Friday, May 26, 2017

Christian Themes in the Movie "Hellraiser"

In a couple previous posts I've made on the movie Hellraiser, I've discussed the character of Frank Cotton and the theme of godly versus worldly sorrow (see 2 Corinthinians 7:10). Seeking Biblical truth in a horror film centered on sadomasochism may seem quite strange--and many will see it as just as excuse to justify watching a movie with gross and immoral content--but there's actually a good bit of thought in there.

Below are some Christian themes I've noticed in the film:

Godly vs. Worldly Sorrow

2 Corinthians 7:10 states the following:  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. The article above goes into more detail, but I'll summarize a bit for the TL; DR crowd or for those who might not be interesting in visiting a Christian website. "Godly sorrow" is sorrow for the immorality of one's actions--the disrespect shown to God and harm done to others. "Worldly sorrow" is regret for the personal costs of sin only.

And in Hellraiser (and the novella it's based on, "The Hellbound Heart") "worldly sorrow" is epitomized by Frank Cotton. Frank is an unrepentant hedonistic pleasure-seeker who in the book describes having smuggled heroin and in both the book and film seduced his own brother's fiancee. The book elaborates by describing how the only reason he doesn't "snatch her from under her would-be husband's nose" is that he would soon tire of her and have his vengeful brother after him. He grows bored with "dope and drink" and endless fornication and seeks out the Lament Configuration, which promises wonders and pleasures beyond human comprehension.

Well, the ones bringing said wonders and pleasures have some very different ideas of what constitutes fun. Frank is abducted by the Cenobites and subject to gross physical and sexual abuse, which he escapes purely by accident. He regrets his involvement with the Cenobites--this early draft of the "Hellraiser" script shows how deeply the Cenobites have traumatized him--but not the immoral lifestyle he has led. This same early draft of the script depicts him attempting to rape his own niece when he sees her for the first time in years, and in both the book and the film he treats Julia as a means to an end, disposing of her when she is no longer convenient. In "The Hellbound Heart," he seems interested in applying some of what he learned about pleasure and pain in Hell to Julia if only she would set him free, which implies he intends to go straight back to sleeping around if not worse once he's fully reconstituted.

And in the end, Frank's worldly sorrow leads to death. In his desperation to rebuild his mutilated body, he and Julia murder several people so he can feed on them. When Kirsty threatens to expose him, he murders his own brother, and when he and Julia attempt to kill Kirsty, he accidentally stabs her and then feeds off her remaining life-force rather than trying to help her. He attempts to kill Kirsty (his niece in the film, a friend of his brother in the book) and is ultimately reclaimed by the Cenobites, dismembered alive and returned to Hell. In Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, he ends up getting killed by the damned Julia, who uses the exact same words he told her before he tried to consume her.

Conscience and Universal Knowledge of Morality

The first two chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans are something I have always had problems believing. Romans 1:18-32, which states outright universal knowledge of the nature of God and universal human rejection of what they know to be true, is what Carl Sagan would call an extraordinary claim needing extraordinary proof. Furthermore, many conservative Christians, especially Calvinists, have taken it so far as to claim that everybody knows the Christian religion specifically is true and simply rejects it out of desire to sin. Seriously, we're talking about people who call ISIS "God-haters," never mind that they're fanatics of a different religion rather than irreligious. Romans 2:12-16 describes how the laws of God are written on the hearts of Gentiles and in particular suggests the human conscience is divinely ordained. The conscience in my opinion is more malleable than that.

Frank's life before he's taken by the Cenobites is not discussed much in the film at all (beyond the whole "seducing/semi-raping his brother's fiancee" part), but the book describes his imagination as "fertile" when it comes to "trickery and theft" and among other things he smuggles heroin. He apparently owes a lot of people money, which he probably spent on "dope and drink" and prostitutes. However, and this is the important part, he knows what he's doing is wrong. The prologue refers to him growing bored and dosing himself with whatever opiate "his immoralities had earned him." This is from his point of view, not the narrator's, so even if he had "suppressed the truth in unrighteousness" (i.e. convinced himself superficially his behavior was not immoral despite knowing better), on some subconscious level he knows that his lifestyle is evil.

In Which Frank Quotes the Bible

In the film, when Frank is speared repeatedly by the Cenobites, his last words are, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). That's the shortest verse in the Bible, in which Jesus mourns for His dead friend Lazarus, whom he later resurrects. I'm not sure what Frank is referring to in that context--according to some Googling, the line was ad-libbed by the actor and Barker decided to keep it.

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