By David Waters
Theologians began predicting the end of the world long before Hollywood did, so it’s not surprising that “2012,” the latest disaster blockbuster, contains more than a few religious images and references. But does Roland Emmerich’s box-office hit also qualify as a theological disaster? Several faith-based reviewers are raising interesting questions about the movie’s religious implications.
A review by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was disappointed by the film’s “theological glibness . . . despite a plethora of religious imagery and references to faith and prayer.” ,”What’s genuinely disturbing about this disaster movie to end all disaster movies — even taken as a popcorn flick engineered solely to entertain — is the almost sadistic way (direct) Emmerich and his computer-generated special-effects wizards kill off billions of people.”
A review on Focus on the Family’s pluggedin.com is equally troubled by circus-style attentiveness to carnage, but appreciative of numerous Christian references: two characters singing the old Christian hymn “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” another character reciting the opening of the 23rd Psalm, and several faith-based nods to the prospect of life beyond this world. This reviewer also liked the emphasis on family bonds, and “the characters’ willingness to sacrifice themselves to save others.”
A review by Christianity Today wonders why Christians — and Catholics in particular — seemed to bear the brunt of Emmerich’s wrath: The movie shows both St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the towering Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio being destroyed, but no Islamic or Jewish sacred landmarks. A Tibetan monk is among the survivors, but “the only Christian clergy shown are the Catholic prelates who die at St. Peter’s . . . If Emmerich is going to specifically show the Vatican leadership going down with St. Peter’s, I want to see Catholic (and/or Orthodox) bishops among the survivors–somewhere on the planet.”
Personally, I think that expecting to find any theological sensitivity from a Hollywood blockbuster is like expecting to find nutritional value in a jelly donut. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that Emmerich was aware of at least some of the theological implications of his work.
In an interview before the movie’s premiere, Emmerich said the screenplay included the disintegration of the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam’s most holy site. “Well, I wanted to do that, I have to admit,” Emmerich says. “But my co-writer Harald said I will not have a fatwa on my head because of a movie. And he was right . . . Christian symbols fall apart, but if you would do this with (an) Arab symbol, you would have … a fatwa, and that sounds a little bit like what the state of this world is. So it’s just something which I kind of didn’t (think) was (an) important element, anyway, in the film, so I kind of left it out.”
So which is it? Should Hollywood pay more — or less — attention to real-world religious values and sensitivities? Should blockbuster movies be theologically correct, or at least religiously neutral? And which will come first? An end to end-of-the-world disaster movies, or the actual end of the world?