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Finding Jesus in Superhero Movies

January 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Book Club, Sarah Reinhard

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Seeds of the Word (Week 4 of 11)

Confession: I’m a fan of superhero movies.

It’s my husband’s fault. He introduced me to Iron Man and we’ve made date nights again and again as new movies have been released.

While we mostly stay with the Marvel universe (cleaner and interwoven so delightfully), I can’t help but notice how these suited men trying to save the world from evil have a lot in common with some other men I love.

 

In his essay about The Dark Knight Rises, Bishop Barron draws parallels between Christ and Batman:

Consciously or not, the archetype of Christ the Savior still haunts the imaginations of our writers, critics, philosophers, and especially our filmmakers.

When Barron talks about some of my favorite superheroes, he draws some other fascinating parallels of the same sort:

What is it about these stories—and the Spider-Man tale in particular—that fascinate us? I suggest that it has something to do with Christianity, more precisely, with the strange hybrid figure around which all of the Christian religion revolves.

St. Athanasius’s most significant contribution to the Christological debates of the early century of the Church’s life was a soteriological argument for the dual nature of Jesus. In the saint’s pithy formula: only a human being could save us; and only God could save us. If Jesus were only divine—as the Monophysites argued—then his saving power wouldn’t be truly applied to us. If he were only human—as the Arians and Nestorians argued—then he could not really lift us out of the morass of sin and guilt in which we find ourselves mired. In a word, salvation was possible only through a God-man, someone in the world but not of it, someone like us in all things but sin, and at the same time utterly unlike us.

I can’t help but hear an echo of the ancient Christological doctrine in the latest films featuring Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. All three of these superheroes are hybrids—combinations of the extraordinary and ordinary. In all three cases we have someone who, in his lowliness, is able completely to identify and sympathize with our suffering and, in his transcendence, is able to do something about it.

I’m struck, as I wander through essays about movies I didn’t really care about before I started reading, that Barron has a way of engaging topics and people.

“Engage” is a hot word: as a marketer, it’s the pot of gold that we’re always after. We want to interact with our audience, convince them to take action, make the call to action irresistible.

Evangelization is a sort of marketing of our religion, isn’t it? Except…it’s really more authentic and honest, at least it is if it’s done well.

We all want a connection, and good marketers give you a link to that, a way to reach out and touch someone. That’s why companies are on social media, trying to get into your inbox, creating experiences that make you bond with their product.

I’m reminded, as I journey through these movies, that word-of-mouth remains the strongest form of marketing, and with good reason.

When someone I know and trust tells me to see a movie, I believe them. They know me. They wouldn’t steer me wrong.

And neither will Bishop Barron.

His goal, though, isn’t necessarily to get me to see the movie. If I do, though, he’s right there, outside the theater doors, discuss aspects of my viewing that I might have never considered.

In my case, he’s giving me impetus to put down my books and hunt some movies on Netflix.

Reading Assignment:

Noah – Ends and Means

Discussion Questions:

1. What superhero seems most Christ-like to you? How do you see the parallels between these current superhero movies and Christ’s story?

2. Which of these movies have you seen? How did Barron’s insights resonate (or not) with you?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Sarah Reinhard

Sarah Reinhard continues to delight ”and be challenged by” her vocations of Catholic wife and mother. She's online at SnoringScholar.com and is the author of a number of books for families.

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  • Patricia

    Christopher Nolan, who produced the Batman series, has allegorical references of Christ, The Blessed Virgin, Satan, the Eucharist, saving humankind etc. throughout his series of movies. Although not about a superhero, a more recent movie “Interstellar” was a specular movie about God, time, eternity, and man’s place in the universe.

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