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Ever since its release in 2004, Christians have been clamoring for a sequel to the Passion of the Christ, hands down, the bloodiest Christian movie ever made.

“Why did you make this film… I think there’s a tendency for all of us to take that event for granted. And cinematically I think its been sanitized a fair bit so that it becomes ineffective, ineffectual, not emotional and I wanted to illustrate the extent of the sacrifice.”

Many reviewers were disgusted with the Passion’s bloodshed, calling it an epic snuff film, but Christians saw in it God’s manifested love for all humanity. A meaning which Gibson, in the film’s opening quotation, invited audiences to see.

The Passion went on to become the highest-grossing independent and rated R film, earning 610 million dollars worldwide. It’s not surprising, therefore, to see why Christians want a sequel. But they’ve totally missed the one Gibson gave them.

In 2006, Gibson followed the Passion with Apocalypto, a story which is a continent, culture, and millennium removed from the crucifixion. Apart from the arrival of the Spanish at the film’s end, nothing in it appears to do with Christianity, even though just as bloody as the Passion of the Christ.

Christians understood the Passion’s brutality but they could not swallow Apocalypto’s. According to one Christian reviewer the Passion’s “very subject matter – crucifixion – lent itself to such explicit imagery…” But concerning Apocalypto’s violence, they had to conclude, “with no theological framework to guide it, it’s difficult to see how this gruesome film could be recommended for Christian audiences of any age.”

The irony is striking since Gibson has gone to great links to connect the two films.

Language

One of the most obvious is in language. To date, Gibson has directed five films and yet only two, the Passion and Apocalypto, have been filmed using ancient languages which few speak or understand today.

Title

The title is also telling. Apocalypto is Greek for “I reveal” and is related to the Greek word Apocalypse, Revelation, the last book in the New Testament. If we consider that the Passion was Gibson’s meditation on the Gospels, at the beginning of the New Testament, Apocolypto suggests itself as a corresponding bookend.

Echoes

But even more substantial are the many ways Apocalypto echoes the earlier film. Opening, for instance, like the Passion, with a white text quotation on a black background from which it fades to a slow zoom on a wooded landscape. Here, Apocolypto introduces Jaguar Paw and his tribe who like Jesus are hunted, captured, and ripped from the forest to endure an agonizing journey, carrying a beam to a city and a hill of execution where they’re laid on their backs and pierced through as a sacrifice. Here, the film also echoes the Passion in the darkening of the sky.

But here’s where the echoes end. The passion is nearly over. Jesus is taken down from the cross. And in one final scene, rises from the dead. But Apocolypto goes on for another half in which Jaguar Paw escapes and races back to save his wife and child in the place where the film began. There he must confront and kill his enemies, one by one, before the waters rise too high. But the arrival of the Spanish, distracts the last of his pursuers. And after rescuing his family, together they seek a new beginning in the forest.

Theological Framework

Apocolypto and the Passion are two sides of the same archetypal coin. The Passion may begin in the Garden of Gethsemane but its more importantly an allusion to the Garden of Eden. The serpent suggests that Jesus is here undergoing the temptation of Adam and Eve. Whose failure, according to the Bible, cast the mold for every human person. But Jesus rejects the serpent and thereby begins to break and remake that mold. He freely surrenders and endures mankind’s banishment from garden / the curse of suffering and death, so that by sharing in our suffering he might share with us his resurrection and victory over sin. His new humanity. Thus after death, he rises naked, as Adam and Eve did before the fall, the symbol of humanities return to the garden.

The Passion, therefore, isn’t just a story of a brutalized man. It’s the story of how the only innocent man suffered to become the representative of Everyman. And it’s Everyman, that Gibson shows us in Apocolypto. That’s why it too begins with an allusion to the Garden of Eden, seen in the lush foliage of the forest, the happiness and near nudity of its inhabitants as well as a story echoing Genesis’ account of creation and man’s fall.

“I saw a hole in man’s heart…

This is the story of humanity and Apocolypto. And the city which takes Jaguar Paw and his tribe captive is the embodiment of man’s corruption and fall, subjugating people and nature in it’s perpetual quest for more. The fact that Gibson has pulled the film’s opening quote from something which was origina lly said of ancient Rome, indicates that the city represents more than one particular society. And in the pile of bodies, we’re shown an allusion to the destruction wrought by other empires. In fact, Gibson has said that the film is equally about the destruction wrought by the United States right now.

And its in this symbolic city that Jesus repeatedly gives himself, reversing man’s selfish trend. While some have called the Passion an anti-semitic film, its with and for the Jews that Jesus actually suffers. Isaiah 53 is the climax of a much longer passage in which God promises to return the Jews from their war captivity in Babylon. And the God’s servant suffers with Israel in their exile in Babylon to return them to the promised land. The fact that the word Passion (to suffer) is closely related to the word ComPassion (to suffer with) shouldn’t be missed. Jesus isn’t just one man suffering. He is Everyman suffering. And in Apocolypto, Gibson reinforces Jesus’ Compassion in the Passion by comparing and contrasting scenes like these. The graphic violence of these films is intended to remind us of the real world in which real humans actually experience these things. And the real God who endured nothing less with and for them.

And through his comPassion he returns humanity to the garden.

This there-and-back again plot is central to the bible, occurring again and again, representing man’s plight and hope for redemption. Jaguar Paws second half escape is symbolic of man’s struggle to find salvation in fleeing the selfishness of the city. Gibson also appears here to be alluding to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies but discussion of that will have to wait for the comments below.

Deus Ex Machina

This leads us to the film’s end which has been criticized as a Deus Ex Machina, a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is abruptly resolved by an unexpected intervention of some new event, in essence lazy storytelling. Nothing in the film prepares the audience for the arrival of the Spanish.

But its important to note that the same was also true of the resurrection in the Passion of the Christ. While the rest of the film focuses on Christ suffering, the short resurrection scene at the end of the film occurs abruptly and appears tacked on. The film zooms in on Jesus at the beginning and zooms out on his dead body in the end. But The resurrection scene, with Jesus’ sideways exit, appears as something entirely new.

And that should remind of the true meaning of a Dues Ex Machina. It refers to the convention in ancient Greek tragedy to hoist gods onto the stage to solve these unsolvable problems. And in that sense the Resurrection is precisely that. It’s a Deus Ex Machina in the true sense of the term, it is humanly speaking utterly unexpected. To the Mayans, the arrival of the Spanish as strange as aliens landing on the earth. Or as Gibson appears to allude, the second coming of Christ.

For Gibson, Revelation doesn’t just happen once but again and again.

The one who compassionately suffered with the victim has now become their oppressor’s judge.

Hi, this is Matt. I want to do something different today. I usually make videos analyzing the symbolic meaning in films, but today I wanted to talk about how I know and how you can know a film’s symbolic meaning?

If you read the comments on this channel, you will see that I regularly get accused of imposing my beliefs on these movies that I am finding in them something that isn’t really there. Of course, my believing that Andy represents Jesus, Chigurh symbolizes death, the groundhog symbolizes Phil, Max’s Muzzle signifies a beak, and Wilson represents Chuck’s old self but does not make it so. So how I do know that this is more than likely what the filmmakers had in mind? The answer begins with language.

We as humans by nature makers and interpreters of symbols. We listen because we understand. We speak because we expect to be understood, and that’s not all that different from what screenwriters and directors do. They use and invest images with symbolic meaning because they expect us to understand them, and they can do this because it’s something that we do every day.

The words we used are symbols. Take the word “hand” for instance, it’s not the thing itself, but a spoken or written representation of something else. Our cultural context has invest the sound and our combination of letters with meaning, and because words are symbols, not the thing itself, they can and often have a variety of meanings. A list which can grow as words pick up new associations in new context. This is how for instance giving someone a hand came to refer as not to the literal act of cutting out that body part, but instead to help or applause. The specific context was the implicit key by which the hearer understood the speaker’s intent, and from a single usage, the meaning spread to the cultural list of meanings. It’s only in context that we actually know a word’s meaning. A word outside our context means nothing to us, and without some additional context, we simply assume our cultures most common use. Determining if another meaning is intended as a matter of accounting for all the contextual evidence, the more coherence we find increases our confidence that we have indeed understood as speaker’s intent.

In film, images work the same way. An image is simply the thing itself unless context suggests some other sense. Screenwriters and directors invest images with symbolic meaning in a same way we do words by connecting them to other things – a spoken metaphor, a comparison may be between two things becomes a possible meaning when the physical image is shown later on in the film, but metaphors can also be done visually, the effect of cutting between two images places an additional or equal sign between them. Similarities and or contrasts not necessarily shown next to each other can produce the same effect.

But screenwriters and directors also pick images for their pre-loaded cultural associations. Other movies, television shows, historical events, books, philosophical ideas as well as universal experiences already inform us of an image’s possible meanings.

We don’t have to ask a filmmaker what they thought to know what they were thinking; the film tells us in the same way a sentence tells us the thoughts of a speaker. Just as a safecracker listens and considers the sound of a lock testing out hypothesis by trial and error, so we too come to understand a filmmaker’s intent by linking up meaning in film. Since we intuitively understand how symbolism in language works, symbolism is working its magic on each of us.

In Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, Jesus says of his torment, “I make all things new.” And given that it’s a quote from the book of Revelation (21:5), these words seems oddly placed. In the Passion, Jesus is beaten to a bloody pulp. How could this make anything new? The Passion shows how in its beginning and end.

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In the beginning, Jesus is praying in the Garden. And yet its not just Gethsamene. It’s the Garden of Eden. The serpent is found in Genesis, tempting the first humans, as the Devil does Jesus here. Jesus is Eve and Adam, undergoing their temptation. This is important because Adam and Eve aren’t just people in the Bible, as the first humans, they stand for all humanity. In their failure the world failed. And in their expulsion from paradise the whole world was expelled.

But in the Passion, Jesus seeks to do something no human has ever done; overcome all temptation, to crush the serpent’s head, and in doing that replace the failure of the first couple as humanities new representative. He therefore suffers to identify with us and not for his own sin.

This is why the Passion so focuses on Jesus’ suffering. This isn’t just Jesus who is suffering, This is humanity suffering: the child bloodied by the attack of ISIS and the one mistreated by their parent. The list examples on and on. Jesus is suffering with every person. And in righteously sharing in that suffering shares with us his resurrection and victory over sin. That;s why in the resurrection, he stands naked as the first humans did before the fall. He’s returning humanity to the garden.

Just think about Jesus’ suffering as you listen to this song. https://youtu.be/gpOPkzplHRw

After watching my Mad Max video, a friend asked me, “how do you know that’s what the author had in mind?”

The same question might be asked of you reading this. How do you know what I’m communicating right now? Simple answer: because I’m telling you and you, of course, know how to read and understand English. There’s a lot about interpretation which we already know.

While there’s a bit of mystery in detecting and interpreting narrative symbolism, on the whole, it’s more like what we objectively do every day. We speak because we expect to be understood. Authors write and invest images with symbolic meaning because they likewise expect us to understand them. But how could they have this expectation? How can we know with relative certainty when an image possesses more than it’s surface meaning and what the meaning is?

While I’ve read and thought a great deal on symbolism, I’ve yet to find a succinct objective explanation on how authors mark out symbols and how audiences intuitively pick up on them. Lacking any simple guide, I’ve honed in on the following.

1. Humans are by nature makers and interpreters of symbols. Language is the primary way we use this ability every day.

2. Words are symbols. A word like “hand” is not the thing itself but a written or spoken representation of the appendage at the end of our arms. Cultural context has invested the sound or combination of letters with that meaning.

3. Since words are symbols they can and often do have more than one meaning. Within our culture, the word “hand” has a number of alternative definitions. And we add to a words list of meanings by bending and adapting them in new contexts.

4. New meanings to words are communicated, not by spelling them out (as in a dictionary) but through implicit connections in the context. This is how “giving someone a hand” came to refer not to the literal act of cutting off that body part but instead to help or applause. The specific context in which these expressions were first used became the key by which the audience was able to understand their meaning. And thus a new definition of “hand” was added to a growing list of definitions, spreading to the wider culture and eventually into the dictionary.

5. Some words (like “hand”) because of the availability of their primary definition are more adaptable to alternative meanings and therefore have a long list of secondary definitions.

6. Without context, we naturally assume a word’s primary definition.

7. Determining if another meaning is intended is a matter of weighing the contextual evidence (both external (the cultural) and internal (the conversational)). More evidence leads to a greater degree of probability.

8. Images within a narrative work in the same way that words do. The image may possess no alternative meaning and thus simply be the thing itself (in other words the primary definition – a picture of a rock is, of course, a rock). But it also may mean something else (an alternative meaning, i.e. symbolic meaning).

9. In a narrative, writers define an image as a symbol by making a connection to a preexisting cultural meaning (An eagle could represent the United States, Freedom and or Flight etc.) or they make some connection to an alternative meaning within the context of the book or film etc. itself. Metaphors and similes spoken in dialogue are potentially carried over into corresponding images within the world of the story. A metaphor in one conversation can define the corresponding image in another scene. But connections can be made implicitly through the narrative as well. The mirroring of one image with another through proximity and similarity is one technique at an authors disposal. The effect of cutting between two similar images in a film has the effect of placing those images side by side with equal sign in between – in essence an implicit metaphor.

10. Since people intuitively understand how symbolism in language works, they are well supplied to make the leap in interpreting narrative symbolism. Whether they cognitively know it or not, symbolism works it’s magic even on the unsuspecting reader.

Hi. I’m Matt. And this is Logos Made Flesh.

This movie may not look like a sermon to the sexes. It’s an action film. One crazed carnivalesque chase scene, from beginning to end. And yet Fury Road has been widely recognized as a feminist film! It’s about powerful women, specifically the war-rig driver Furiosa and the female band she rescues from sexual enslavement. And in a land of mothers, we’re introduced to even more badass women.

The male Max, by contrast, seems a lesser figure. For the first quarter of the film, he’s an incapacitated victim. And when released, he rarely speaks, fighting alongside or at the direction of Furiosa. But this is a movie equally for men and it would be a mistake to downplay Max’s role. What he does and what’s done to him becomes the film’s symbol of redemption.

Bird

The film presents Max as a bird of prey. Though he tries to fly from captivity, he’s confined to a birdcage and made to wear a muzzle that resembles a beak. Which is in part defined in the dashes bobbling birds head. But Max isn’t just any bird, rising from the ashes of a fiery crash, he’s revealed to be the Pheonix. And it’s this resurrected bird who appears destined to confront the beast who boasts. “I am your redeemer. It is by my hand you will rise from the ashes of this world.”

But it’s a lie! Under the control of Immortan Joe (who lives by machine), People, like nature, have been reduced to fuel. His female concubines are charged to give birth to his warriors. And if they aren’t producing them, they’re being drained of their milk to fuel them. Males are likewise exploited, promised a heavenly reward if they fight and die for Joe’s rule. And if they aren’t fighting, their blood is drained like gas for those that do.

It’s because the women have been oppressed by this man that they fly to a world without men. But for obvious reasons, they find that world equally doomed. It’s Max who stops them from going further. Like them, he began the film avoiding others. But now he’s a changed man.

Mother

Subjected, like the women, to the position of a rape victim, Max is bound via a chain of blood to the war-boy Nux. and through that image symbolically impregnated with him, placed at the mercy of his unborn child in the driver seat. The film further suggests this relationship in the mirrored images of an unborn baby’s foot and umbilical chord.

At first, Max shows little concern for his newborn. It’s only after their link stops Nux from carrying out Joe’s wishes and Nux turns to use that same link to help Max, that Max comes to embrace Nux as Son. Investing him with a boot and the control of the War-Rig. Nux has become a little Max which is what his name reflects. Now a mother, Max washes in “mother’s milk” and is accepted into the “land of many mothers.”

It’s this male and female Max who turns the women towards the source of their oppression. Life, for Max, is found in redeeming this one. Which can only happen when men and women unite against the exploitation of the beast and his machine.

Fury Road isn’t just a post-apocalyptic film. It’s the apocalypse itself – a retelling of the book of Revelation. The Citadel, over which Joe rules is the city of Babylon with its legendary hanging gardens. Joe is the beast, possessing a mouth like a lion. And the dragon, seeking to devour the woman and her child.

Like Revelation, Fury Road is epic vision of humanities restoration from the fall. According to Genesis, Revelation’s source, it was in following a serpent, that the sexes were cursed to an endless cycle of subjugation. The serpent was cursed to eat the dust and war with woman. The woman to war with man. And man to war with the ground until he returns to the dust in death, to be eaten by the serpent.

But both the book and film pick up on Genesis’ promise that one day the woman’s child will crush the serpents head. Max is said to eat shlanger. Joe is called a shalnger. And because the word is undefined in the film it evokes the imagine of the one thing Max does eat. Instead of being eaten in the dust. Fury Road opens with Max eating the serpent’s head.

Son of Man

In Revelation, it’s Jesus, the Son of Man, the ideal man and representative of all men, who brings this war to an end. The Pheonix is a traditional symbol of him. Max, like Jesus, is “lifted up” on a cross so that his universal blood can give life to the dying. Nux’s hoped for resurrection becomes a reality not in Joe’s exploitation but in the passion and resurrection of Max who pulls Nux from a symbolic tomb and womb.

In the end, it’s Max’s born again son who gives his life for others, in witness, the meaning of martyr, overturning the oppression of jihad to halt the long train of war. The woman also brings about an end to the war, slaying the beast by stripping his mouth and her hand of the machine. But in the midst of the fight, Furiousa receives a mortal wound. A symbolic inversion of woman’s creation from a bone in man’s side. And yet its this creation account which explains why man sacrifices to restore the unity between the sexes.

It’s though a picture of marriage that Max becomes one with Furiosa. He reopens her side, drains his blood to fill her and ultimately gives her his name. This is life. Man lays down his life for his wife as the Woman gives life to their child. And through mutual self-giving renews the world. Fury Road ends like Revelation with a marriage between Christ and his bride, a transformed people and city where the water’s of life flow without ceasing. By the sacrifice of the ideal redeemer, woman and the world are lifted up.

All that from one hell of an action film.