Redemption & Freedom in “Stranger Things” (SPOILERS)

“Thus into our house of bondage, Jesus brought the freedom of God’s sons and daughters through living a life that broke through the bondage and slavery of our sin into the liberty of a sinless humanity rejoicing in the love and faithfulness of God the Father” 

-T.F. Torrance, Incarnation, p. 121,122

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”

-1 John 4:18,19 ESV

If you have not watched the Netflix Original ‘Stranger Things’, I highly recommend doing so. It is a wonderful story about a small town in Indiana in 1983 that is plunged into mystery surrounding a young boy named Will Byers who vanishes and is no where to be found. This event brings people together in a way that they never could have anticipated. Spoilers from here on out!

Chief Hopper (Redemption)

We meet the Chief (played by David Harbour) waking in the morning. He had been passed out on his couch with the television on, disheveled and his house is a mess. From the moment you fall upon the scene, there is immediately a sense of brokenness within Hopper. As the story moves forward, we discover that he has suffered a devastating loss in his life, and has haunted him ever since. Throughout the episodes we discover a little more of what happened to him, and towards the end of the season we discover he had a daughter who fell ill with cancer. In the finale, as Hopper and Joyce Beyers discover Will in the upside down, and a gripping moment ensues. We witness the death of Hoppers daughter as he stands by unable to do anything for her. Will has been held captive by the Demogorgon, and as they free him they discover Will is not breathing. Chief tells Joyce to breathe in Will’s mouth for three seconds in between Chief pumping into Will’s chest. This scene is playing out as the death of Hoppers daughter is coming in and out, and you hear the sound of the beeping as Will begins to breathe again.

Truly a gripping and emotional scene, we discover that Hopper is so invested in finding Will that he is willing to give his life to save him. He is unwilling to allow Joyce Beyers to go through the pain and suffering of losing a child as he did. In the end we discover that Hopper offers himself as a deal in some way with the company that essentially released the Demogorgon, which we will learn more in the second season of the show.

The story for Hopper is one of redemption. He is stuck in his own despair, and the case of Will Beyers brings him into a greater narrative that shows him a way out of his own suffering in the means of giving himself for someone else. Giving up his own life for the life of another. He participates in a greater event than what he is fully aware of. In the gospel of John, the Lord Jesus speaks to his disciples on the greatest love of all; “…that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) In the narrative Chief finds himself called into a greater story than his own, and in this he finds the freedom and power to move forward in action. Karl Barth reflects in CD VI.1 on what it means when we say “God with Us”, and he talks about what ‘God with Us’ describes;

“It means Jesus Christ again when it describes the event of ‘God with Us’ as a redemptive event; as the fulfillment of man’s being by participation of the divine being which comes to him by the grace of God”. (CD VI.1, p. 18)

It is in the person of Christ that we find ourselves reconciled to God, and thus thrusted into a greater narrative of God’ action in the world as one of reconciliation. Our neighbor, as John Webster puts it;

“…my neighbor is no longer a threat or an obstacle, nor a function of my self-interest. My neighbor is the presence to me of a truth which obliges me to act in his or her regard… Love is a counter-movement to our runious pride.” (Holiness, p. 96)

Eleven “El” (Freedom)

The story of Eleven is a heart breaking one. We discover that her mother had been tested on for months, and was told that she had miscarried the baby. Eleven is then held captive by Dr. Martin Brenner because of her abilities. She only knows existence as a prisoner with a number. Dr. Brenner puts on the act of caring for her, but as we come to discover he only cares about her powers for his own gain and prestige. Eleven  is the one who opens up the gate to the upside down and releases the Demogorgon that captures Will. We see various testing that is done on her, and she refuses to comply at certain times, and is thrown into a dark and confined room for punishment for not listening.

Eleven escapes from her prison, and is on the run as she runs into our main heroes of the story (Mike, Lucas and Dustin). Mike takes her into his home, and hides her from the rest of his family. Their relationship begins to grow, and she slowly starts to learn what it means to be in a mutual loving relationship with another human being for the first time. Mike earns her trust by showing her unconditional love and gentleness. He even lovingly gives her the nick name “El”, by that giving her a name that is in effect far more humanizing than just a number.

As the season continues, we begin to see El begin to trust Mike and in the series finale use her powers out of love for her friends rather than fear of punishment. In here lies a wonderful and beautiful truth that echoes the apostle John; “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) In loving El with gentleness and trust, El learns how to love them in return, and out of that love moves in action to rescue them from the Demogorgon who she had such an overwhelming and paralyzing fear. Even more we can hear the apostle John; “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) El had her fears cast out by the love of Mike, and in this we see her set free from the slavery which had gripped her the whole story up until that point.

Stranger Things is a story of redemption. It is a story of being set free from fear through the love of others. It is a story we all know far to well, it is our story.

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Death, Suffering, Identity & The Will to Power; A Philosophical, Theological look at Batman V Superman (SPOILERS)

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

In the previous post we looked at this newest version of Superman, in which he has become a product of our modern secular age. We are haunted by transcendence. Our world has been flattened, disenchanted. He is conflicted, as are we, about what the right thing to do is because we ourselves have thrown off the transcendent grounds to which “the good” is grounded. The “good” is a conversation, not transcendental truths in which we are aimed. It should come as no surprise this is how Superman would be portrayed in the modern age. No identity and conflicted about what is “good” and whether or not its worth it to do good.

Towards a New Batman

As we move to look at this newest inception of Batman, I want to say how much I enjoy this version Ben Affleck is portraying. He is as close to a comic book adaptation as we have ever seen, and he is far and away the best part of the film. I wish the studio would have opted to do a solo Batman film prior to this one. They could have explored the depth and complexity of this Batman, this would have given Batman V Superman much more grip emotionally for the critics and audiences.

What is obvious is the source material for this Dark Knight is essentially right off the pages of Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. Even Jeremy Iron’s ‘Alfred’ had some lines that were word for word from a panel in DKR.

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The differences are the worlds in which these Batmen, so to speak, are placed and exist in. Affleck’s Batman is essentially thrown into the world started by Man of Steel, and he is blinded by his rage and is going to kill Superman because of the possible future threat he could pose to the world. Miller’s Batman is even older than Snyder’s version, and is very close with Superman since they worked together for years. Superman, in the Dark Knight Returns, is essentially a government pawn who does the bidding of politicians who have outlawed superheroes all together outside of Superman. Gotham is getting worse and worse with crime getting more violent, Batman returns to bring justice back to the city against the will of the Gotham City police and United States government. Their are significant similarities between the two versions of Batman, but also significant differences remain since they are telling different stories.

An Identity Rooted in Death & Suffering

In Batman V Superman, we meet a Bruce Wayne who is broken. He has lost nearly every one he has gotten close to and loved, and is weary from his time wearing the cowl. The introduction of Batman in this movie is a frightening one. You get the sense that people are terrified of the Dark Knight, as the women who he rescued from sex trafficking refuse to leave their cell because of how scared they are of “it”. The opening scene of the movie is the funeral of Wayne’s parents, and subsequently a scene of his parents death. We get the sense that Bruce still finds himself trapped at the scene of his parents death. He has, whether intentionally or unintentionally, rooted his identity in death. His identity as Batman is grounded in the death of his parents, every time he stops a crime or fights a criminal, he is essentially chasing an echo which emanates from the moment his identity was formed.

It is not only his parents death Bruce seems to be haunted by, but the death and corruption of the good guys around him. He remarks to Alfred “20 years in Gotham, how many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?” He is beaten down, cynical and is in constant agony over what has happened to him and those around him. All of this pushes him towards his complete lack of trust in Superman (not to mention the destruction that happened because of the events in Man of Steel), and why he feels the need to kill Superman before its too late and Superman turns on the world.  He has rooted his whole identity in suffering and death, this is what defines not only Bruce Wayne, but Batman as well.

The Will to Power

Toward the latter portion of the movie when we find our heroes duking it out, Batman remarks to Superman:

“I bet your parents taught you that you mean something, that you’re here for a reason, my parents taught me different lesson: dying in the gutter for no reason at all. They taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to.”

Here we see what Bruce has come to believe about the world and existence. We find the post-modern understanding of the existence of being as “primordial and inevitable violence” (Hart, 2003, p. 5). Suffering is random, and life only makes sense if you force it to. Life for Nietzsche:

“Here we must beware of superficiality and get to the bottom of the matter, resisting all sentimental weakness: life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker; suppression, hardness, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and at least, at its mildest, exploitation…not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power.” (Nietzsche, 1886, p 203)

We find this narrative to be exemplified by this inception of Batman.

Moving from this view of life, we also see this Batman participating in gruesome violence. We view him actually killing criminals, how many is not certain. While this is not a big departure from the character since other inceptions of the Dark Knight have killed (yes even Bale’s Batman killed), it is startling and really sets the tone for this version. They attempted to show the change Batman incurs from (SPOILERS) the death of Superman, and he seems to be turning back towards the character we have known historically who is principled and does everything in his abilities not to kill senselessly.

Some Final Thoughts

What interests me with superhero/comic book movies is how much these heroes represent our cultural times. Whether that’s our confusion about moral truth, and if its binding on all humanity, or if life is essentially the will to power;

While Superman can be seen as the exemplar of the modern societies moral and spiritual dilemma, Batman represents the post-modern rejection of even the confusion about these things. Life is appropriation and at the bottom primordial and inevitable violence. Life only makes sense if you force it to, you are not here for a purpose. Life is summed up by dying in a gutter for no reason at all. Batman has gotten to this place from his identity being shaped and rooted in the death of his parents and those close to him; participating in liturgies of violence which only further form and shape the kind of “hero” he has become.

Works Cited:

Hart, David Bentley; 2003, The Beauty of the Infinite

Nietzsche, Fredrich; 1886, Beyond Good and Evil

Batman V Superman, Dawn of Justice; A Review (No Spoilers)

(This post is very different from what I normally do on this blog, but I’ve been so excited for this movie I had to do my day after review)

 

This is the film I have been anticipating for the better part of 2 and a half years. Batman is far and away my favorite comic hero, for a variety of reasons, and Man of Steel is my favorite comic book movie to date. It unfortunately still is. Batman V Superman had so much potential, and for me missed the mark quite a bit. This is not to say it didn’t have anything going for it, because this movie has an enormous amount of stuff in it and has a monumental task of launching the Justice League movies and the whole of the DCEU. Let’s run through the good and bad of this film. Of course, no spoilers to be found here! Here is my favorite review of Batman V Superman I’ve read so far. Great insight.

The Good

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Ben Affleck, for me, is now the quintessential Batman. The darkness and anger we see in this newest inception of the character is everything I have wanted in a live action movie. While I still hold the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movies in extremely high regard, Bale’s version of the man in the cowl missed  some crucial elements to the character in the latter two films in the franchise.

Affleck’s Batman is essentially taken from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”,

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which is my favorite Batman story in the history of the character. He is not just a carbon copy, but takes important qualities of Miller’s Dark Knight that is so beloved by so many. His fighting style, the sheer brutality and violent nature of this version will certainly be hard for some people to accept, and like the movie, will be divisive amongst fans.

Henry Cavill was great again as Superman.

Gal Gadot was surprisingly pretty good for her short part in this movie. Her acting chops will have to hopefully grow quickly, given they are basically done filming the Wonder Woman movie, but she looks great and certainly has a great entrance in the third act of the film.

Jeremy Irons is the perfect Alfred to Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, but I was frustrated Alfred didn’t get more time on screen. More on that in the bad stuff.

The visual elements in this movie are breathtaking at times. Beautiful and grand, which is Snyder’s signature aspects of his movies.

I didn’t hate Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, although many people already have taken his portrayal of the evil doer to the woodshed. I think Eisenberg played Lex how he was written to be played: a young, maniacal, vindictive genius.

The fighting in the third act is really a spectacle to be enjoyed. Far and away the best portion of the film.

The Bad

The film is poorly edited. Not only that, but the storyline was all over the place at times. There was no real significant time given to any scene, every scene seemed rushed to possibly 3 minutes tops. This is unfortunate, because if certain things were cut, and other scenes were developed more and were allowed to linger, this could have really helped this movie. The pacing is strange in the beginning, and really picks up steam in the last hour (which was arguably the best part of the movie outside of the Batman stuff throughout). This also hurt a lot of the character development, since there was no time in the scenes to really get any significant drama that would be gripping for an audience.

The majority of the soundtrack was a let down for me. Zimmer’s score to Man of Steel still brings me to tears, teaming up with Junkie XL was a mistake for Dawn of Justice. Whatever emotional depth Zimmer brings to the project, it is stifled and loses its power from the glaring XL portions of the score.

Concluding Thoughts

I still recommend everyone go and see this movie. I really had fun watching it, and I’m going again to see it tomorrow. It is exciting to see two of the most iconic characters in comic book history sharing the screen together, and both men who play these heroes more or less having the actual physique of comic book super heroes.