On our last night in Victoria, Matt and I saw a movie with friends: This is the End.
The premise of the movie is that a house party hosted by James Franco is interrupted by the apocalypse, and the celebrities (playing themselves) have to figure out how to survive. If you are considering seeing this ridiculous comedy, don’t read this review yet because there will be spoilers, but know that you are signing up to watch a really irreverent satire of rapture theology and hollywood culture, and brace yourself for a ton of swearing, some sexuality, and more than a little gore. But I’m not saying don’t see it! Just don’t go and see it because I saw it so it must be okay…. Yikes.
With that said, This is the End was more entertaining and less offensive than I expected walking into the theatre. I laughed hard, I screamed (some parts were jumpy), and I was challenged to really think about what I believe as a Christian. The end of the world is not something I know very much about, theologically, and I am a bit put off by people being really zealous about exactly how the apocalypse will happen. Yes, the Bible gives us some information; no, I don’t think Revelation is a literal play-by-play of what to expect. One of the beauties of this movie is that it just presents a scenario: there is a rapture involving beams of blue light that suck people up to heaven, and the unworthy are left behind to deal with sinkholes, earthquakes, beasts and demons. The Bible is referenced by one character, but there is clearly no effort to support any details of this movie with scripture, and I like it! For a movie that is completely secular and seems totally irreverent, they didn’t actually mock anything about the Bible, or twist it to make Christians seem ridiculous, which I appreciate.
One scene that Christians might be concerned about is the failed exorcism of Jonah Hill. Jonah is possessed by a demon after praying to God that Jay Baruchel would die. I thought this was very interesting because without emphasizing the point or getting preachy, the movie shows that hatred opens you up to evil. The scene is below:
I think this scene has the most potential for offence to Christians, and I was a little uncomfortable watching it because I do believe that Jesus is more powerful than any demon, so seeing this attempt at faith mocked by a demon made me sad. However, did you know that the Bible also contains a failed exorcism? Acts 19:13-16
But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
The power that comes from Jesus name is not in a magic phrase, but in faith that he defeated Satan through the cross. In the movie, Jay says, “The power of Christ compels you,” because that’s what the priest says in the movie The Exorcist. Jay is not a believer though, and if Christ is not compelling enough to live for, why would a demon care that you invoke his name? The fact that Jay is mocked, standing with his hood up and a make-shift cross, is another surprising example for me of this movie hitting close to the truth – evil powers are not fooled by our spiritual bluffs any more than God is. And that is a very sobering thought, that coasting along looking good, acting good, is no defense against evil.
Lest this review end up taking you more time to read than actually watching the movie, I am going to use some bullet points for my general likes about the movie:
- props for raising the issue of judgment/righteousness – even the fact that talking about it often comes off judgy, like when Jay suggests the apocalypse is happening, his friends turn on him, pointing out he is just as unworthy as them since he too was left behind.
- the confession scene, where the guys face up to the fact they were “left behind” for a reason. The Bible verse to drop on this scene is Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
- the message of selfless, sacrificial love – the idea that living for yourself is wrong. When Craig gave himself up to the monster so the other guys could escape, it reminded me of Matthew 16:25 – For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.
- the car conversation about being “good enough” and Franco’s strategy to just keep rules until the balance is tipped and they get beamed up. It was good satire of works-based righteousness and it’s ineffectiveness, and it made me laugh
- the guys maintain their individuality in heaven – as demonstrated by Craig Robinson’s trademark shirt. I liked this a lot, actually, since a lot of stereotypical ideas of heaven involve everyone playing a harp and wearing white robes. That’s my only like for heaven though – see below.
- decent special effects – I didn’t expect that the people making this movie took it seriously enough to actually spend money to make things look real. But they did!
As for dislikes, my hugest complaint in this movie is that the portrayal of heaven sucks. It is basically what you would see in a rap video – pool party, a bunch of weed, and girls in bikinis. It’s not very different from the party at James Franco’s house on earth (the one where nobody got raptured) except everyone is wearing white. Seth and Jay are welcomed by Craig, who informs them in heaven you can have “anything you wish for.” Bam, Seth is on a Segway scooter, and the Backstreet Boys put on a concert. Lame.
To be fair, I don’t have a clue how I would create Heaven for a movie – part of the wonder is that it defies our human limitations. I think my pet peeve is that after spending a whole movie learning to move past their selfish desires, the payoff is a self-centered paradise, which pretty much defeats the purpose and makes morality completely arbitrary: act selfless so you can get to heaven and have everything you wish for.
Of course, it would not be a secular movie if the final scene was the realization of humanity’s purpose of knowing and worshipping God through the beatific vision – way more intense, and way better than sitting around playing harps! The fact is, in the movie God is completely absent from heaven, just like the actors thought he was from earth. This leaves the moral message of the movie ringing hollow, and it’s because the movie presents a false gospel, replacing selfish living with life dedicated to others: the guys get to heaven by being willing to die for their friends, but why is one selfless act enough? The suggestion seems to be that one ultimate sacrifice shows worthiness for Heaven, a distortion of the gospel Christians believe that Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice is the only act powerful enough to wipe the slate clean in terms of our sin. When we trust in Jesus, it’s not to makes the scales even, it is to acknowledge that we can never be good enough in our own power to enter God’s presence.
The other problem with the movie in terms of sacrifice yielding salvation is that none of the characters actually suffer – they get beamed up to heaven in the nick of time. The imagery was cool in showing that good is absolutely more powerful than evil, but again the Christian gospel is cut short. Jesus didn’t offer his life on our behalf and then get beamed up just before the torture started; he was literally whipped and beaten, humiliated, nailed to a cross and let to die. He was buried.
Maybe it seems like Jesus had it easy because he is God and knew that his death wasn’t final, but that doesn’t do the situation justice. The reality of Jesus’ suffering is a key aspect of Christian faith, especially when our own walk of obedience is challenging. The gospel of Christ does not promise escape from suffering, and it demands more than just the willingness to suffer, but perseverance through whatever difficulties come.
One last preachy point that came out of that movie for me: any lifestyle that is not grounded in obedience to God is idolatrous. The guys have a big moral breakthrough at Franco’s house when they realize they have been living for themselves and that is wrong. This conclusion doesn’t really lead them to anything, but it seems like the problem is solved when they sacrifice themselves and get beamed out of the apocalypse. Unfortunately, the solution in the movie is a false ideal – living for others, or putting others before yourself is admirable, but it is just as idolatrous to live for others as to live for yourself. We were created to live for God, and as Christians we are called to be ambassadors for God’s kingdom, living out the values of love, justice, mercy, humility, submission to God, and worship. These are the things that give our lives meaning and direction, and acting out this calling often looks the same as trying to be a good person, but the difference is the motivation. Trying to be a good person out of fear of judgment, or trying to earn salvation, or investing in karma is better than not trying to be a good person, for sure. But accepting Jesus’ goodness in place of our own efforts and then living in the freedom that comes from that is way better.
I never would have guessed I’d have so much to say about this movie or end up on such a theological rant. I think a lot of Christians will condemn this movie, but I for one don’t. If it’s not your kind of movie, don’t go see it because you’ll hate it, though feel free to use any points I’ve raised in this post to bluff a conversation with your neighbour who raves about it BUT if you enjoy a raunchy comedy then go see it with friends and make time afterwards to talk about it! I think it is much better to talk things through even if not everyone believes the same things than to just never talk about things that really matter.