Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
The “Harry Potter” series used to be associated with cries of “witchcraft!” that brought to mind Frollo from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II,” however, was an extraordinarily Christian tale. The story deals with the temptation offered by the demonic Horcruxes created by the evil Lord Voldemort in an effort to become immortal. It turns Severus Snape from a liar, traitor and murderer into one of the most incredible redemption stories in modern times as well as cementing him as a fan favorite. “Deathly Hallows Part II” also contains one of the most blatant allegories for Christ’s resurrection found in secular film. Just before the climactic final battle, Harry Potter walks willingly to face Lord Voldemort alone and unarmed. He then allows Voldemort to kill him. Death, however, does not stick for the Boy Who Lived. Harry spends a brief time on the other side where he has a conversation with his late mentor, Albus Dumbledore, while the soul of Voldemort suffers in the corner. Then, Harry returns to life and defeats the forces of darkness for good. Hmm, who else did something like this?
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The “Star Wars” series has all sorts of hidden Christian references, including the mention that the main character in the prequel movies, Anakin Skywalker, had no father. He was conceived by a woman without a man involved. “Return of the Jedi,” however, has the most consistent Christian references. In the final installment of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker is tempted by the Dark Side of the Force by both the evil Emperor and his father, Darth Vader. Luke at one point nearly gives in and attacks his father. At the last moment, Luke realizes what he has done and shows his injured father mercy, declaring himself on the side of the light once and for all. The Emperor, of course, does not care for this young man refusing to kill his father and then declaring himself an enemy. As such, the Emperor attempts to kill Luke. Vader, however, intervenes and casts off the chains of the Dark Side in order to save his son.
“Return of the Jedi” follows the story of Luke’s temptation and near fall as well as the redemption and salvation of Darth Vader. After years of darkness, Darth Vader is saved due to the love he feels for his son. Stories of temptation, redemption and salvation, of course, are arguably the bedrock of Christianity.
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
J.R.R. Tolkien was a good friend of C.S. Lewis in real life, and Tolkien’s devout Catholicism was part of the reason C.S. Lewis converted to Christianity. Both writers wove their faith throughout their novels, though Tolkien was a bit more subtle about it in “Lord of the Rings” than Lewis was in “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Still, the movie adaptation of Tolkien’s novel shows off a number of those Christian themes.
In “The Fellowship of the Ring,” an unusual group of nine people must journey across Middle Earth to destroy the One Ring, the source of the Dark Lord Sauron’s power and his tether to immortality. Naturally, everything goes wrong along the journey. The Fellowship ends up scattered to the winds and will not be reunited again until the final movie in the trilogy, “Return of the King.”
Although all of the “Lord of the Rings” films display Tolkien’s Christian ideals, “The Fellowship of the Ring” has arguably the most obvious Christian themes. The One Ring, for example, is shown to be essentially temptation given form. It drives all who hold it too long mad and can influence those around it into taking destructive actions in order to pursue power or personal pleasure. One of the few people who can withstand its power is Aragorn, the lost king of Gondor.
Aragon is the heir to Gondor’s throne, but he is not what anyone expects from a king. He is quiet, unassuming and living in the wilderness. Not unlike how a certain King was born in a stable and lived as a humble carpenter. To further the parallels, when Aragorn is initially revealed as the heir to the throne, one of his countrymen in the Fellowship, Boromir, sneers at Aragorn and denies that Gondor needs a king. Neither, of course, did Jerusalem. Boromir is eventually overwhelmed by temptation for the Ring and attacks another member of the Fellowship, Frodo, to try and take it. Frodo escapes and Boromir is mortally wounded when their enemies use the chaos to attack. As Boromir lays dying, he seeks Aragorn’s forgiveness for giving into the call of the Ring. Aragorn forgives him, and Boromir declares that Aragorn is his king with his dying breaths. The forgiveness of sins and a hidden king should strike a chord with most Christians.
It sounds ridiculous that a movie centered on a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” who flies around in a weaponized metal suit could be a Christian story, but Tony Stark actually has quite the Christian arc in his first movie. Unlike many movies with Christian themes, Tony is not a Christ-like figure or someone who battles the personification of evil. Instead, “Iron Man” tells a very different story: a conversion story. Tony Stark starts out on top of the world. He is a billionaire who spends much of his time drinking, gambling and sleeping with supermodels. On a business trip to Afghanistan, however, he is kidnapped by terrorists and forced to undergo experimental surgery to survive his injuries. He is tortured by the terrorists who want him to make weapons for them, and bonds with a fellow prisoner, Yinsen. In the process, Yinsen discovers that Tony’s life, while filled with worldly pleasures, is really very empty. He has no family and few to no friends. Tony manages to escape, but Yinsen gives his own life in order to save Tony. With his final words he begs Tony “don’t waste your life.” When Tony finally returns home to America, he immediately begins working to undo the wrongs he has allowed to happen in the world and becomes a superhero in the process.
Now, most Christian testimonies do not end with a flying gold-titanium alloy suit powered by a futuristic, self-sustaining green energy source. The basic arc, however, mirrors Tony Stark’s story. A man is on top of the world, but there is something missing from his life. He is knocked down to rock bottom and faces the reality of his wasted life and sins. He finds salvation and works to make up for his mistakes and live a better life. While Tony builds the Iron Man suit instead of getting on his knees in prayer, the basic story of redemption and a person being forced to face their sinful life should be pretty familiar to any Christian.
“Schindler’s List” is easily the darkest film of the five movies discussed here, but this Holocaust tale belongs on just about any index of movies with Christian themes. “Schindler’s List” is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jews during World War II by employing them in his factories. Schindler spent his entire fortune bribing Nazi officials to protect his workers.
Oskar Schindler, and by extension the film “Schindler’s List,” is about as much of a redemption story as can be found. Schindler was a Nazi Party member and worked passing intelligence to the Nazis for years, but during World War II he turned his life around. Schindler did everything in his power to keep his workers, mostly Jews, safe, and he saved more than 1,200 people from the gas chambers. He embodied both the redemption narrative and the Christian idea that there is no greater love than “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”