If science fiction or superheroes are your thing, James L. Papandrea’s book From Star Wars to Superman: Christ Figures in Science Fiction and Superhero Films is for you! Covering all manner of science fiction, from Lost to The Fifth Element and everywhere in between, Papandrea delivers a delightfully informative book. This book isn’t meant for serious theologians but, rather, the everyday Catholic nerd.
Think your favorite superhero, sci-fi movie, or television show is a good representation of Christ’s relationship to the Trinity and to the world? Think again. James Papandrea carefully goes through and critiques the representations of Christ in media and gives them a score. Here are a few favorites from the book:
1. Sonny from I, Robot
The Christ-figure of the film I, Robot is a robot, Sonny, created with two brains which give him free will. His two brains (one in his chest where a heart would be) undoubtedly represent the two natures of Christ. Sonny was created by a robotics pioneer who sent him to take down the self-aware computer VIKI who has gone rogue.
However, this is where it gets sticky. The robotics pioneer, Lanning, created Sonny to kill him. This went against the laws of robotics to prove that VIKI had gone rogue. This is a form of the heresy of patripassionism where the father dies on the cross because the son is really just the father in disguise. Sonny goes through no real resurrection, though.
I, Robot is a great tale of “science gone too far”. But because the human element of Sonny ends up weighing more than his superhuman element, (which in this genre of film can said to coincide with the divine element), he’s not quite the Christ-figure we’re looking for.
2. Leeloo from The Fifth Element
You might not think at first glance that Leeloo is a very orthodox Christ-figure. But Papandrea impressively argues that she is. She comes from outside creation and is superior to it, but is also fully human as she was reconstructed from her DNA. She’s not quite fully divine, though.
A few problems with her representation of Christ are that Leeloo is shot and left for dead but doesn’t actually die – nor does she voluntarily die. Also, since she was never fully unconscious, she can’t really be resurrected fully. Still, she is overall a pretty orthodox Christ figure, at least when compared with other representations.
3. Jack Shephard from LOST
Out of the many people stuck on that island, the one person who rises every time is Jack Shephard. He’s definitely fully human but he’s not divine. Also, the fact that he as savior-leader is replaceable (in fact, he’s replacing someone else!) is a problem.
Basically, as Papandrea asserts in his book, Jack Shephard is a sort of Arian Christ figure. To become God, a man had to overcome sin, which diminishes the divinity of Christ and the oneness of the Trinity. In the Arian heresy, a bodily resurrection is not necessary. Jack Shephard had no resurrection apart from the eternal life they all received. Overall, Jack is not a very orthodox Christ figure.
4. The Doctor (all of them collectively) from Doctor Who
The Doctor is a Time Lord, which sounds a lot like a divine title. Also, the Doctor is presented as sort of omnipresent thanks to the TARDIS, and preexistent since he can come from any time and go to any time. In these ways, the Doctor is outside of creation, and so is a good representation of divinity. In time travel stories, the actual traveling through time functions as a sort of incarnation, so the Doctor gets points for that, too.
However, he’s not fully human. Another problem is that he never actually dies, but his regenerations are a good parallel to resurrection. Despite some writers of the show having explicitly anti-Christian intentions, the Doctor ends up one of the most orthodox Christ figures presented in sci-fi entertainment.
5. DC and Marvel Superheroes
In his book, Papandrea argues that all of the superheroes in the DC and Marvel universes are each a Christ-figure, even though many exist in the same universes (i.e. Spider-Man, Captain America, and Thor all exist simultaneously in one universe and Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman all simultaneously exist in another). A case could also be made that many of them represent every man’s journey of grace.
Papandrea puts all of the superheroes on a scale from Arianism (man became God) to Gnosticism (God came disguised as man). Superheroes like Batman, Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man are all on the Arian side of the spectrum. They’re mere men who became enhanced in some way to become superhuman. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Silver Surfer are on the Gnostic side of the spectrum.
Papandrea identifies Batman as the typical Arian Christ figure and places Silver Surfer completely on the opposite side of the spectrum as the typical Gnostic Christ figure. Silver Surfer is completely alien and only is human in appearance…sometimes. All of the other superheroes fall somewhere in between.
Let’s take a closer look at Wonder Woman. Although she’s a goddess, she resembles a human and acts in human ways. In her story line, she comes to earth. Also, she really did die and rise– overall, pretty orthodox Christ figure!
As far as Christ figures in science fiction entertainment go, there are some good representations and some lesser ones. Check out James Papandrea’s book From Star Wars to Superman: Christ Figures in Science Fiction and Superhero Films for an in depth look and also to brush up on your heresies!