Saturday, July 14, 2018

Into darkness

It's striking how some movies and movie genres tap into biblical themes. Take the symbolism of light and darkness. Both the vampire and werewolf mythos trade on that motif. Both are creatures of the night. Unlike vampires, werewolves can function in daytime, but their true identity is manifested at night, under a full moon. Conversely, the true identity of a vampire is manifested by sunlight. Both werewolves and vampires usually appear to be human, but the quality of light reveals what they really are. This is a theme in John's Gospel.

You also have movies and TV dramas about journeys. Road films. The journey is a major biblical motif that operates at different levels. Exile and homecoming. 

The Warriors (1979) combines both motifs. The action begins after sunset and concludes at daybreak. The ultimate basis of the plot is Xenophon's Anabasis. In the original, a Greek army invaded Persia. But their leader was killed in action. His army had to fight their way back home, against hostile tribes. 

In Sol Yurick's modern adaptation, the plot centers on New York city street gangs. The leader (Cyrus) of the largest gang announces a one-night truces, inviting representatives of the major gangs to a powwow in the Bronx. The objective is to unite the gangs. Together, they outnumber the cops. United, they can run the city. That's the theory.

A gang (the Warriors) from Coney Island ride the subway into the Bronx. Cyrus is shot, and the blame is pinned on the Warriors. They must fight their way back to Coney Island. 

The subway is a unifying device. The opening scene begins after nightfall with a shot of an illuminated ferris wheel. We then see the cabin lights of a subway train–like a phosphorescent millipede floating in darkness. The Warriors board the train. They travel into the heart of darkness. The pace quickens as they approach their destination.

As a street gang far outside of their jurisdiction, they are extremely vulnerable. Traveling into what would normally be enemy territory. So long as the truce holds, they are safe, but when Cyrus is shot and they are scapegoated, they find themselves deep inside enemy lines, with hostiles lurking around every corner. 

The power of the film lies in simple visual symbolism. Elemental themes of danger, darkness, travel, and bonding–as well as choreographed fight scenes. Rather Dantean. A gang girl (hooker) whom they meet in the Bronx decides to come with them. 

Due to its secular, nihilistic viewpoint, the film has no great message to impart. Indeed, as Swan exclaims, when they finally reach Coney Island, "This is what we fought all night to get back to?"

It has winners and losers, but no heroes. Life and death without purpose or redemption. 

Consider what a Christian filmmaker could do with the same themes. There are parallels with the Fourth Gospel. Jesus journeys into darkness. A journey into time (night) and space (the earth). He invades the world he made, a world that's turned against its Maker, under the dominion of a diabolical usurper (12:31). A shaft of light, slicing through the darkness. 

The denizens of this world are nocturnal creatures. And some of them are repelled by the light (Jn 3:19). Darkness is their element. 

Although omnipotent, he allows himself to be captured by the enemy and tortured to death. The journey is a round trip. From heaven to the realm of darkness and back again. But he doesn't simply return to his own abode. He leads people from the realm of darkness to the realm of light (14:3,18; 16:16; 17:24). 

Likewise, Christians are born behind enemy lines. Their mission is to lead some of their nocturnal neighbors into the light.

In addition, some Christians are literally behind enemy lines. Whatever you think of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were Christian soldiers who were a witness to Muslims. Their presence brought light to the polar night of Islam.