The Little Mermaid’s Original Sin

58ff56e78a6f63d1284b2ca94542a9b4Like the classic Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is stuffed with Christian allegory. Whether the studio, animators, screenwriters, songwriters, voice-actors, and director actually meant to make the movie as an allegory, I highly doubt it, but it is what it is–and after I noticed it, I can never now un-notice it. Here’s what I saw:

SPOILER ALERT

  1. Distrust of the Father: In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve became doubtful of God’s care and love. They believed they had to go behind his back. This is also what Ariel does in the film: she thinks she is already an adult, that she can decide good and evil for herself, that she knows better that her dad: King Triton.
  2. So Ariel is tempted in her own garden: the secret grotto of amazing fruits (treasures) that she’s collected from forbidden areas. Even so, Ariel grasps for more and for the forbidden, even though she has everything a princess enjoys! A loving father, all the royal fare of the sea kingdom. This was exactly Adam and Eve’s condition in Eden, too, “But who cares, no big deal, I want more….”part_of_your_world
  3. Then the serpent appears, and Ariel believes Ursula ( as represented by her twin sea-serpents: eels). This is interesting because we Christians know Satan is not really a serpent, but the snake of Genesis merely represents the tempter. Also, we discover a few things from Ursula:
    • She used to live in the Father’s palace, used to serve the King, until she was banished because of her treachery. Sounds awful lot like when Lucifer rebelled in Heaven and was cast down like a lightning bolt.
    • The Devil will always deceive, and has always been watching us for weaknesses, to tempt us where it hurts or appeals most. And so Ursula stalks Ariel, watching her every move since her birth. The witch knows all Ariel’s secret desires and uses them against her.
    • Ursula, knowing her notorious reputation, fakes her conversion story, saying she is now a saint trying to “help” others! And so the serpent did when it lied to Eve, deceiving Eve into thinking the forbidden fruit was ready to eat now, and not to trust in God’s wisdom that He would give everything good in due time, in divine timing.
    • The moment Ursula said that Ariel was “the key to Triton’s (the Father’s) undoing” reminded me that the Devil can never hurt God: Satan and all demons are only creations of God who chose to be ugly and evil. Knowing this immense weakness before God, Satan instead seeks to hurt God’s children: us. Thus, Satan is none other than the Original Child Abuser.
    • And whatever gifts Satan tempts us with will always come with major strings such as illness, stupidity, addiction, perversion, hatred, lonesomeness, death. Satan tempts us with false choices; he deceives us into thinking we can actually get some good out of following him, but actually he rigs all the choices with time bombs, he laces all options with poison. He doesn’t want to really help us; he’s only trying to help himself to our destruction. We see this clearly with Ursula’s deal: she only wants to capture Ariel and conquer the Kingdom.
  4. Because God is love, Satan wants nothing to do with it, and he wants us to be deprived of it. But since he cannot destroy love, he tempts us to abuse it, to refuse it, and to settle for less: Satan tempts us to lust; lust is love distorted. With Ariel, the witch convinces the mermaid that love’s only about superficial appearances: “You’ll have your looks, your pretty face, and don’t forget the power of body language! The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber!”
    • tumblr_nm5a3klegz1u3ptkco1_400When Ariel falls for the lie about love (when we fall for the lie about God), she agrees to the sin. And of course, the sin always costs something. So Ursula’s theft of Ariel’s voice is the consequence of her original sin, and this loss makes Ariel less of herself, as sin always deprives us of our entire beauty. Ariel’s greatest gift was to sing, and now sin silences her song.
    • Even more, our Original Sin wounded relations between man and woman: we began to use each other, not know each other for our greatest gifts and deepest dreams. And in the film, we see that Eric cannot recognize Ariel, the couple cannot communicate. Love becomes confusing, and incredibly difficult to experience, to choose.
  5. But God wants us to know that He is love. To do this, God wills to sacrifice, wills to pay the penalty to free us, to REDEEM His children. And so God becomes weak, He descends to the dead (Ursula’s seaweed garden): Satan’s prison. Triton sacrifices himself for Ariel’s freedom (and freedom is the key ingredient to true love).
    • But we, man and woman, must still work and sacrifice to make God’s dream come true! In the film, Eric defeats Ursula utterly. Eric is like a type of New Adam, here to undo what the First Adam failed to do: defeat the serpent who deceives the First Eve.* In the Bible, Jesus Christ is the New Adam who does this for us.
    • The ship is a traditional symbol of the Church, and this ship, no matter how busted, still spears Satan, as Christ will always steer and guide the ship through her crew of popes and bishops *(just as Eric guides and steers the busted ship to bust the witch). Notice also that Ursula doesn’t even see the ship coming at her; this mimics well how Christ blindsided Satan, defeating evil and death by dying–something so counter-intuitive.
  6. In the end, the Father always had His childrens’ best interest in store. All we had to do was trust Him and wait patiently. In the film, we discover King Triton always had the power to transform Ariel into a full human being, not some deprived version of a woman that Ursula delivered. In Christianity, we believe that God, our Father, always wanted to transform us, to glorify us, to divinize us! The serpent told Eve that God didn’t want us to be like God, but actually that was God’s dream all along, and that we were already in the image and likeness of God! All that was left was for us to become more and more like our Father, more the humans God meant us to be. Whereas sin makes us less human, deprives us of our greatest dreams: to be like God.EverySaint
  7. That about wraps it up. Here are some bonus symbols that didn’t fit into the list above, but are neat anyways:
    • Sebastian-the-crab’s full name includes “Ignatius”, which is a pretty big name for Christianity. We have famed saints with that name, such as Ignatius of Antioch, and Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits).
    • The sea is traditionally seen as the fallen world of sin. It is unsafe, has unpredictable storms, and was even demonized by the Jews who considered it a place of evil.
    • And Eric resembles the lonesome man in Genesis 2:20-23), searching for someone to love, a helper. He falls into a deep sleep and wakes to find woman (Ariel), sitting at his side.

636116476449906097-1779298249_new20pic

Disclaimer: recall all metaphors have weaknesses, as all analogies/allegories do. In this case, King Triton is not a perfect symbol of God (Triton has a few flaws whereas God is flawless). Also, Eric is not quite a fitting symbol of Jesus.

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The Master Plan

And so Lucifer peeked at God’s plans for Eve.
He then realized the honor She would receive.

After being the light,
The brightest and best,
Lucifer was to be dethroned.

In envy he was shown
How he would lose his place
Before the face
Of the Holy Trinity.

SatanFalls GustavoDore

[“I beheld Satan as lightning falling from Heaven.” –Luke 10:18]

In pride he denied
The destiny God made
That though Woman would rise
Lucifer should behave.

In rage he disfigured himself,
Desperately trying to beautify himself.
Twisting his teeth, parting his hair…
Chewing his cheeks, nothing was spared.

God watched His angel deform,
Asked the seraph to reject the vile.
Lucifer stared back and said with a smile,
“Not so long as Woman is born.

Never will I accept She is my superior,
To only You I am inferior!
If You are to make Her so far greater…
I want nothing to do with Her maker.”

God’s love was crushed by Lucifer,
And His sorrow disgusted His angel.
Lucifer left Heaven.
His past and all he left abandoned.

Lucifer dwelled in hell,
Renamed himself satan.
He planned to thwart and rebel…

On the very day Eve saw Eden,
satan snuck into the garden…
Slipped past Adam…

“Hey Beautiful… want an apple?”

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

© Evan Pham . October 28, 2008

*Click here for the first part: The Masterpiece

Examining Ex Machina

ExMachina1

Warning: Ex Machina is rated R, and is definitely for mature and thinking viewers only. And with that said, let it be known Ex Machina is the most intense and adult film I’ve yet reviewed on HolySmack. I cannot recommend this film to young audiences.



This film really is all the hype has made it to be. It is not merely a sci-fi thriller, but also a high drama with loads of Biblical and theological references… if you’re sharp enough to notice! Let me share what I noticed:




–SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) Character names can be very meaningful, if the author intends. Ex Machina’s star is Ava (Alicia Vikander), and Ava is pronounced identically with the Latin name “Eva”, which means “Eve” in English. Clearly, Ava is meant then to be a type of Eve, a new creation made in the image of her maker. Caleb is also a name with rich Biblical meaning. In Scripture, Caleb is a Hebrew spy commissioned by Moses to scope out Canaan, and in Ex Machina we see Caleb sent to scope out Ava. Lastly, Nathan is a prophet in the Bible who reprimands and sets King David aright after his act of adultery with Bathsheba. I don’t know yet how Nathan in Ex Machina fits with Nathan in the Bible, though… if you have any ideas, please let me know.

—–2) At a point in Ex Machina, Caleb asks Nathan: “why did you make Ava?” This question, to me, is the center of the film. Here we have a top inventor, and the only answer he can muster is: “why wouldn’t you if you could?” Nathan creates only as an exercise of his power, as an exercise of his creativity. And so, Ava is made just to show off Nathan’s abilities. She is a tool from him to express himself; she is a means to his end. More importantly, this question can reflect our own condition… why did God create us? Unlike Nathan, God creates as an exercise of love. God created us to love and to be loved. He did not need to create us to express Himself, because God does not need to create at all! The fact He created anything is only a sign of His generosity: to let other things actually exist when nothing has to, to create us so we can experience His gift of life and love. To understand this, just ask yourself next time after you experience an incredible moment of happiness: aren’t you grateful you and the cosmos actually exist so you could even have had that awesome experience? Aren’t you glad you had a chance to experience that? And the ultimate experience God wants for all of us to have is the experience of His love for us, directly and also indirectly through other persons (our families, friends and other beloveds — angels included!).

—–3) Ava asks Nathan a rhetorical question: “Is it strange to have made something that hates you?” When I heard her say this, I went straight to how God also risked us hating Him. By bestowing on us the freedom to determine our destinies, the freedom to love Him, God also had to risk that we could use that very same freedom to sin, to harm others, and to harm ourselves by separating from Him. In fact, this is what Archbishop Fulton Sheen meant when he talked about why God would make us free: the only world better than a perfect world is one in which we can choose to love. Because, if you cannot choose to love, than your love is forced, and a forced love is not love at all. And God wants us to be real. Freedom is only a tool to use to choose true love.

—–4) Ava, again as a type of Eve, reenacts the Fall in Genesis. In Ex Machina, Ava’s original sin is not unlike Eve’s: disobedience and distrust in her maker. Both want to be like their creators, but the difference is that Ava’s creator is only a mere creature, whereas Eve’s is the True, Good and Beautiful God. Yet, both betray their maker and grasp for what is not theirs, for what they are not ready for. In Eve’s case, it’s arguable God always meant to give us the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, otherwise why bother creating such a good tree (for God creates all things good)? Only, we were not ready to receive the fruit, maybe because the fruit was not yet ripe, or perhaps it’s something like feeding steak to babies: they’re not ready to handle such goodness. In the case of Ava though, I wonder how she is going to fend for herself in the human cities? Will people notice the electronic hum of her stride? Will she be able to recharge her battery? In this way, both Ava and Eva’s grasping for something they are not prepared for seems to have mortal consequences.

—–5) Continuing with the Eve theme, we also see Ava wander in her own kind of Garden of Eden. After she escapes from Nathan and Caleb, she clothes herself in human skin from decommissioned androids (like how God clothes Adam and Eve in skins from sacrificed animals), and wanders in the lush forest. Here, we see Eva and Caleb separating, mirroring in a way the separating of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Adam and Eve’s relationship with each other (and with God!) is shattered by their sin, and their marriage is marred by lust and domination as a consequence. In Ex Machina, Caleb and Ava’s relationship is also shattered, as is Ava’s relationship with Nathan. We also see Ava leaving the estate, leaving Eden.

—–6) The film also makes a point of objectifying women, but for the purpose of helping the audience see how objectification is cruel and evil. At no point should a healthy viewer think what Nathan is doing with feminine androids is good. Instead, we see the perversity, the depravity of Nathan. He is a genius, but he is lonely and incapable of having an experience of true love and friendship. Treating women, treating anyone as a thing to use as a tool actually weakens us into miserable prisoners of our own design. This is also perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ex Machina, that Nathan’s perversity and inhumanity makes Ava (a machine!) appear more human than Nathan!

—–7) There’s been a lot of talk in recent decades whether human sexuality and gender is inborn or influenced. Well, in Ex Machina, the matter is settled as both nature and nurture and both. I thought this was a great nod in the direction of where fair science is leading in research regarding same-sex attraction: we’re not just born this way or that way, but we are also shaped by our relationships and environments in ways as complicated as each individual person is richly complex. It simply does not do justice to someone to say they were born that way.

—–8) I want to return now to what Caleb says to Nathan when he finds out about Ava: “If you’ve created a conscious machine, that’s not the history of man — that’s the history of gods.” Yet in the film, we see the claim fall way short: some “god” Nathan is! His own creation kills him! What kind of god gets murdered by his own creatures! How pathetic that his own creation hates him enough to cut him down…

This however reminded me right away of our God, Who loves us so much that He would become one of us, then let us kill Him, all to show He would die for us and not seek vengeance, but instead rises from the dead and continues loving us all the more. Of course, this in no way applies to Nathan in the film, but the drama of Ava’s uprising did lead me to meditate on Jesus’ Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection.

ExMachina2—–9) Finally, more about the Turing Test. One of the classes taken enroute my philosophy degree focused on the metaphysics of man, and one of the best texts covering this was The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes, by Mortimer J. Adler (thanks Dr. Blosser!) . If you are truly interested in the implications necessitating the Turing Test, and more importantly the implications of a man-made intelligence passing the Turing Test, then hands down you must read this book. Adler was an atheist when he philosophized and wrote the book, and amazingly he became a devout Catholic afterwards. The main points of the text, from what I can remember: to demonstrate scientifically that the human person has a soul and is rationally conscious in a way that is unlike any other creature (dog, ape or dolphin), it must be proven over time that not even highly advanced technology can mimic man’s thoughts in a way proficient enough to fool a man into thinking the machine is another man (the Turing Test). On the flip side, to demonstrate that the human person is not special in the grand scheme of things, it must be demonstrated that a machine can indeed pass as human, that is also appears to have a rational soul that we programmed and installed. But just think for a second the nightmare it would be if the latter indeed occurs… that is the premise of Ex Machina.

So, if you didn’t notice, I loved this movie. Though it’s not a film for everyone, it sure is a film for a technological, philosophical and theological geek who also enjoys beautifully written and shot films. But please, be warned that you may not feel the same way about Ex Machina as I do.

P.s. Here’s another thoughtful Catholic review of the film, by Fr. Nathan Goebel.

“Heaven Is for Real” Made Me Cry… a little

Heaven is for RealBefore I begin, let me say first that I did not love this movie. It has great space for improvement (cinematic, theological and Scriptural), and I’m glad it didn’t cost me to watch it. Having said that, here’s a positive moment that I walked away with:

— SPOILER ALERT —

It takes quite a bit from a movie to make my eyes water. But, I’ve been noticing a winning recipe…

Mystery SisterIn Heaven is For Real, I was quite surprised they could dish it up. The scene that got me was when Colton tells his mom about his long-lost sister. When his mom asks how she looked like in Heaven, and what was her name, Colton says: “She looks like Cassie, but with your hair. And she doesn’t have a name. She said you never gave her one. She said she died in your tummy.”

This mystery sister was miscarried at such an early stage that her parents didn’t know her sex, and so left her unnamed. That part got me big. That this girl had no name. That even those who die before their birth deserve a name was evident in how brokenhearted Colton’s mother felt when she realized her little girl still went nameless.

And I hope you see how important this is. Everyone deserves a name, and God would actually give us such a privilege as to name our children for eternity. God does not directly name us… our parents do! And if we too become parents, then we name our children, and they will bear that name forever. That is the name other people will know them by, that is the name the angels will know them by… that is the name that God will know them by. Forever, into the ages of ages.

What kind of God do we have, who creates all and knows all, would allow us to name someone with a name that even He would have to use to address? He created this person! He loves this person more than any other can! And He let’s us name His beloved?!

I hope we don’t make light of this privilege.

P.s. If you didn’t notice, Adam was the first human, and he was also different from all the animals in many ways, including that he was given the privilege to go out and name everything else in creation.

[“Adam” by Theresa Dawn]

The Masterpiece

Hey! So I made a little meme and poem in honor of God’s masterpiece:

God finished on the Sixth.
He finished everything but one.

After creating all
And doing all to be done,
Almighty He edited some…

The light was good,
But not that great.
The day was bright,
And night was easy on the eyes.

The sea was plentiful,
But not that beautiful.
The land was pleasant,
And yet it wasn’t.

The plants and flowers,
Green and all colors…
Still they lacked
Something or another.

The animals and creeping things
Of sky, land and sea…
Clever, cute, and coy,
Yet still incomplete.

So Almighty He created him,
In Their image They created
Little hungry Adam…
Curious, cared for, but lonesome.

All was good.
All was in place.
Still, all was made of mere dust,
Sand, mud, and paste.

After creating all
And doing all to be done,
Almighty He realized He wasn’t done…

He put little Adam to sleep,
Took some rib meat,
Polished and tweaked…

Eve into the masterpiece.

Masterpiece

[the golden gilded artwork is by Lorenzo Ghiberti]

© Evan Pham . September 23rd 2008

*Inspired by the Book of Genesis and Christopher West’s Theology of the Body talks on the Feminine Genius

**Click here for the continuation of this poem.

UPDATED: Getting to Know “Noah”

Noah

Be warned: SPOILERS POSSIBLE

Ten years ago, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ cemented itself as the greatest motion-icon about our Lord’s Passion. Today, there is still no comparing it with any other film about Christ. It has set the bar, and the bar is in orbit.

Yesterday, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah did the same for the Genesis narrative about the Great Flood. So be warned now: if you’re looking for a rant against Noah, you won’t find it here. Instead, I believe the film did more good than bad, more beauty than bumbling, and more creativity and faithfulness to the Flood story than what I’ve seen in a long time. (If you have a specific critique of the film, please feel free to comment!)

Links to various reviews and interviews will follow, so you can see what better critics than I have been saying, but before that, let me share my favorite scenes (these are obviously spoilers):

  1. The Creator sends a little raindrop down. It hits the dirt. Noah (played by Russell Crowe) looks to the sky, sees not a cloud, and wonders where the drop came from. He looks down again and it pops like popcorn into a flower. I don’t know about you, but I would go nuts if ex nihilo happened right in front of my face! (Ex nihilo is Latin for “out of nothing,” meaning God alone creates out of nothing.)
  2. Illa (played by Emma Watson) is ashamed of being infertile, to the point of trying to convince Noah to find another woman for his son. She believes to the point of tears that she is worthless because she cannot be a mother. But Noah refuses. He tells her again and again: “I thought you would be a burden, but I was wrong. You are a gift. A precious, precious gift!”
  3. When a grounded angel repented to God for having sinned, he was blitzed straight to Heaven – like a shooting star in reverse. The beauty of a saved creation, a contrite spirit, a redeemed beloved (like the Prodigal Son), always brings tears of joy to me.
  4. And the best for last: Illa, as a new mother now to her newborns, begs to at least be allowed to sing a lullaby to her children before they are taken from her, to at least calm them to sleep first. Trust me – you just have to see and listen to this scene for yourself. Even if you dislike the whole movie, this scene is worth it. Emma Watson just ravaged my heart. At display here is what Pope John Paul II coined the Feminine Genius, and what I call severe tenderness (more on those another time).

Other reviews:

Illa

 

God is Chinese?

Of course not. I just wanted to have a catchy post title.

But written Chinese seems to have an interesting unknown history to most. Let me show you what I noticed a while back:

Male and Female

Pictured above are two Chinese words. If you do not know Chinese, and you had to choose, which character above (the left one or the right one) would you think represents female? Which do you think represents male? Take a minute and just guess… we’ll see if you’re right!

On the left, we have the Chinese character for male. On the right is the character for female. And most of the time, people unfamiliar with Chinese guess correctly! When thought through, it makes sense that this is so, on a few levels.

First, the male character is rigid looking, straight lines, angular and rectangular. It mimics the frame of a man’s body. The female character sports more curvature, and it even looks like it has its two legs crossed, as a sitting woman. Now that’s merely the look of the two ideographs. Let’s break it down further:

Chinese ideographs are pictographic, they represent ideas via images, and each pictograph holds a meaning. Some pictographs are simple, and others are more complex. A complex pictograph is made up of things called radicals, and a radical is actually other simple pictographs. An analogy: H2O is a symbol for the water molecule. It is one whole complex pictograph. However, the H can also stand alone as hydrogen and the O can stand alone as oxygen. The H and the O are simple pictographs that can also be radicals that come together to form a complex pictograph: H2O.

The same works for Chinese characters, and some complex pictographs can have even five or more distinct radicals! Anyway, the male character is composed of two radicals: one atop, one under. The top radical resembles a rice paddy, or a field with plow lines for farming. The radical alone is the word for field. The bottom radical is the word for strength or power, and a closer look shows that it resembles a flexing arm, or even a plow!

In the Paddyfield

[This shot of a rice paddy generously provided by: Tricia A. Mitchell]

In ExpectationThe female character is only comprised of one radical, which means exactly what it already is: female. But notice that it appears to be emphasizing something, something special. In the character, there is an empty space in the center, there is a womb.

In the Genesis account of Creation, after the sin of Adam and Eve, a consequence is laid out for the selfishness of our first parents: Adam from now on must work, must use his muscle to tend the fields and grow his own food (Genesis 3: 17-19), and Eve will now bear children in pain (Genesis 3: 16). See the emphasis? See the point of the consequences represented in the Chinese characters? And is it a coincidence?

There are more Chinese ideographs that have similar and even more extreme coincidences. But don’t take my word for it… see for yourself from Pastor Kong Hee in Singapore!