As a child, I was always a fan of X-Men. I watched the cartoons religiously. Absolutely loved Storm and Wolverine and so was delighted when the films came out. For me, the films/cartoons were entertaining; the colours, the adventures – the super powers.
And as I grew older I began to see correlations between the mutants fight to be ‘allowed’ to live, and the civil rights movement. Professor Xavier was obviously Dr Martin Luther King and Magneto was Malcolm X. To this day, I’d like to think I’d be in Professor X’s camp… but I could very well find myself agreeing with elements of Malcolm X’s ‘by any means necessary’ ideology. The crossover here is obvious – and to one like me who resides within the space these crossovers create, I am acutely aware of the layers and implication of meaning. But the new X-Men does something different, it challenges our ideologies further.
Whereas previous X-Men films challenged these big issues, of equality and coexistence within this world we share; one ‘culture’ fighting for dominance; one ‘life-form’ (mutants are still humans albeit an evolved form… and so the argument of superiority comes to the fore, presenting obvious correlations with Hitler and his Aryan race https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aryan_race) the latest film has gone even further, challenging what good and evil are and presenting a new spin on how we perceive these elements. And they tackle the big question- Does God exist?
Evil, from my point of view, has always been within the actions of humans. The devil, I have always perceived to be a trickster, with more sinister and dangerous connotations than the word suggests, but one of his greatest tricks, I have always been taught, is the lie that he doesn’t exist. If the devil doesn’t exist, it ‘frees’ us up to behave as badly as we want, without consequences; for if we have no evil, and no Devil, there can be no God either. Human beings are wired up to sin, take away the evil sin element and we have permission to do what comes naturally. The devil’s job is to get us to behave so badly that we risk losing our eternal soul – he can, according to God’s rules, claim ownership over it. If we don’t realise or don’t believe the rules of the game, or even to believe it’s a game in the first place, we’re more much more likely to lose. If we do not see the value or recognise the booty – our soul, then how can we do what we need to do to protect it? The Devil distracts us so we can miss the boat, miss our opportunity at eternal life. This trick of his is simple yet brilliant. And time is on his side.
So what does this have to do with the X-Men film? Sticking to tradition, the film, is packed full of allegorical meanings and symbolism through visual imagery and representations. Except they have taken these allegorical layers deeper still. When creating a film, something that you wish to have an impact… how do you create a villain that is more evil than anything that has gone before? How do you shock and wow the audience? How do you make them afraid at the sheer enormity, the sheer scale of evil that your villain represents? How do you make your audience terrified of him?
How about creating an oxymoron for effect? How about making your devil a God?
This film is an epic tale with biblical proportions. Visually it is stunning, but the concepts and ideologies it raises are also on an epic scale. The evil character presents himself as God – and has God-like powers. The film starts with a voice-over discussing what would happen if people are given God-like powers; perhaps they would see themselves as a God. Here it is interesting to point out that the narrator subtly implies that there has to be a God to issue these powers, which conflicts with what the rest of the film suggests – that there is no God.
Just like there is no God, the film suggests there is no Devil; and the concepts of good and evil, God and The Devil, are interchangeable. I would argue that they are right, and they are wrong.
The ‘God’ in the film, sees it as his job to ‘cleanse’ the world of what humanity had become in his absence. His power is absolute and literally turns the structures we built our world on, to dust, which immediately evokes the ‘dust to dust, ashes to ashes’ that derives from the English burial service. Herein we see the idea that God created us from dust, and we are returned to dust at the end of all things – therefore playing with fears within us all. Which is, come the end of all things, we will cease to exist; we will be nothing but the dust that blows in the air. We have fears of an almighty force that can bring about the finality of that ending; a force that can literally turn us to dust with the power of his will.
In this character reducing the world to dust, he is firstly claiming his right as a God to end all things, but also asserting himself as THE God at the same time – reminiscent for us Christians of the warning of false Gods. This apocalyptic destruction also has the presumption of a rebirth afterwards – a utopia or heaven. Those who were considered ‘weaker’ were to be wiped away, and the stronger mutants able to survive his apocalypse, would inherit the earth. A mighty prize, which suggests that this ‘God’ character believed the earth to be his to do with what he would. The fear here again reinforces our powerlessness against such a force – one would not want to be on the wrong side of God, and here it suggests that if you were ‘weak’ it was a flaw resulting in you being wiped out by a God that deemed you unworthy. It has connotations of a child’s demanding the world to be a certain way, and throwing toys out of the pram in a temper tantrum. When people do not need his exacting standards, this ‘adult’ child has the tantrum-type personality traits, which evokes images of a petulant child screaming to get their own way – this becomes more fearful if this child was given the power to wipe out all, without thought, or guilt or remorse. This ‘child’ with unimaginable powers than none can rival, strikes fear into the hearts of the audience – tapping into our need to control. To control – or be controlled, we seem to think that they are our only choices.
Arrogance and pride saturated within the ‘God’ character – which ironically illustrated exactly how un God-like he was. Which reminds me of something my mother has always told me – know your enemy. If you recognise him, you are able to fight. But you must also know your bible, for if you can recognise your God, you are easily able to denounce false Gods. The ignorant here, would believe this being was a God – not the educated. (Although, to be fair, it hardly matters if he turns you to dust by just flicking his fingers!?)
The film was shocking; the level of destruction epic, and as one got drawn into the film, one wondered, where was the real God? Where is God? A question that many of us has thought when the world faces destruction on epic proportions – Where is God? And in the film… he does not materialise but His absence is felt. In the beginning of the film is the striking image of good and evil embroiled within a battle. You see an angelic figure, who later goes on to become one of the Horsemen of Apocalypse – The angelic figure representing an Archangel. This idea of the four horsemen pre-quelling the apocalyptic destruction of the world, is grounded in biblical ideologies http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/05/17/who-are-the-four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse-a-bible-study/
So we can argue that this film, is a criticism of religion and God. We either live in a world without a God, or He is silent to our cries. And as such, possession of the world is up for grabs. We have systems, and we have those dictators who try to take control, another theme that the film explores – religion, it can be argued, is just another system of control.
In our legitimate systems, Superpowers are presented, countries like the United States and Russia. They are Superpowers and therefore have control over the rest of us; which suggests that the strongest should be in control – and suggests that weakness cannot be seen as something positive or worthwhile. Which makes me think of Jesus, the ‘servant King.’ He lives in a world of opposites. He argues that we are all special… but if we are all special, surely none of us are? How can we die in order to live? How can three people/elements combine to create one? The holy Trinity? This appears to be a difficult concept for us, even though we are a living example of this Trinity: Mind, body and soul, coexisting as one. Although, you can also argue that these are not separate entities as presented in the Bible but melded into one – and not all of us believe in the concept of a soul. My point is, that we cannot know. That undermines completely what religion is about – we must have faith and believe. And within this oxymoronic idea, rests, I believe, God and Jesus. This film, ironically, does what it is in human’s nature to do: it tries to define, to explain, to document and present what cannot be pinned down.
Jean Grey is an example of this within the film. She struggles to control her gift, pin it down, but it is only in letting go, surrendering (to what one might ask? I would argue, surrendering to God) that she is able to be all of who she is – all of who her creator intended her to be. And it is in the surrendering that she ‘cleanses,’ through fire – the natural cleansing element.
The film also deals with what makes us human. Wolverine is chained and used as a weapon. When Jean Grey sets him free, it is evident that he looks like a man, but is clearly a dangerous animal. And she gives him something. Using her gift, she gives him some if his memories, his human memories; his humanity. This suggests to me that in life, we run the risk of losing who we are, losing what makes us human. And when we do, we become a dangerous animal with no sense of humanity – Hitler. Magneto also has problems with identifying with his humanity, but he becomes consumed by grief – which again turns him into a ruthless monster without any empathy. He is ‘saved’ by his friends reminding him of his humanity.
Being human means existing within the middle ground between good and evil; between God and The Devil. But we can’t stay here forever -life changes us, transforms us. Into what, is our choice, but we need to be aware that life can literally make us into monsters.
In true theme of the film, playing on opposites; it is The Beast which displays our greatest human trait – love, in the form of his love for Mystique.
The film is swimming in oxymoronic ideas and metaphors creating a multi-layered piece of art. There is the idea of betrayal in the character of Magneto. Humanity betrayed him and so he betrays them? He betrays the X-Men and all they stand for? Grief here is presented as the element with the power to strip a human and transform him into a deadly force which destroys – ergo grief is the thing that can utterly destroy us. Although, it is only one of many and it sometimes feels like they are lining up to try their luck.
Which reminds me of what God asks us to do. To have faith and follow him. We must believe without seeing. But the whole make-up of the human being requires us to know; we have a thirst for knowledge and power. And here we link with our theme of betrayal. Some argue that God did indeed betray us. He created us; nothing happens without him allowing it to happen. As humans we thirst for knowledge and power and therefore how can we consciously go against our unconscious desires to do and be all of what God requires of us? Some would argue that it is near impossible. Is it not within our nature; our make-up on a basic genetic level, to seek knowledge, to question, to discover… Isn’t that what being human is all about? And therefore has He not betrayed us from the very beginning, setting us up to fail? What God asks us to do is go against every natural instinct and believe – trust – surrender. Even if we want to do it, the way human beings are designed means that want is just not enough, we may very well lose track of who we are – where we wish to go, and get distracted, lost, drown with grief or pain and lose ourselves to the monster that resides with all. What God asks is no mean feat – it’s near impossible. And yet, if we manage to do it, we may very well end up in Heaven; end up in a Utopia, end up in the world that exists after the apocalypse – we will inherit the earth, implying that if indeed we manage to accomplish the impossible out of our love for God, manage to transform ourselves into the creature God wanted us to be – utilising our God-element, we will truly be saved.
We would all need to follow the example of Jean Grey… transform, surrender to God which will give us the transformative quality to transcend our biological make-up; through relinquishing our control, we are able to transcend, become reborn into an altogether different creature, a creature whose seeds lie with us, waiting the right elements in order to grow, to transform – the Phoenix rising from the ashes… she becomes God-like and something within her is released. Where is God? he waits and he watched. When things seem at their worst and we cry out to him, He is hopeful that we will do what he ordained us to do; to transform and display out God Element. If he helps, if he interferes, in my opinion, that’s not giving us free will, but he also restricts our transformation, he risks the ability for us to shine. Pain, and death are not to be feared. He has already triumphed over these, so although we may be afraid, He knows, as a father, that there is nothing for his child be be afraid of, but allows us the chance to grow and transform.
This something, I would argue, we all possess… This God element. For if evil resides in all, so does God. If we see the face of evil through the character of Apocalypse then we can also see the face of God through characters such as Jean Grey and Professor Xavier. Where Magneto is transformed with grief into a feeling-less monster, so it is possible for others, like Mystique, formally a mutant on the ‘wrong’ side, to show the face of God through her compassion for her fellow mutants.
So who is the X-Men’s leader? Who is the Jesus figure? Professor Xavier. ‘The Servant King’ comes into his own when he fights Apocalypse with his own mind, in ‘his house’. Apocalypse sarcastically thanks him for letting him in, and nearly destroys our hero. He literally grows in stature dwarfing Professor X -a visual representation of power which is again deceptive because the real power does not lie with the giant, but with the weaker, smaller character in his shadow. But if there is anything this film teaches or suggests about religion, is the oxymoronic idea that within fragility is strength. In weakness is honour, it is in serving that He is king, and in dying that we are born to eternal life – the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Professor Xavier, at the point where he triumphs over evil, is God… He is the face of God. Just like the face of evil shifts, our perceptions of good and evil played out in the first scene where we have an ‘evil’ angel and a ‘good’ devil… (who ironically has a strong faith and can be seen muttering prayers at different times within the film) so does the perception of God and The Devil. Both of these elements reside within us. But here again, one could argue that there is an unfair balance.
For it is within our make-up to desire; to seek knowledge. Our sinful nature makes it easier to take the evil choices, and it can seem that the way life is, it’s strips us of our humanity, transforms us into less than human – making the task all the harder. It seems that God has shown us where we need to go but not provided us with the means to get there. As if we need to get to the palace in the sky, without wings – he has betrayed us before we even began.
But, I would argue that God doesn’t want us to get there in our current form, we need to learn life lessons that will help us transform? Then, and only then, will be be able to fly home.
We as humans, are far from perfect, the challenge is, not to allow our grief which life brings, and our sorrow to transform us into the wrong kind of creature. We’re here on earth, primarily to learn, so that we can become the Phoenix and rise from the ashes of our former selves.
This reminds me of a situation I find myself in, where an old acquaintance has resurfaced. His presence brings nothing but pain and sorrow and yet here he is asking for forgiveness and requesting friendship. Part of me wants to turn him away because he’s painful for me to look at – the memories and situation is difficult for me. But that’s not reason enough. Interactions with others teach us about ourselves and help us to get one step closer to that transformation – it’s a process. And so I will extend the hand of friendship, and trust that it will all be okay. I trust that in time the hurt will go and I can forgive him and myself, on a deeper level rather than just giving lip service. I remind myself that running away is cowardice and facing the truth, no matter how ugly, can only be something I can grow from, to change from, to get one step closer to my God element, once I have overcome the difficulties. Learning is sometimes painful, rebirth and transformation is sometimes painful. How can we expect others to forgive us when we make mistakes, when we won’t forgive them?
So we have to let others in, taking that risk. And like the film, we may very well be letting in our own Apocalypse, our own face of evil… And if that’s the case, we will have to fight, and hope to come out a better person – life transforms us, but bit by bit. It’s up to us whether we transform into the Phoenix with the God element which we all possess, for we all have the face of God, or if we allow life’s experiences to strip us of our humanity and we transform into the beast – with the face of evil. Simple. It’s a fight that, on paper, it’s unlikely that we’ll win- but therein guarantees our success. You have to be brave enough to risk letting in the rot.
All you have to do is let the rot in to give yourself the opportunity to overcome it on a physical, metaphorical and emotional level, with skills you don’t possess, not let it take your humanity and yet emerge a human. That’s not easy, and yet no-one promised life would be easy, but deep down, on some subconscious level, we know that it will be worth it.
Where is God? He is watching, hoping, trusting that we will transform into Phoenix’s and fly home, for He gave us free will – which is a heavy burden with consequences that can affect our eternal existence. Where is The Devil? He’s also watching, hoping that we transform into monsters for him to claim. We are the ultimate prize, but although it seems as though life is rigged for us to fail, appearances can be deceptive. For with weakness, is strength and within human frailty lies our power. Though we are grounded, the ability to literally grow wings and fly has been placed within our grasp… and that is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Something that is possible for all of us, because we all possess that God element. We just have to surrender to it, have faith, and let go.