Figures of Christ – Echoes of the Divine in Literature and Film
The Bible can be understood, in part, as the great overarching narrative of humanity’s relationship with God. It is a story in four acts: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. Woven throughout the testaments is the figure of Christ.
The figure of Christ, regardless of our understanding or knowledge of the biblical narrative, has permeated the worldview of mankind since well before recorded history. Somehow, deep in the very essence of our being we long for Messiah. We look for Him in nature and in human relationships. We see there merely echoes and fingerprints. Most of all we look for Him in our own narratives, the stories we tell ourselves and each other that help us make sense of the world, and in the stories we create to merely entertain. Joseph Campbell reduces these echoes to single idea, a hero with a thousand faces.
The Foundling House has asked a few of our readers and contributors to share their own favorite Christ figures, or Christ images from literature, film and comics. Here are some of our picks.
I’d say Babette, in Isak Dinesen’s short story “Babette’s Feast.” Babette finds herself in this tiny community, surrounded by a fractious, Puritanical sect that has forgotten grace, abundant love, and beauty. Her impact is first seen in many small ways—the soup that’s made to give to the poor is more nourishing when Babette makes it. The budget goes further than ever before. But when Babette wins the lottery and asks if she can give a dinner for the tiny fellowship, she truly sacrifices everything to awaken their hearts to mercy and grace. I think one element that is most fascinating about her to me is that she is not acting out of character at all in doing this. Her sacrifice is the truest outpouring of her artistic gift, just as, I’d say, Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was the truest outpouring of what he came to be.
Btw, if any readers are in NYC, I’ve been hearing great things about the new Babette’s Feast play currently showing off Broadway.
Nancy Elizabeth Wentzel
Aslan, from The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
Maybe the deepest thing I love about Aslan is that he was one of the first Christ-figures I encountered in literature, as a young child. He was my introduction to the idea of what a Christ-figure is- this idea that the story of redemption is so central and powerful to our very existence, that we are inexorably drawn, like moths to a light, when we see the same theme play out in a story. As a child this opened my eyes to the fact that Redemption isn’t just a narrative in the pages of the Bible; it’s the story of the living, breathing world around us. Our search for Christ-figures in the pages of literature keeps us in touch with the deepest yearnings of our souls. Thanks be to CSL for giving such a gift to children and adults alike, in the person of Aslan, who surely loved the children visiting his world as Christ loved the children He encountered in the Gospels.
The Little Prince, The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The whole story is full of symbolism, and so many tiny nuggets can be taken from it. The main character, our Prince, comes to Earth, far from his home. He is pure and lovely. He loves a rose. He loves her devotedly, in spite of her flaws. She is proud, caught up in her own existence, but still he loves her. He wanders through the desert wilderness. He sees things so differently than the people he meets, people whose minds are caught on lowly cares that lead to entrapped lives. He engages with a serpent, who promises him attractive things. He eventually allows the snake to bite him, entering into death, for the love of his rose and his desire to be with her. And then, his body is gone, giving hope that he is indeed home on his little planet.
Mufasa, The Lion King, Walt Disney Pictures/Irene Mecchi and Roger Allers
Especially so in the Broadway production. There is additional music in it that holds great power and moves me to tears whenever I hear it. He saves his son from the danger of the stampede and gives his life in the process. As Simba grows up and loses his way (no thanks to the lies of the deceptive Scar), Mufasa finds a way to speak to him, calling his name, reminding him who he is. This scene, with him commanding Simba to “remember who you are,” and the ensuing song “He Lives in You” are such electric reminders to me of my identity as Christ’s co-heir and how his Spirit is alive in me.
John Coffey, The Green Mile, Castle Rock Entertainment/Stephen King and Frank Darabont
I love that he’s a large black man who lived during the Jim Crow era. And I love how gentle and tender he is. The whole story shows how God’s ways are not our ways. He uses the foolish to confound the wise. (1 Cor. 1:27)
Harry Potter, Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling
I find his character has many aspects that point to Christ. He is incredibly selfless, his coming was foretold in prophecy, he fell out of popular favor, he endured great pain from the Cruciatus curse, he had a strong link with Muggles and Wizards which points to Christ’s humanity and divinity, and he ultimately sacrificed himself, went to an afterlife, and then returned to life. It’s a story we can never hear too many times or in too many ways.
Aslan, The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis/Walt Disney Pictures
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had such an obsession with the Narnian, or Heavenly, world that C. S. Lewis created. I think that is because it gave me such hope that one day my Heavenly body could experience something perfect like that. I love Aslan as a Christ Figure because Jesus is actually talked about in the Bible as a lion and a lamb. Seeing the physical majesty and strength of Aslan when the Pevensie children first meet him in the camps, to his gentle demeanor when talking to Lucy, to his humble sacrifice on the Stone Table are such blatant and beautiful representations of a loving and all-knowing God. To me, seeing Aslan appear even on screen made me tear up with respect and awe, and made me want to embrace him at the same time. I think that is exactly how I will feel when I meet Jesus one day, only of course on a vastly grander scale! This character always struck such warmth, awe, and love inside my heart, making him one of my favorite characters in all of literature.
There are so many great Christ-figures in film, and I’m a fairly firm believer in the One Story, the Gospel, being the thread that permeates all good stories of discovery or sacrifice or love. That said, I can think of two films worth seeing. First is Calvary, with Brendan Gleeson playing Father James, a rural Irish priest, who struggles to navigate the evils and brokenness of his community with grace and empathy. The second film, which I’m mentioning because it’s totally different, features a literal hand in the dark, which (spoiler alert) appears at the very end of Robert Redford’s brilliant performance as Our Man in J. C. Chandor’s All is Lost. The first, to me, exemplifies the grueling humanity of Jesus’ struggle as the Man of Sorrows, and the second provides a vision of the transcendence and providence of Jesus showing up at hope’s lowest ebb.
In literature, I love the character of Hazel in Watership Down, by Richard Adams. In his leadership and self-sacrifice, Hazel places a foot in both the metaphysical and the tangible, maintaining a love of his comrades while both broaching new territory and keeping the ancient traditions of his kind. Honorable mention to Lewis Gillies in the Song of Albion trilogy by Stephen Lawhead.
John Palmer Gregg
Paul Atriedes, Dune, Frank Herbert
I don’t know how many times I’ve read this book, but I’ve only seen the various movie adaptations once. I try to pretend they don’t exist, the world is better that way. There are so many reasons I chose him. One big reason is Paul’s struggle against prophecy and his desire to avoid the path that would lead to his own sacrificial act. It reflects the struggle Christ experienced as He prepared to lay down His life.