Post-Apocalyptic Sci-fi horror. “Vampires have always been with us.” In the future, after the vampire threat has been nullified by the Church’s vampire warrior priests, life is back to normal, and those warrior priests are put back into normal life by the Church. Their vampire hunting is made illegal so that people will feel safe again in their walled in dystopic grungy city. Meanwhile, the vampires have been growing far away in huge hives. And they have been planning a takeover feast of the city. So, when vampire hunter Priest, played with stoic coolness by Paul Bettany, discovers his niece has been captured by vampires in order to turn her, he goes to rescue her against the commands of the Church, which is trying to lull everyone into an institutional sense of safety. So Priest becomes an outlaw.
This movie is what used to be called “anti-clericalism,” that is an attack on the institutional church in favor of individualistic spirituality. The phrase that is repeated multiple times throughout the film in order to make the point is, “To go against the church is to go against God.” Another phrase spoken by the high priests: “To question the authority of the clergy is absolutely forbidden.” This is an obvious reflection of the Roman Catholic Medieval Church’s phrase, “There is no salvation outside the Church.” But this is not quite so simple as an anticlerical call to Protestant Reformation of the priesthood of all believers, because the Priest at first decides that if he is going against God to save his niece, then he will give up on God. So he saves the day and destroys the vampires who reflect original sin because “they are what nature made them to be.”
The Priest concludes, “Out power does not come from the Church, it comes from God. With or without clergy, we’re still priests.” So, the theme is a confusing mixture of individualistic spirituality and anticlericalism with the residue of Protestant Reformed notions. Quite a bit different from say Martin Luther, who affirmed obedience to the authority of the Church as long as he possibly could until he was forced to deny his conscience, at which point he then asserted that God is the ultimate authority over even the Church. The Reformation may have resulted in creating an individualist piety that we suffer from today, but it did not necessarily start out that way. Still the resonances are there for a rather positive Protestant worldview.
Comic book hero origin story. This movie was much better than I had expected. Probably because the director, Kenneth Branagh brought to it a nuanced Shakespearean quality that was appropriate for this story about the Norse god of thunder. Well, actually, it is a demythology of the Norse mythology. That is, it is one of those stories that explains religion as an ignorant misinterpretation of alien science. In this case, Thor is a warrior from the distant realm of Asgard, who is banished to earth without his power because of his impetuous and arrogance aspiring to the throne of his father, Odin. But in this film we learn that the Norse mythology was wrong. Thor and his breed are not gods, but are simply aliens from another part of the galaxy misunderstood as gods by primitive Vikings. This is a common theme in movies today and I intend to write more in depth on it for BioLogos.org soon.
Anyway, it was an interesting contrast of modern egalitarian culture with a more patriarchal culture in Thor. As he falls in love with the female scientist played by Natalie Portman, we see him treating her with the chivalry of the past and boy, she likes it! This is no feminist fantasy, but a return to a chivalry that feminists would call chauvinism. The big brawny earthy man protecting the female and treating her with gentility and noble language as the weaker vessel. It was quite a clever culture clash.
And the theme of the story is rather traditional as well. Thor’s mighty hammer is on earth, but because of Odin’s whispered spell over it, only a “worthy” man can pick it up and use it. And Thor cannot do so because of his own pride and arrogance and fighting temper. It is not until he chooses to sacrifice himself to be killed by a big marauding monster robot in order to protect the innocent that he is able to regain his powers and vanquish the enemy. And this, after his “resurrection” from the dead. All very religious in it’s theme.
Which brings me to another point. I am further confirmed that the hunger for comic book superheroes and the like is definitely a “God-substitute.” Even though our secular society has rejected the idea of supernatural deity (as evidenced in the demythology of this very story), it craves deity nonetheless and these superhero stories serve as a modernized religious impulse that replaces that “god-shaped vacuum” in all of us. Their ubiquity in our culture matches the prevalence of the polytheism of ancient culture, whether the Greek or Roman pantheon or those of Sumer and Babylon. But their presence shows us that humankind needs deity and will create its own if it has to.