This will be my last post on ‘The Cabin in the Woods” (probably).
I’ve written four other posts relating to different aspects of the film. If you have the time, please have a read.
As usual, this post contains SPOILERS
At the end of the film, we discover that people all across the world are being sacrificed to appease the wrath of the gods who live under the earth. But these are no ordinary sacrifices. The gods crave entertainment and demand that the teenagers be dispatched by horror movie conventions (cabin in the woods, vengeful Japanese spirits, mermans etc). When the sacrificial system falls apart, the gods break out on to the earth to cause destruction.
In other words…the gods depicted in the film are… us!
I believe there are two ways of applying that message to our circumstances:
1) We demand to be entertained. We need horror movies to satisfy our blood lust so that we do no go out and do it in the ‘real’ world. Some would argue that people kill others because of horror movies. “Cabin in the woods” argues that horror movies actually stop us from killing. They allow us to express the dark parts of our humanity and experience all the emotions of horror (fear, adrenaline, excitement, anger, revenge) in a safe environment.
2) We like things the way we are. We don’t want the boat rocked. We have a good system in place and we have expectations that we think should be met otherwise we’ll kick up a fuss.
It’s the 2nd point that is most relatable in my own youth work context.
I work for a church. In my role as a youth worker, I have clear expectations of how the youth work should be done. Whether the congregation voice it or not, they also have an expectation of how youth work should be done. And at times, they kick up a fuss if its not done in the way they think it should be.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Sometimes without realising it, we end up serving the ‘gods’ of the congregation rather than the God of the church. We end up playing to their expectations and their rules. And when we get into a system like that, like the film suggests, it can be very hard to break out of.
What methods are you currently employing in your youth work? And who sets them?
Which god is influencing your youth work?
- My Initial Thoughts on ‘The Cabin In The Woods’ (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- The Marginalisation of Young People in “The Cabin in the Woods” (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- Thin Places in “The Cabin in the Woods” (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- Editorial: The Cabin in the Woods is Not the New Scream – It’s Something Else (dreadcentral.com)
- Satire and Meta-Horror in “The Cabin in the Woods” (joannaparypinski.com)
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.
I’d catch a grenade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Throw my hand on a blade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
I’d jump in front of a train for ya (yeah, yeah , yeah)
You know I’d do anything for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Ridiculous sentiments that don’t make any sense. But you know what, the crucifixion doesn’t make sense either.
It got to the stage where God was like, “how do I express my love to them? How do I show them once and for all?”
And he came up with a ridiculous sentiment.
Die for us. Die with us. Die in place of us.
How do we show our love for people? We go over the top. We do grand gestures proclaiming our love. We buy stuff or them, we give up our lives for them, we write songs for them, we make movies for them. We try and satisfy that love any way that we can.
How did God satisfy his love for?