Sunday, January 27, 2008

Beowulf the Movie

Since we have been so deep in Beowulf, I thought now would be a good time to talk about the movie. I don't like it. This post contains spoilers.

Neil Gaiman wrote the script using the historical critical method. If you follow Biblical scholarship, this is the method which was so woefully misused by The Jesus Seminar to "prove" that Jesus didn't actually perform miracles, rise from the dead, or claim to be God. The theory of the historical critical method (when misapplied) goes like this: "the writer and subsequent editors each have their own agendas" and "the older the text, the more changes have been made." Therefore, they try to "discover" what the original text might have been. Alas, having their own agendas, we often discover only what the scholar would like to have been true.

In the case of Neil Gaiman and Beowulf, the reasoning went like this: this is a very old text, passed down in the oral tradition in a pre-Christian culture and it must have been written down by monks since they were the only ones who could write. Fine. Therefore, (uh oh) the monks must have Christianized it by adding all the stuff about goodness and removing all the stuff about sex. Excuse me?

In the movie, therefore, Grendel is the son of King Hrothgar (the king whose hall he is pillaging) and, well, Grendel's mom (who is a shape shifting monster who can look like Angelina Jolie). Queen Wealtheow is removed from the story. Beowulf does still kill Grendel but only claims to have killed Grendel's mother. He is, instead, seduced and becomes the father of the dragon who kills him many years later.

Hmm. That's pretty creative. There could be a great story there (maybe portrayed in a less titillating fashion) about the wages of sin being death (have we heard that before?). BUT IT IS NOT THE STORY OF BEOWULF!

Beowulf is, at its core, a story about heroes. It's a story about goodness, courage, self sacrifice, generosity, and humility. Why is that not allowed? It's not realistic. Unlike the shape changing monsters. If we really believe that sin and degradation are the ultimate reality (see reality TV) then we have accepted a rather stupid lie.

The message of Beowulf is that we grapple with flesh eating monsters which take all our courage, strength and virtue to overcome. Do I overstate the point? Can monsters like Pride, Lust, and Envy really tear apart your home and devour your heart? Look around and say it isn't so.

But, the dark struggles with the light and can not overcome it. Maybe that's a Christian part of the story which Mr. Gaiman should have left in.


Willa said...

I like that description of the historical-critical method.

I haven't watched the movie but all of the reviews I've read make me glad to have missed it : ). Our family loves the poem itself, so it's fun to read all your Beowulf posts.

Eric and Wendy said...

Much thanks for your queenly words! Long life to you and your loyal thanes!