The Subject-Matter of Sin in “The Village”, “Babel”, and “I Am Legend”

Would you believe me if I had told you the world is seriously talking about the problem of sin and they are looking for deliverance from God?  Well, it is true.  They are.  All that happened in a different language that Christians might not have understood.  In the last four years, three different movies, directed by three different directors, explored the subject of sin with such depth that not even Christian films have commonly achieved.  They looked at the subject matter from very different angles and dealt with completely different concerns. 

 

The Village

Analysis

  1. Night Shyamalan made his debut in 1999 with The Sixth Sense; however, I think his best work so far is The Village. In this 2004 production, he dealt with the ontological nature of man to do evil. The story is about a group of people who suffered from losing loved ones to violent crimes in the city.  In order to protect their next generation from the same violence, they retreated to live in a hidden national forest that was under the no-fly-zone.  For years they lived in the simple lifestyle of the 18th century, alienating the younger generation from the outside world by telling them there were evils in the forbidden forest.  The elders believed that they could preserve peaceful life by eliminating modern civilization and influence from elsewhere.  Nevertheless, violence seeped in.  Ironically, the one who committed violence was a mentally retarded young man whom they called ‘the innocent one.’  Symbolism fills the film.  It is truly a fine piece of literature.

Shyamalan’s message is loud and clear.  The violent nature of mankind is inherent.  The characters in the movie attempted to shut it out by removing themselves from the environment of violence, to the extent of even prohibiting the color of blood.  In the end, violence came to the village not from the outside world but from within.  A secondary theme ran through the story under the main framework.  While a young man refrained from showing his affection for the girl he loved, their widowed parents, played by William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver, also suppressed their emotions for each other.  “Sometimes we don’t do certain things because we do not want others to know that we want to do them.” On the surface, this line seems to describe the suppressed emotions of the two male characters; on the other hand, the larger thematic discussion of violent nature calls for a more careful scrutiny. 

I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.

-Romans 7:15-18

           

Hurt never touched Weaver in the movie because he did not want others to know that his affection for her.  In a larger sense, Shyamalan might be saying that the villagers avoided violence so much because they did not want others to know that they wanted to do violence.  This idea echoes what Paul says in Romans about sinful nature.  Our want is depraved.  What comes out of our hands might not be what we truly wish for.  What Christians call sin, The Village depicts as violence. 

Theological Reflection

           Louis Berkhof tells us the origin of sin began with the transgression of Adam in Genesis 3.  Yielding to the temptation, Adam introduced sin to humankind by eating the forbidden fruit.  His disobedience caused him to become the bond-servant of sin.  Carrying the characteristic of permanent pollution, sin affected not only Adam but all his descendants because of the solidarity of the human race.  In this way, Adam sinned not only as the father of all man but also as the representative head of all his descendants.  This is what Paul teaches in Romans when he says, “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned (5:12).”

            As a result of the fall of the father of the human race, we are all born with a depraved human nature.  No one is exempted.  When Christians of different eras attempted to understand how sin is passed from one generation to another, various explanations were ventured.  Believers with counseling background have provided insights of how a person’s destructive behaviors can be traced back to the family of origin.  In What So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey tells the story of a broken family and a prodigal son with a rage whose temperament could be traced back all the way to four generations ago to an alcoholic father who abused his wife and children.  While counseling might have provided a good understanding of the power of the sin curse, the limit exists in the illusion that the environment causes the results.  In other words, the son behaves a certain way because the father treated him in the similar way.  However, the Christian concept of sin goes much deeper than that.  Sin has taken root in the depraved human nature.  The removal of the “sinful” environment cannot bring to the coming of a sinless world.  Incidentally, I believe this is what Shyamalan is saying in The Village. 

Babel

Analysis

            The title of this film comes straight out of Genesis eleven.  The subject of sin weaves the four individual but interconnected stories which make up the movie.  Through the brilliant storytelling, the audience witnesses the universality of sin.  The characters came from four different parts of the world, therefore telling stories of four different cultures.  In each case, sin expresses itself in a very different form.  For the teenage girl in Japan, it was her defiant self-destructive behaviors.  For the American couple, it was the tension of their marriage.  For the family in Morocco, it was violence and lustful desires between siblings.  In the Mexican scene, it was unintentional harm.  The film’s title apparently points to the biblical reference that the world had sinned, which caused God to scatter them over all the earth and to confuse their languages.  Surely, characters in this movie came from different parts of the world, spoke different languages, and they all suffered from the consequence of sin. 

            With the divergent depiction of sin, the director also portrayed a sense of sadness or brokenness common to all stories.  The defiant teenage girl from Japan came from a broken home.  Although her father was a very wealthy man, she did not find fulfillment in her possessions.  She was a lonely girl wanting to be accepted and loved.  The American couple could not find a way to connect with each other.  Frustration and disappointment bridge them.  It was not until the wife was shot in the shoulder and risked dying from bleeding that brought them together emotionally.  In a way, what they experienced in the physical world portrayed their emotional reality.  The husband agonized over his wife’s pain but felt completely powerless to rescue her.  In the emotional world, the wife’s pain came from the distancing of her husband.  And, the husband, who also felt the pain of a dying relationship, had no resource to revive the marriage.  The tragedy of the Morocco family came when the older son was shot to death by the police.  And, the Mexican baby-sitter almost caused the death of the two children even when she loved them so much. 

Theological Reflection

            The story of Babel belongs to the first eleven chapters of Genesis where Bible scholars usually attribute to the “prehistoric” era.  In a way, these eleven chapters set the stage for needing God’s deliverance for mankind.  Since creation, things began to go bad from chapter three; and it continued to go downhill.  After the fall, Cain murdered his brother Abel.  Then Lamech became more violent than Cain.  The sons of God joined with the daughters of men, and God wiped out mankind save Noah.  But, sin continued to thrive—even from the righteous clan of Noah.  Humankind multiplied.  They became a great nation.  And, the story of Babel concluded the section.  God confused the language of man and scattered them over the world.  Now, sin was all over together with men.  It was at this point that the curtain opened for the introduction of Abraham in chapter twelve.  God called out the one who was named “the father of many” to reverse the sin curse through blessings. 

            While The Village explores the inherent sinful nature of man, Babel speaks of its universality.  Sin is trans-cultural.  Although people from different parts of the world may display a variety of its expressions, they share the solidarity of brokenness.  Christians explain that the disobedience of man causes the world to descend to its fallen state.  The outworking of depravity appears in all areas of human life.  It affects the relationships we cherish, the choices we make, and the desires we aspire.  When we want to do good, we would end up with bad.  When we wish to build up, we would end up with tearing down.  In a way, sin is a very theologicalterm.  It differs in the common understanding of morally deprived actions.  Greed, adultery, murder, and deceit are sins; but more so, they are the result of Sin.  The fallenness of mankind points to the inability of man to do good.  A sinful man is, therefore, a broken man. 

I am Legend

Analysis

            A terrible virus has spread across the planet and turned the human race into bloodthirsty monsters.  Mankind’s only hope for survival is scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith), the one person left unaffected by the epidemic.  When he’s not fighting for his life against the hordes of the infected, Neville searches for a cure to reverse the virus’s effects—all the while battling his own doubt and despair as he spends every day alone.  (Description of the story from the Netflix sleeve)

            I was surprised to find the movie has such a strong religious tone.  At the beginning when Will Smith raced down the streets of New York in his car, the director used a still lens to show a half-torn billboard that says “God still loves us”.  Then, a woman, who was on her venture looking for the remaining surviving colony of mankind, found Smith from her hearing the voice of God.  An argument of whether there was a God arose.  At the end, Smith died in the shadow of Christ symbolism. 

            The theme of the movie seems to focus on the self-destructiveness of humankind.  The disaster arose from a scientist’s endeavor to find the cure for cancer.  The manipulation of DNA turned the people who received the vaccine into monsters.  These distorted species carried a virus that continued to spread until it became a global epidemic.  The depiction of the darkness of human nature is evident in this movie.  However, the message is different from that of The Village.  Shyamalan says the evilness in man is inherent, but I am Legend depicts evilness comes from man’s effort to do good.  If there is any common ground, it would be the uncontrollability.  In a conversation between Neville and the woman who saved him, the director brought to light this message through the mouth of Neville.  He said, “God didn’t do it.  We did it to ourselves.” Humankind roamed the surface of the earth for thousands of years.  We have risen buildings taller than hills.  We have invented technologies that brought us into space.  We have created civilizations of great wonders.  And, we have brought ourselves to our own destruction.  Current topics of global warming and ecological disasters make this notion coming very close to home.  Mankind no longer believes their advancement in science and technology will bring them a brighter future.  On the contrast, they will become the means to their own destruction.  

            The death of Dr. Neville at the end of the movie is noteworthy.  Neville finally found the cure to reverse the infection but not before a horde of infected beings found where he lived.  As he was calling out “Stop!  I can help you.  I’ve found the cure for you,” these fallen beings mindlessly threw themselves to break down the glass door that was blocking them from their prey.  That scene reminds me of the Jews’ crying out in zeal “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” In the same way, fallen beings at a different time killed the savior who came to rescue them. 

Theological Reflection

            Salvation, in Christianity, has much to do with reversing the curse of perishing.  The widely known John 3:16 says:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish

When God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he said “for when you eat of it you will surely die (Gen 2:17).” Although Adam did not die in the sense generally understood, most scholars agree that the reality of death was realized in the spiritual sense.  Eventually, the spiritual death of Adam led to his bodily death and of his descendants, which was underscored in Genesis 5.  “Life” in the Bible means more than a physiological state.  It always implies blessings.  God intends for mankind to have life—a glorious reflection of the goodness and creativeness of God.  The disobedience of Adam brought forth the fallen state.  Instead of glory, we are living a distorted version of humanity.  In other words, we are not the man whom God has intended for us to be.  And, this distorted version of humanity seems to have an uncontrollable tendency of self-destruct. 

            Historically, the greatest enemy to mankind is not natural disasters, diseases, or predators but other men.  The two world wars, the Cultural Revolution in China, genocides in Germany, Rwanda, and Sudan stood as witnesses to the brutality of mankind.  The destructiveness is observed not only in power struggle but also in the progression of civilization.  In 1870, John Wesley Hyatt developed a method of pressure-working a cellulose nitrate.  His product, patented under the trademark Celluloid, became what we know today as plastics.  After celebrating the cheap and durability of this material for more than one hundred years, we have now discovered that it is one of the worst environmental friendly materials.  However, if plastics disappear from this planet tomorrow, our world will simply collapse.  Consequently, we have to continue to live in a way that is harmful to our planet.  This is the subject matter of I am Legend. 

Exegeting the Culture

            The world is talking about things that Christians want to discuss.  The world sees the inherent violent nature of man.  They mourned over the universal brokenness that causes so much sadness.  Moreover, they acknowledge the uncontrollable self-destructive madness inside them that they are not shy in saying they need “salvation.” In essence, they are portraying a very biblical picture of “sin”—only that they are using very different vocabularies.  Now, pastors, what is the gospel message that you would tell them? 

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