You may have noticed our contemporary society’s fascination with the themes of fantasy and superheroes. Take movies as an example: these blockbusters would include Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Iron Man, the Batman series, Superman, and the list goes on. Have you ever wondered why we are so enthralled by these books and movies? It has recently crossed my mind, and hence this blog entry.
A couple of clear themes stand out for me as I reflected upon this issue. A first theme: today society and the media tell us: “what you see is what you get”, and with this mentality, the sense of the transcendent is lost for the most part. People are born, they live a normal life, they die, and that’s the end of it. In such a scenario, there is no room for metaphysical realities such as God, angels, demons, the eternal soul, and miracles. But the reality is that we were created for great things! Not “normal”, “ordinary” things of this world, but great things!
In the first chapter of Genesis, God says: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). We are made to be an image of the extraordinary God! In our very nature we have therefore a longing, or rather, an “in-built” inclination for the extraordinary, the unnatural. One cannot truly tame a lion – there will always be in him that wild spirit which longs to break out. It is the same with us: somewhere beneath that web of lies spun by our society, there is the undeniable thirst for the divine that we all feel. Repress it as much as you like, you’ll never tame it! This can explain part of the public’s fascination with superhero-fantasy themes. These bring us back to that very longing for something more than “what we see is what we get”.
A second theme that I have picked up from these movies is the hero’s painful road to self-discovery and greatness. Think of the heroes that we all love so much: Gandalf the Grey had to die to become Gandalf the White in Lord of the Rings; I don’t even know how many different near-death experiences Harry Potter had en route to his maturity; Clark Kent had to discover his identity as Cal-El from the planet Krypton through various "episodes" in Superman; Thor was banished from his planet until he found himself; similar things can be said of all the other comic book heroes.
The thread that runs through all of these stories is undeniably that of the Paschal Mystery of Our Lord. That singular event in history, that transformative moment of immense proportions, is a part of our world and our human experience whether we like it or not. It is Jesus who suffered, died, and was raised from the dead, thereby conquering death and evil. We can no longer speak of this story in the society or through the media because of the secularization of the West, but that doesn’t mean that we are not still drawn to it. You will be hard pressed to find a superhero-fantasy movie without this element. The superhero always suffers first before saving everyone. That’s what it means to be a superhero!
Undoubtedly, you will find more of these themes, and please do share them in the “comment” section below; but before I end, let me ask you a question: What have you noticed about yourself as you left the cinema after watching one of these movies? What impact has it made on you? I speak for myself: I noticed that I felt consolation in the Ignatian sense: being drawn closer to God through an increase of faith, hope, and love. There was definitely a sense of hope: we need heroes like this today, and we can all be these heroes! There was also love: love for those that need our help and our service. Finally, there was an increase of faith: if superheroes can do such “great” things on the screen even though they’re not real, how much more can we do with the help of something real, that is, God’s grace? If only we had enough faith to do it! Finally, there was that sense of overall well-being because good has conquered evil.
Perhaps Hollywood is unconsciously working on our side at least a tiny bit. I hope that all who watch such movies will take the time to reflect on the impact the movies have made on them. They will come to discover their deeper longings of their heart and, when done honestly, these will undoubtedly lead them to their Source, God. I encourage you all to engage your non-believing friends on such topics. God willing, they will allow themselves to be touched by God through these stories.