Clash of the Titans and the Failure of Faith

So I finally saw Clash of the Titans.

I’d like to confess that I still haven’t seen the original, so I can’t really compare the two films. There are also more than enough reviews and spoilers of the new film that I don’t have to critique it much. The special effects were indeed awesome — especially the way that Olympus was depicted. The 3-D wasn’t all that effective, with some backgrounds looking flat, and the settings and set design were very obviously geared toward the 3-D and not for believability. Much of the acting was a bit wooden, and the writing wasn’t that great, either. And there were some pacing issues, as the story moved like an action film and not an adventure film.

Despite all that, the film was fairly enjoyable. I’m usually able to forgive mediocre acting and set design and focus on the story. Given that the movie was based on a previous movie, I was able to forgive much of the liberties taken with the Perseus myth as well. (A Kraken in Greece? Why doesn’t Perseus seem interested in marrying Andromeda? And just what are Hades and Io doing in this story? Where are all the other gods that helped Perseus? Are Athena and Hermes to be found? Who cares — did you see Liam Neeson’s shiny glowy armor?) I’ll admit that Liam Neeson as Zeus did a lot to save the film, and I wish that some of the other gods would have featured more prominent roles. But it wasn’t too bad as an action film, and it was very pretty to look at.

"Release the Kraken!" And dig my glowy armor!

But that’s not what bothered me about the movie.

Throughout the entire film I was struck and astonished at the blatant anti-religious tone to the movie. I knew that Michael Bay directed the film, and that as a Hollywood blockbuster, it would probably feature some left-leaning innuendo. But I was unprepared at the in-your-facedness of the anti-religion message of the film.

First of all, it’s really hard to play anti-religious in a movie world where the gods and magic are real, and are actual persons that interact with the rest of the characters. How can you not be religious when a god is literally staring you in the face? Well, you can rebel against the gods. And that is the central theme of the whole film — to rebel against the gods.

The film opens with people decrying how the gods serve them no good, and should be stood up to. Throughout the film people call for rebellion against the “injustice” of the gods. Perseus’ rallying cry is that he will fight “as a man” and not take advantage of divine gifts, for he does not wish to be like the gods. Perseus, and the other characters in the film, seek to prove that they are better than the gods, and by the end of the movie they do so, with even Zeus telling Perseus to “do a better job than me.”

Acts of faith and devotion are openly mocked, with many characters ridiculed for praying to the gods. One character, the subject of much contempt for his faith, later eschews it, telling Perseus “It was not the gods who saved me … it was you.”

The intricacies of the ancient Greek religion are completely glossed over, distorted through the lens of a pop Christianity that seems just as misunderstood by the makers of the film. In a wonderful new twist, the gods are depicted as surviving upon the prayers of humans like parasites. Hades is introduced as a sinister foil to Zeus’ love and compassion. The gods seek to utterly subjugate the humans to “restore the order of things.”

Looking at Greek polytheism like this is almost insulting. Perhaps had the filmmakers actually read any Greek myths, they would know that not only was Zeus just as quick to anger as to forgive, but that Hades was not associated with any particular understanding of evil. The gods would not have insisted upon forcing humans to accept “the order of things” because that order was already followed by the establishment of the civilized world. When the gods were angry, they struck back, which was part of the basis for the whole Perseus myth.

Any sense of subservience to deity was mocked, and any implication that humans were not the supreme force in the Universe was rejected. This is a far cry from the myth of Perseus, which centered on acceptance of fate and illustrated the folly of hubris through which humans compare themselves to the gods. The very hubris through which Cassiopeia compares her beauty to a goddess, thereby bringing the wrath of Poseidon upon her kingdom, is now spun into the central virtue of the story.

And this isn’t just a bastardization of Greek polytheism. Through its attack on the Greek gods, the film aims squarely at Christianity as well. Its depiction of the gods as an oppressive, parasitic council that take pleasure in oppressing humans, when put in the context of the film’s general anti-religious sentiment, is a not to carefully disguised jab at organized religion. All expressions of faith and humility are held in disdain. The human spirit is held as triumphant over the will of gods who only cause suffering and pain. This is the ultimate expression of a scorned anti-theist who is angry at God because he didn’t get what he wanted.

Had the anti-religious vein been only an afterthought, showing its head every once in a while, it would have been bearable and easily dismissed. But it wasn’t: it was the central theme of the film. Twisting a tale of piety, faith, and fulfillment of fate into one of hubris and self-absorption verged so closely on propaganda that it literally distracted me from the flow of the film.

These are the values that Hollywood honors. Hubris, narcissism, vanity. How ironic that the chosen vehicle was a story from a mythos that so often illustrated the folly of those traits.

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