Science fiction, perhaps more so than other movie genres, lends itself – beneath the robots and aliens – to exploring profound themes of human existence: death, fear, civilization, doubt, the future, and so forth.

It’s no surprise then, when a science fiction flick like “9” plays with religious symbolism and leaves the audience to reach its own conclusions.

Some audiences, particularly Roman Catholics, may reach the conclusion that the film is offensive, a slap in the face of religion. “9” does, indeed, portray church symbols and characters as oppressive, backward and corrupted.

But if discerning audiences can separate the film’s assault on organized religion from the movie’s message on faith in God, a different, more uplifting conclusion emerges.

“9” is an animated, post-apocalyptic thriller that, like the “Terminator” series, is set in the not-too-distant future, when machines gifted with artificial intelligence have decided the human race needs to be eliminated.

From producer Tim Burton, who specializes in creepy animated films, the backdrop of “9” is a war-ravaged wasteland where perhaps the last living human on earth is the very scientist who invented the doomsday machines.

The scientist then imparts his “soul,” in pieces, into nine, burlap, stitched ragdolls, each of which takes on a unique personality.

No. 9 is the naïve hero of the film; No. 2 is the quirky inventor; No. 7 is the warrior princess, and so on.

“9” has little meaningful storyline, and what it does have is riddled with holes, devolving into a fairly mindless action flick.

But “9” does leave an impression through the oldest of the ragdolls, the imperious No. 1 (voiced by Christopher Plummer).

No. 1 oozes religious symbolism, from his shepherd’s crook, to his mitre-like conical hat and cardinal red cape, to his choice of hideout from the machines, a church decked in stained glass and angels that No. 1 refers to as his “sanctuary.”

With papal authority, No. 1 lords over the other ragdolls, with proclamations of doom and a set of rules that the other dolls fear but No. 1 insists is the only thing keeping them “safe” from the outside world.

When No. 9 comes along, he challenges No. 1’s authority, and dares – in the typical anti-Christian theme echoed in many films – to question the rules.

Playing the clichéd role, No. 1 turns angry, mysterious, and ultimately corrupt, shouting at No. 9 – “You are a fool, driven by pointless queries!”

No. 9 answers, “You are a blind man, driven by fear!”

Ah, yes. Religion is naught but pointless rules, easily corrupted by power-hungry leaders who keep their minions in fear to control them, blah, blah, blah – typical Hollywood propaganda made by children who grew up in churches and still resent the experience.

But not so fast.

Once the church burns down and No. 1 is stripped of his authority, the question remains – how will the ragdolls find salvation in this horrifying future?

The answer comes from No. 6, who mysteriously keeps chanting, “Find the source, find the source.”

And what is the source? Why the source of their life, of course: their creator.

Without giving too much away, the puppets find there’s no salvation in running from the enemy, adhering to the “rules” or hiding in their church. Rather, they must cease their own good works and turn instead to their creator, to hear the still small whisper of instructions he gifted them to help them find their way.

Sound familiar? Sounds a little like the gospel trying to peek through.

Forgive my Protestantism slipping out, but there is truth in the message that neither the Law nor the Church can impart salvation, but only God alone. Scripture teaches us we must turn from our works and our insistence that we’ve followed the rules “good enough,” and instead surrender to the will of the Creator and follow his Son. This is the path of true Christian faith, and not merely a Christian-like churchianity.

“9” doesn’t make it easy to see the message, and perhaps it was never intended, but it is there: the difference between religion and faith makes all the difference in the world.

Or at least, that’s one conclusion a viewer of “9” could reach.

Content advisory:

  • “9” presents a terrifying vision of the future, complete with skeletons, snakes, spiders, skulls, explosions, war, killer robots, extreme peril and rotting corpses thrown in just for color. Don’t be fooled by the cartoon format or by Tim Burton’s other merely creepy movies; this film will seriously spook small children.
  • Outside of some females statues draped in clingy robes, the movie has no sexuality and no profanity.
  • No. 8 does have an odd scene where he slips away from the others and uses a magnet to induce a bliss-like state. Completely unexplained by the story, the scene could be interpreted as the ragdolls’ version of doing drugs.
  • In addition to the religious themes detailed in the review, the film also includes a scene of characters being resurrected from death, ascending to the sky and being set “free,” without any real explanation of this phenomenon. Characters also have their life force sucked from them, which in turn empowers the machines.

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