This will be brief: I was quite surprised to find that I liked The Immortals. Tarsem Singh mostly made the film’s overtly fabricated aesthetic work in its favor, Henry Cavill was more charismatic than I’d expected, and it’s always nice to see Stephen Dorff be Stephen Dorff. Even more intriguing was how the story foregrounded religious faith and free will. As a Christian, I tend to appreciate when films endorse a quintessentially religious view of the world. At the same time, by explicitly tangling with religious ideas, films that appear to endorse spirituality unambiguously open up an entirely different can of worms. In the case of Immortals, it’s the inseparable link between righteousness and violence. We’re told early on that while the souls of men are immortal, the souls of righteous men are immortal and divine. The ending of the film opens up the possibility that men can be the equal of gods if they are righteous enough. That idea, in itself, is a sticky enough bit of theological provocation. But what troubles me is that the film’s fetishization of bloodshed and brutality inextricably links violent deeds with divine immortality. Though I don’t doubt that Theseus, as portrayed in the film, is a heroic figure, he’s definitely a heroic figure in the ancient Greek tradition: which is to say, he kills eloquently and often. The idea that the righteous faithful must prove their righteousness through acts of war is rather frightening. As much as I enjoyed the film, I recognize that a part of my enjoyment should probably held in suspicion. Even if the bloodshed and brutality is meant to be a metaphor for spiritual warfare, I was left with the impression that the film was infatuated with the awful struggle, which it seemed to confuse the the victory itself. There’s a difference between acknowledging the necessity of good doing battle with evil and celebrating the battle itself. I realize that a movie like Immortals is vying for mythic grandeur, and the old myths tend not to feature nuance, subtlety, and moral introspection as narrative strength (as I said, this film’s moral compass is very much in keeping with the spirit of Greek mythology), so in a way I know that I’m missing the point of the film. But it’s important to remember that even works and acts of faith are open to debate, criticism, and question, however awesome (in the purest sense of the word) they may be. That’s the struggle believers of all stripes must face, but we don’t idolize that struggle. We worship our God; the struggle is the means of worship, not the end itself. Idolizing the struggle valorizes us, not our object of worship. Immortals flips that premise on its head, which could be an intriguing subversion of traditional religious orthodoxy, except that it’s framed in terms of violence. That makes it more Nietzchean than conventionally religious, I suppose, but it also reduces the power of faith to the strength of arms. There’s something disquieting about that reduction, as gloriously as it may be rendered.☕
July 11, 2012
The Immortals ☕ d. Tarsem Singh
Reads. Writes. Watches movies. Occasionally stirs from chair. Holds an advanced degree in heuristic indolence. View all posts by tardishobbit
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 at 3:11 pm and tagged with faith, Henry Cavill, Immortals, mythology, Stephen Dorff, Tarsem Singh and posted in Cinema &c. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.