This is now my fourth post dissecting the film, “Cabin in the Woods“.
For a film I rated three stars, it really has taken up a lot of my time. And I always knew that would be the case.
What the film tries to do is be a dissertation on horror movies whilst still being a horror movie itself. I think Joss Whedon (co-writer) and Drew Goddard (co-writer/director) do an amiable job and I praise them for taking a shot at something really different but like a dissertation paper, it all feels a little too academic.
In my previous posts I discussed the connection between the film and the concept of the atonement and its connection with ‘the hunger games’. In this post I wish to discuss the film and its connect with the theology of ‘thin places’. Like all the previous posts, this will contain SPOILERS.
A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.
There are numerous accounts in the Old Testament where Heaven seems to invade earth. One of the most famous is when Moses encounters God in a bush in Exodus chapter 3. In the Jewish tradition, Moses built a tabernacle that claimed to hold the very presence of God. Later, King Solomon built a Temple (a large scale tabernacle) where it was believed that, in the very centre of the temple (the holy of holies), Heaven invaded earth. The Priest could enter through the curtain and come face to face with the living God. When Jesus was crucified, the gospels record that the curtain was torn in two as a sign that Heaven has now broken out on earth.
There have been times in my own life, where like Moses, it felt like the ground I stood on was holy. That in that moment I encountered another world; that for a brief second i was able to, as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,
“fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
I believe that the mythology of “Cabin in the Woods” also includes this concept. The cabin is the ‘thin place’ where the physical world and the spiritual world collide. It is where the doors open and the creatures and beasts of the spiritual world are unleashed into the physical world. The film conveys that there are ‘thin places’ all over the world where these two worlds collide.
In the film, only ‘Marty’ realises that the cabin is a ‘thin place’. The rest are oblivious. I believe that in our own lives, we can be so focused on the day to day things that we miss the thin places in our lives. Jesus talk his disciples to pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”.
In that simple prayer, he was showing the disciples that they need to take their eyes off of their lives and open themselves up to the bigger picture. It’s the same with us. If we focus all our attention on our own lives then we miss out on what God is doing, and in some way prevent the Kingdom of Heaven from expanding. There are times when instead of advancing the Kingdom of Heaven, through our words and actions we actually advance the dominion of Hell. When we lie, cheat, steal, horde and oppress, we force the Kingdom of Heaven to retreat.
Here are some questions to explore with the young people you work with who have seen the film?
1) Have you ever encountered a ‘thin place’ where there seemed to be more going on that what you could see? Where things felt differently?
2) What stops you encountering these places more often?
3) What can we do practically to see the Kingdom of Heaven spread wider?
My current postmodern 21st century western mind struggles with the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. Here is a brief summary:
Let me be clear. I do not think it should be done away with and I think there are occasions where this is useful but I do not think it should be the dominant understanding of what Jesus did. The book, “Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross” (ed Mark Baker) offers some great contemporary images of the atonement that I feel work better in our culture.
My problem with it is that it characterises God the Father as an unstoppable ball of wrath that is only stopped because Jesus stands in the way. There are other issues I have but that is the key one. I feel that in some ways the Gods who are spoken of in “Cabin in the Woods” are similar to the God of penal substitution. They demand justice. They must be appeased by a blood sacrifice. Nothing else will do.
I think a similar connection to penal substitution is found in “The Hunger Games”. The President wants people to be reminded of their sins and that to be forgiven, a sacrifice must be made. David Lose, guest blogging on Tony Jones’ site argues that The President is the God of this atonement theory. I would not go as far as Lose does and I think there are significant criticisms to be made of his arguments but there are certain similarities that cannot be brushed over.
I used to really struggle with the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac in Genesis 22 for two reasons. Firstly that Abraham did not seem to find any difficulty in killing his son and secondly, that God asked him to do it in the first place. It seems that there is a parallel between this God and the president in “The Hunger Games”. To show his allegiance to God, Abraham had to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. In the same way, the President also asks this of the inhabitants of the twelve districts.
I said I used to struggle with this passage because once I learned about the culture and traditions of this period in human history, it made so much more sense to me. Abraham lived in a culture steeped in the narrative of sacrifice. Sacrificing your possessions to the gods demonstrated your allegiance to them. And what bigger demonstration of allegiance is there than offering up your own children. The followers of the pagan god Baal often sacrificed their children as a symbol of their devotion. It was common practice for your god to demand this kind of sacrifice. That is why Abraham would have gone along with it.
But the story does not end in the way that the culture would expect. God shows that he is different from the other gods. He provides a sacrifice for Abraham.
It is in this narrative that the penal substitution theory of atonement works best. God offers a sacrifice for us.
I am thankful that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament no longer exists because it doesn’t really work. The bible testifies to this and these two films testify to this. It is fitting that at the end of each movie, the sacrificial system is undermined.
The Atonement is not about appeasing an angry God or a way of oppressing us and keeping us in fear. The atonement is the complete outpouring of God. It is the exclamation mark of the life of Jesus. It liberates us from evil and reconciles us with God. It allows us to be reminded of our frail humanity and to encounter god in the unknown and in the pain. It reminds me to be present with people, to share in their life, their pain, their joys and their struggles. It challenges me to live out my beliefs even if it costs me everything. It causes me to go the extra mile, to love my neighbour, to speak for those who have no voice.
But most of all, it gives me hope.
It’s holy week. It is the time of the year when Christians enter into the story of Jesus’ last days. It is the time of year when Christians think about sacrifice.
It’s funny then that in the space of 24 hours, I watched two films at the cinema that both deal with the theme of sacrifice: ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ and ‘The Hunger Games‘.
I have already written a post detailing my initial thoughts of “cabin’ here but Ill summarise the plot here: (spoilers)
The film follows five college students who spend the weekend at a cabin and are killed off one by one. What soon becomes clear to the survivors is that they are part of a worldwide sacrificial system to appease the Gods who live underneath the ground.
For many the story of ‘Hunger Games’ is more familiar but here is a quick summary courtesy of IMDB:
Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place for the latest match.
The Hunger Games, the annual event where the young people kill each other, was established after some of the inhabitants staged an uprising. The Games are a reminder of what the people did and why they should never try it again. In some way the fighters are living sacrifices, killed to appease the President.
Both films deal with a worldwide sacrificial system, involving young people, that is set up to appease and entertain. In “cabin’ the young people do not know that they are part of it, whereas in ‘Games’ they do. Both films also end with the survivors choosing to turn against the system.
But there are key differences that mark out the films.
In ‘Cabin’ the Gods are angry. They want death and destruction and so the sacrificial system is set up to entertain them and take their minds off of killing everyone. It is a barter system. If they do not get their sacrifices, their will be bloodshed on a colossal level. Millions will die. What the film seems to suggest is that this is a continuation of the sacrificial system that has taken place since before the Old Testament was written and their are glimpses of Old Testament scenes in the opening credits. To sum it up, this systems primary function is to appease the God’s wrath.
In ‘Games’ the primary function of the sacrificial system is to remind the people of their guilt and through that, subdue them. It is not about appeasing a God or Gods but instead, it is a symbol of oppressive power and authority.
As I reflect on these movies and there sacrificial structures I see some similarities between them and the atonement (the crucifixion of Jesus) as well as some key differences.
In the next post I’ll explore this a little further.
What a difference a few hours make.
After getting all down about YF last night, I decided to take a half day today and take my son to the Dean Park. And what a joy it was.
I forgot the simple pleasure of life but watching the wee man throw stones into the river brought it all back.
I don’t often ‘do’ the sabbath well. to take that time to rest and re-cooperate. But I got it today. I’ve always normally got my eye on the next e-mail coming through or answering that text that doesn’t really need answered.
But I was reminded of something today.
The only way to get better at something is practice.
I’m going to practice the Sabbath more
How about you?