Tuesday, June 06, 2006


How's that for a cheery post title? Watched a bit of The Return of the King today while I was eating lunch and then Jin and I rented Aeon Flux this evening. Death is a pretty notable theme in both films, though perhaps more a sub-theme in ROTK.

My favorite bit of both Tolkien's book and the movie adaptation is when Theoden and the Riders of Rohan charge the army laying siege to Minas Tirith (how is it even possible to talk about this story without sounding like a huge nerd?). As Theoden and his men charge into battle they cry "Death!". I love this scene. For some reason the idea of a group of courageous warriors charging towards certain death on principle alone really gets to me. Setting aside questions of the validity of war and the entirely legitimate postcolonial critiques of Tolkien's presentation of his villains, I think that there is something here concerning the nature of mortality that we need to remember. Tolkein is reminding us that there are worse things in the world than dying. Indeed death, under the right circumstances, is a noble thing.

Then there's Aeon Flux which was a good deal better than I expected it to be (granted my expectations were pretty low). What surprised me was the strong message concerning the importance of human mortality. The essential theme of the film was that as humans we need to die, otherwise our lives will lack both meaning and morality. Again, setting aside questions concerning the ultra-violent nature of such films, I think that this movie is making an important point. Death creates ultimate consequence which helps to challenge us to explore the meaning of our fleeting lives and to live in a way that honours that meaning.

This sentiment is also echoed in the Christian story. Death is not merely a punishment in the primeval history, it is also the means by which humanity is protected from eternal corruption. I have frequently heard Christian pastors claim that Christians will never die, but will merely shed this body and live on as spiritual beings in heaven. This ain't the way the story goes (at least as I read it). We all die. What Christianity promises is not simply immortality but a mortal life, death, and then resurrection unto eternal life (check out 1 Cor. 15).

Moral of the story: death is good...kinda...how about good-ish? Okay death scares the hell out of me, but there's one good thing that it does. It keeps me (and all of us I think) honest. The fact that all of this is guaranteed to end reminds me that it's worth something in the first place. So, here's to death...it's a sonofabitch, but it sure makes life worth living.


the Doug said...

Howdy Colin! Wassup?
Death is a great theme isn't it? It is here that I think that we could take the discussion a few steps further...

When people talk about not dying are they speaking relatively? One might argue that the death that a Christian is not really death when compared to the judgement of the non-penitent.
Go the other way and talk about the current death, is the death that Genesis 2:17 (God telling them the consequences of eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil tree - maybe it was a pinecone type thing, but I digress) is that death a process, certainly there is a "not yet" portion to the curse, but there is certainly also a "now" portion to the curse. Add to this discussion (well it's happening in my head if no one else's) the ideas of "death to self" and what really is death?

Although I agree with you on how vivid the "ride for ruin and the world's ending... death, death, death " bit that's intense.

Peace ;-)

Colin said...

Well, I was just talking about physical death in the post. As to the first bit you mention concerning Christians not really dying, that's actually the point I was trying to make. I'm fine with the concept of an afterlife, and unlike lots of Christian theologians of a more progressive bent I don't really have a problem with hell either. What I'm saying is that we need to understand that, apart from perhaps one verse, Scripture essential paints the picture of death as a very final (though reversable) situation. We don't die and then get whisked away, we die and then later, when Christ returns, we get resurrected. Now, you're welcome to not believe any of that, but I'm not sure how you would make a case that Scripture teaches something else.

As for the rest...this post is long so perhaps I'll come back to it later...the bits about dying to self are, I think, some of the best and most interesting stuff Christianity has to offer. Ta-ta for now.