God will want to love God's people too.

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