Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tilting at Dinosaurs

As a small child, I enjoyed watching dinosaur movies with my older brother. He had a great deal of scientific knowledge on the subject of dinosaurs and their fossils, and there was something about listening to his erudite juvenile commentary that made the black and white movies we watched, with their jerking model monsters and painted sets, more thrilling and real.

Today's sci-fi films are even more believable, thanks to truly incredible special effects such as digital animation and animatronics to create realistic monsters (or would a more politically correct term be "alternative species"?).

Ultimately, however, what draws us as the audience into these fictional landscapes, whether of dinosaurs or androids, is not the realism of the monsters. It is the human challenges posed for the dramatis personae. And this is why a movie about dinosaurs can seem relevant and gripping. It’s not about T. Rex, it's about us.

Sci-fi films provide us with a fresh canvas on which to wrestle with the issues of being human and finding meaning for our lives. The extreme landscapes of dinosaurs and volcanoes, or aliens and spaceships, just serve to throw into stark relief the age-old questions that face humanity.

The hapless humans who find themselves transported to a landscape featuring [insert monster here] always have the same goal: to conquer the challenges and survive while maintaining their higher values.

For the sake of the drama, the dinosaurs/monsters appear to have anthropomorphic personalities – they're either angry, friendly, dopey, or calculatingly evil (not to mention always hungry). The human characters are usually a mix of flawed leaders, self-interested villains, entrepreneurs, skeptics, and followers, all of whom need a "savior" to show them how to get back to the present, or at least create a better status quo.

And who is that savior? In the movies, sometimes it is a person (also known as "the good guy") who becomes a gifted leader who can rally the masses and lead them to safety. Sometimes it is God Himself appearing in the form of a miraculous event, such as a landslide that kills the last of the dinosaurs mid-pursuit. This latter case is known as deus ex machina, a reference from classical Greek theater, meaning that a god-like intervention is required to save the people from a hopeless situation.

Hmm, when you look at a movie from that standpoint, how very like it is to everyday life! Even though in a fictional work the deus ex machina device tends to strain one’s belief in the plot, miracles happen all the time in real life. As Christians we would call it grace. And what about the savior figure? Do we not already know who he is in our lives?

Throughout modern history, followers of Christ have bravely faced landscapes every bit as ferocious as prehistoric islands crammed with ravenous alternative species. They have proclaimed the Truth in hostile religious climates when to do so meant martyrdom. They have witnessed and held meetings in secret while living under oppressive political regimes. They have clung to the teachings of the Bible when permissive societies mocked and marginalized them. And they have always succeeded in protecting the faith and passing it on to future generations.

As Christians, we already know who our Savior is, and we have God's grace helping us through every challenge that arises. That should give us courage when the world we inhabit seems hostile and alien. As Saint Paul said, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

Dinosaurs on your path? Be not afraid. Your battle is already won.

© 2005 by Cynthia Edwards. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment