Metaphors for God (God in Film Pt 5)

Thus far, we’ve talked in this blog series about the idea it’s hard to show God or angels literally showing up in a movie without it seeming absurd.

Demonic evil may be something we can understand, but divine goodness is hard to translate into a story about the natural world.

In the last post in this series, I noted similar problems happen when making a movie about Jesus. From a film critic’s standpoint, the best Jesus films are the ones that show how Jesus’ ways are not our ways, the ones that shock our sensibilities.

However, what if we want to tell a story that’s about divinity but not about how hard it is for us to understand it?

What if we want to try and capture God’s more ethereal, otherworldly qualities (such as godly love and gentleness) that are so hard for us to relate to?

One possibility is to use metaphorical characters. Instead of actually telling a story about God or Jesus, you can tell a story about a God-like character.

This character can have one or two attributes we associate with God of Jesus (or even do actions that parallel Jesus’ actions) without having to literally be God and carry all the narrative burden that comes with that.

Roy Anker (who I’ve mentioned throughout this series) talks about Christ figures in two of his books, Catching Light and Of Pilgrims and Fire. He points out two popular movie characters that function as Christ figures: E.T. and Superman.

In the film E.T., the main character comes to Earth and quickly establishes himself as a healer.

Later he undergoes a painful death, which brings pain to his disciple-like followers (Elliot and his siblings). But then in a shocking yet graceful moment, he comes back to life.

As Anker notes in Of Pilgrims and Fire, there’s even a scene where E.T. emerges from an ambulance with a white robe around him, very reminiscent of pictures of Christ emerging from his tomb.

Then E.T. returns home, literally ascending to the heavens.

Similarly, Superman in the original 1978 film has many parallels to Christ’s life.

He’s sent from an unearthly realm (i.e. Krypton) by his father with the specific purpose of showing people a better way to live.

After becoming an adult, Superman wanders in the wilderness of the arctic circle, a consecrating experience similar to Jesus’ wandering in the desert.

Like Jesus meeting the devil in the desert, Superman meets an unearthly being (in his case, ghostlike images of his father) in his wilderness experience, and the meeting prepares him for his work on earth.

Finally, at around 30 years of age, Superman reveals himself to humanity.

To sum it up, these two films capture attributes that Christ had but do so in a metaphorical way, using characters who embody Christ-like attitudes and events, thus helping viewers access those ideas.

It may be hard or impossible to really capture God’s grandeur and majesty on film. However, we can use symbols to get the point across.


Any thoughts about this? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear them. 

Also, stay tuned for the next article in this series, where I examine another possible way to show divine encounters in films.

5 thoughts on “Metaphors for God (God in Film Pt 5)

  1. Pingback: Chance Encounters (God in Film Pt 6) – G. Connor Salter

  2. Pingback: God in the Abstract (God in Film Pt 7) – G. Connor Salter

  3. Pingback: God in Nature (God in Film Pt 8) – G. Connor Salter

  4. Pingback: Beyond Words (Building A Better Christian Novel Pt. 6) – G. Connor Salter

  5. Pingback: Sentimentality and Susbstance (Sidetrails 1) – G. Connor Salter

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