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Norse 'gods' bring godly themes to screen

Posted By Drew Zahn's column On 05/08/2011 @ 11:47 pm In Diversions | Comments Disabled

Not once in over two years of reviewing films has a single movie I’ve written up been so overloaded with worldview issues as the newest box office hit “Thor.”

But before Christian audiences too quickly dismiss the film for its focus on pagan mythology, they should be aware the movie very clearly explains its Norse pantheon is made of neither gods nor angels nor demons. In fact, there’s almost nothing pagan about “Thor” at all.

Instead, the characters Odin, Thor and Loki are portrayed in the film as an alien race of superior technology who visited Earth 1,000 years ago and whose “powers” were only mistaken for divinity. When the aliens returned home, they became objects of worship, myth and legend among the Norse people.

But now in the 21st century, according to “Thor,” one of the aliens – the title character, a warmongering, prideful son of the king – has been cast down to earth, stripped of his immortality and forced to live as human among the Earthlings again.

From that foundation, this entertaining superhero flick spins a feel-good, redemptive tale of repentance and restoration, of self-sacrifice and heroism, of the wisdom and love of a father, of loyalty and friendship, of the consequences of sin and pride and of good triumphing over evil.

Rather than being a film Christians might revile for pagan themes, “Thor” becomes a movie discerning audiences can praise for reaffirming positive values and an uplifting story.

And when you add in the film’s big-budget special effects and vivid colors, likeable characters, a surprisingly good performance from the lead actor and a director that carefully held back the movie from going too overboard … “Thor” is everything Friday nights and popcorn were made for.

But what are all these “worldview issues” I mentioned?

Dozens, some intriguing parallels to biblical themes, others that stray from the truth and merit caution. But because so many are worth talking about and this column’s space is limited, I’ll list the highlights and allow those who see the film to discuss on their own:

  • “Once mankind accepted a simple truth,” the movie states, “we are not alone in this universe.” The quote carries a double meaning here, both in the idea that there are aliens out there, but also, as the aliens are Norse “gods,” that there is God out there too. It’s a clever line, for it sets up a recurring theme of the clash between believing in the supernatural and our more modern, “scientific” insistence on only accepting the natural, empirically provable as truth.
  • Along those lines, one of the women in the film quotes, “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet.” Thor later explains, “Your ancestors called it magic. You call it science. I come from a place where they are one and the same.” Is she right? Or are there things naturalist “science” can’t explain?
  • Odin is referred to as the “All-Father,” and his role in the film can be readily compared and contrasted with God the Father.
  • Likewise, it is said of Odin, “There’s always a purpose to everything your father does,” and when that purpose (redemption) is revealed, it is said to him, “There will never be a wiser king than you, nor a better father.” See the parallel?
  • As the son of Odin, Thor displays many characteristics similar to Christ, not the least of which is his incarnation as a mortal, a “god” made man.
  • [Spoiler alert] For example, Thor’s greatest moment comes when he gives his life as a substitute to save humanity, calling the devil-like Loki to spare the people by taking his life instead.
  • [Spoiler alert] Upon his substitutiary death, Thor says, “It’s over. You’re safe. It’s over.” Very reminiscent of Jesus saying in the same kind of moment, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
  • [Spoiler alert] Though it is meant, I suspect, as a punny joke, the moment carries a gravitas compared to Jesus’ life when one of the women sees Thor resurrected from death and declares slowly, “Oh … my … God.”
  • Near the film’s ending, Thor looks down to Earth from Asgard with longing for the woman he loves, while she waits and watches for his return, a parallel to the Bridegroom Christ longing for unity with his bride, the Church, and her watching and waiting for him (Matthew 25:1-13; John 3:29; Ephesians 5:25; 31-32; Revelation 19:7-9).
  • The character Loki is known as the “silvertongue,” a master of illusion and of lies. The parallels between him and Satan are stunning, especially in the scene that follows the credits, when he whispers lies into the mind of a human, who then repeats them.
  • Played as Thor’s brother, however, the origin and nature of Loki, or Lucifer, or Satan, as he is known, is a matter of theological debate. While the Bible describes Satan as a created being less than Christ, some religions similarly cast the evil one as Jesus’ brother.
  • Loki’s story is also a bit more complicated in “Thor,” as he firsts tries to usurp his father, then tries to win his father’s approval, then is banished to Earth, where he grows even more wicked. This is both like and unlike the biblical story of Satan.

The story of “Thor” weaves in and out of the Grand Narrative of God the Father redeeming humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ. Like a film that does the same, “The Matrix,” it’s not a perfect parallel, not an allegory as clean as C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” but it is more than coincidence.

For wherever stories of love and redemption are told, the Author of love and redemption will be nearby, calling out through the tale (Philippians 1:18) for the hearts and minds of those who have an ear to hear His voice and receive Him (Matthew 13:9-16). All for the price of a 3-D movie and some popcorn. In the case of “Thor,” it’s a pretty good deal.

Content advisory:

  • “Thor” contains a half-dozen minor profanities and obscenities.
  • The film is light on sexuality, including only one veiled comment about lusting for a kiss, one passionate kiss and a scene where Thor is shirtless and admired by the ladies.
  • The film is not light on violence, however, as several battle scenes fill the screen with swordplay and “magic” and explosions and monsters and fistfights and all sorts of mayhem. While the battles are intense and numerous, there is little blood or gore. The exceptions are a few scenes where Odin is shown with a somewhat gruesome wound to his eye.
  • In addition to all that is mentioned above for religious and occult content, the film has a few mystic and religious symbols used, including a labyrinthine pattern blasted into the desert and a trinity figure on Thor’s hammer. Much of the “magic” of Asgard, though called science, really just looks like magic powers. There is also a brief line about dying and going to Valhalla.

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