Finding Wisdom in Summer Blockbusters

27 Jun

Uptown Theater

One of the best ways to find relief from the Twin Cities’ hottest and most humid summer days is to relax in the soft seats of an air conditioned movie theatre, where at last you can untangle yourself from heat’s embrace. I often go to the beautiful Landmark Theaters, where you can see the more obscure and foreign films. Or I cross the mighty Mississippi to my other favorite and a Minneapolis treasure, Riverview Theatre, where the original decor from the 1950s brings you back to the days of Grace Kelly’s beauty and Jimmy Stewart’s signature drawl.

The blockbuster that ushered in this summer was the highly anticipated “The Avengers.” Why is it that thousands all over the world crowded the movie theaters to watch fictional characters in tight pants doing completely unrealistic things? It wasn’t purely to have mindless entertainment or an escape from the heat and reality. In a way, the superhero movies of today are modern day versions of fairy tales, and we watch them for the same reasons people read and still read the beloved once upon a time tales: to experience the blurred lines between fantasy and reality in the struggle of good versus evil, and to indulge the desire for good to triumph over evil.

Amid Tony Stark’s witty one-liners, the gods of mischief and thunder warring against each other, and Captain America wielding his trusty shield, the viewers find themselves in a world where at last good is recognized, and freedom is fought for. The world of Marvel is filled with things not of our world; however, the difficulties, virtues, and vices of the Marvel world are much like what we face in our own world: greed, love, selfishness, sacrifice, despair, and abuse of human dignity. In a world where it may seem that evil with its many faces triumphs, fairy tales and superheroes give us the consolation of happy endings, and remind us of the possibility of our triumphant salvation in life everlasting in Heaven, the ultimate happy ending.

J.R.R.Tolkien titled this consolation of happy endings as ‘eucatastrophe.’ At the turn of events, when the Avengers at last defeat the evil forces, the audience is given a glimpse of joy, of heart’s desire. The joy in happy endings is what makes a eucatastrophic tale, and it is what makes a true fairy tale or superhero movie attractive to human sentiments and desires. As Tolkien writes concerning happy endings, “it does not deny the existence…of sorrow and failure:… it denies…universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

We watch superhero movies because our instinctual reaction to the sufferings of this world, rooted in our desire and aims for salvation, is to depend on good triumphing, and Christ, superheroes, saints, and ourselves procuring our happy ending with Christ in Heaven.

As Nick Fury says, “I still believe in heroes.”

-Zita Larson

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