The Chronicles of Riddick
—About this Film
The Chronicles of Riddick is basically another entry in the "lone hero saves universe from overwhelmingly superior alien race" category, and not a particularly well conceived entry at that. However, even though the storyline of this film failed to grip me, I was surprised by the number of Christian images and themes that kept cropping up. We may live in a post-Christian society, but we haven't forgotten where we came from. And we haven't stopped trying to reinterpret our spiritual heritage in fresh and exciting ways.
Take the character of Riddick, for instance. Although he lacks the moral integrity of Christ, he is clearly a messianic figure. And he struggles mightily under the burden such a role entails-as did Christ-only embracing his destiny when all other options fail.
Like Christ, Riddick's birth is also shrouded in prophecy and violence. Riddick barely survives infancy, because an oracle told Lord Marshal, leader of the aptly named "Necromongers," that he would meet his doom at the hands of someone from Riddick's race, the Furions. In an effort to escape this fate, Lord Marshal destroys the entire Furion race-or so he thinks. Turns out Riddick and at least one other Furion slipped through. Sound familiar? It should. Herod tried the same trick on Jesus, as did Pharaoh on Moses, another messianic figure from the Bible. In both cases, the infants were spirited away by their parents before the executioners showed up. Writer/director David Twohy doesn't tell us how Riddick survived, but Twohy was clearly inspired by Jewish and Christian Scriptures when creating Riddick's origin.
How many times have we seen this same character archetype repeated in sci-fi and fantasy films? From Luke Skywalker in Star Wars to Neo in The Matrix to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the popularity of such characters seems to indicate that we are all looking for a savior, particularly one that kicks a little butt. Oddly enough, that's exactly the type of savior the Jews were looking for during Jesus' time. They wanted someone who would lead them in a rebellion against the occupying Romans. No wonder they were so surprised and disappointed when instead of kicking a little "cheek" Jesus urged his followers to turn the other cheek instead. I think most people still have a difficult time with that teaching. We much prefer a guy like Riddick who can give our enemies a taste of their own medicine.
Along this line, The Chronicles of Riddick references a Bible verse that also showed up recently in Man On Fire: "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). Both films argue that this principle is only effective up to a point. As the voiceover during the opening credits of Riddick says, "In normal times, evil should be fought by good, but in times like this, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil." I love this line, because it does such a great job of summarizing how so many people think today-including many Christians, I'll wager. We have lost our faith in the power of good to overcome evil. When confronted by acts of terror, for example, we don't even consider turning the other cheek. Instead, like Riddick, we respond with "a different kind of terror." Although we often use the same means as the terrorists to achieve our goals-they bomb our cities, we bomb their countries-we feel such means are warranted, because our cause is just. After all, we are bombing to build. "They" are bombing merely to destroy. But if all we are doing is adding to the body count, I question how much good is really accomplished.
Plainly, these are not "normal times." The world is in a constant state of flux, and, for reasons mentioned above, it is often difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys. But does that mean, as these films argue, that otherwise sound spiritual and moral principles no longer apply? If so, then why should these principles be followed at all, even during "normal times"? Such principles are either true or they are not. Either evil can be overcome by good or it cannot. If turning the other cheek won't work in a worst-case scenario, shouldn't we question its utility in a best-case scenario as well? What I'm trying to say is, we can't simply jettison our principles when the going gets rough. That is when we need our principles most, because they are all that prevent us from going over to the dark side ourselves.
Another parallel to Christianity featured in this film is the tension between faith and doubt. This conflict is particularly evident in the Necromonger known as the "Purifier." Ironically, he is in charge of the Necromonger's forced conversion program. However, it isn't long before his own faith begins to falter. Like many people today, he discovers that his "faith" is more a product of his community than a personal commitment. The minute he leaves that community, his confidence begins to fade. I suspect people of all faiths, not just Christians, can identify with this dilemma. When they are among fellow believers, their faith seems strong. But the minute they're on their own, doubts start popping up. Some people try to quash such questions; afraid their faith won't measure up. Others allow doubt to lead them away from faith, as if doubt in one area negates the whole. Still others understand that faith and doubt are inseparable companions along the road to understanding. While doubts can be troublesome, they are inevitable, and they should not be feared. In fact, they may even be helpful. No one but God can have perfect knowledge. Thus, there will always be gray spots and spots that are outright black. However, just because we can't know everything does not mean we can't know some things and take the rest on faith. After all, the Bible defines faith as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is always based on something tangible, but it is always reaching for the intangible. Doubts can derail your faith. But if they are faced honestly, they can also spur you to deeper conviction, because they will motivate you to seek out the truth. Unfortunately for the Purifier, the Necromonger's faith does not leave room for doubt. So when faced with the yawning chasm of uncertainty, he has but one choice: self-annihilation. Thankfully, we all have other options.
While the theology of this film is far from completely realized, the fact that a highly commercial movie like this even attempts to broach such topics is to be commended. I only hope that as The Chronicles of Riddick franchise grows, so does the depth of its spiritual musings.
—About this Film