How’s that for a cheery post title? Watched a bit of The Return of the King today while I was eating lunch and then Jin and I rented Aeon Flux this evening. Death is a pretty notable theme in both films, though perhaps more a sub-theme in ROTK.
My favorite bit of both Tolkien’s book and the movie adaptation is when Theoden and the Riders of Rohan charge the army laying siege to Minas Tirith (how is it even possible to talk about this story without sounding like a huge nerd?). As Theoden and his men charge into battle they cry “Death!”. I love this scene. For some reason the idea of a group of courageous warriors charging towards certain death on principle alone really gets to me. Setting aside questions of the validity of war and the entirely legitimate postcolonial critiques of Tolkien’s presentation of his villains, I think that there is something here concerning the nature of mortality that we need to remember. Tolkein is reminding us that there are worse things in the world than dying. Indeed death, under the right circumstances, is a noble thing.
Then there’s Aeon Flux which was a good deal better than I expected it to be (granted my expectations were pretty low). What surprised me was the strong message concerning the importance of human mortality. The essential theme of the film was that as humans we need to die, otherwise our lives will lack both meaning and morality. Again, setting aside questions concerning the ultra-violent nature of such films, I think that this movie is making an important point. Death creates ultimate consequence which helps to challenge us to explore the meaning of our fleeting lives and to live in a way that honours that meaning.
This sentiment is also echoed in the Christian story. Death is not merely a punishment in the primeval history, it is also the means by which humanity is protected from eternal corruption. I have frequently heard Christian pastors claim that Christians will never die, but will merely shed this body and live on as spiritual beings in heaven. This ain’t the way the story goes (at least as I read it). We all die. What Christianity promises is not simply immortality but a mortal life, death, and then resurrection unto eternal life (check out 1 Cor. 15).
Moral of the story: death is good…kinda…how about good-ish? Okay death scares the hell out of me, but there’s one good thing that it does. It keeps me (and all of us I think) honest. The fact that all of this is guaranteed to end reminds me that it’s worth something in the first place. So, here’s to death…it’s a sonofabitch, but it sure makes life worth living.