Sunday, January 23, 2011

Let's Talk About Horror, Baby!

Effective Horror must always start like this: 'What if God...?' At least, for the Christian like myself, I can't imagine a scenario that could creep under my skin through my veins and snap my fear-strings quite as effectively as that of the 'God isn't what you think He is' genre.

During the climax of the 1978 Donald Sutherland (and Jeff Goldblum! Hooray!!) remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Sutherland looks out at his last great hope, a cargo boat leaving the city, only to find that the insolent aliens have already conquered the seas. His only reply can be, Oh God, Oh God! Yes. This is the appropriate answer. Such a thing to happen as a universal alien occupation of our planet pretty much defies the Biblical narrative that we faithfully adhere to. So, Body Snatchers becomes a particularly effective horror film when it causes me to imagine, 'What if God didn't care for us, or isn't watching, or isn't real?' Any slasher can come along, sodomize my wife, rip out my testicles, and slaughter my children. That doesn't by necessity breakdown my worldview. My hope. My reason for living. But those body duplicating aliens sure would.

Why is the end of Apocalypse Now so damn hypnotic and shiver inducing? It is so because it is telling a true message. We know it in our gut. The world is a horror; an unfathomably wicked place. Granted, most of the time, throughout our daily minutiae, we need not worry or even encounter this truth. Nevertheless, when we touch that truth, even through a passive conduit like film, it causes us to recoil with dread. Now, that being said, the Christian may indulge in a shiver at facing this knowledge, but those goosebumps are temporary. For the agnostic or atheist, the stakes are much higher. The dread should not leave so easily.

Scorsese's recent jaunt into the thriller/horror genre plays out with so much Clue(the game)-esque that we forget how morbidly devastating the whole unspooling narrative really is. A scene towards the latter end of Shutter Island has our grasping-at-reality protagonist in the car with "The Warden". This oddly smug chap gives us a strange ballad of words concerning man's carnal nature of violence and, you know, that whole man is just a creature of violence lot. And then he says a very strange thing: We know each other. Whoa Nelly! These two guys aren't supposed to know each other. What's the deal? But then he clears things up with the follow-up; We've known each other for centuries.

If The Warden is right, man is, and always has been, a beast. Just like chaotic nature. And nature, my dear friends, is a brutal, unmerciful, sudden monster.

And then there's this: Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." 2 Peter 3:3-4

Strangely, in Body Snatchers, the character who oddly ends up living (as a non-pod person) until the end says the darndest things. But being that she's the lone survival, perhaps we should listen to her. Amidst the realization that an alien species has taken the form of some sort of plant in order to secrete human DNA that is used to create alien clones of apparently the entire human population, our survivor lady informs us of history past. She reminisces how this is just like the time when aliens came to earth to mate with apes to form the human race. What a silly thought. But from her perspective, in that world, why not?

There's a reason Job says of God,
Though HE slay me
I will hope in Him. Job 13:15

If Job suffers and God is unjust, his suffering will know no end. His torment will be as the chaos of the wind. There can be no happy ending.

No matter what you believe. Whether you are a Christian, Buddhist, or an Atheist, I would imagine we can agree on this much: stuff happens. And when stuff happens, you have time. And when you have time, you have story. The true horror film of life is if all this world, all this earth, is careening for tragedy. If the world is Godless, it can happen at any moment. Everything is pointless and can be erased with the luck of a spiraling asteroid.

So it is that the Christian Horror Film is that which seeks to undermine what we know and hope to be true; God is love and Jesus is the embodiment of that love. The Atheist Horror Film is that which tells it like it is: the world is void of meaning and full of monsters.

If you don't yet believe that this world is full of horrors, horrors of men, I dare you to do a quick wikipedia search: Unit 731.
It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror... Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies! I remember when I was with Special Forces... seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn't know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it... I never want to forget. And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God... the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! 

If the case wasn't yet fully made that this world is a horror a million times over, I present to you this, Exhibit C. 
Yes. That's right. It's Robert Duvall. As a priest. On a swing. At the beginning of Body Snatchers. He has no lines in the film. He never shows up again. He's just there. Swinging. Smiling. No words... no words. Clearly this is the epitome of evil!      Case Closed.

But there is a hope beyond all this evil. In fact, the existence of such unthinkable evil points evermore for the desperate need we have for a real Hope. A hope that there is more story yet to be told. A hope that the horror we endure, and even procreate, will be overcome. A hope for a happy ending. Thank God for that hope. Thank God.

But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10

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