The Gospel According to Disaster Movies￼
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and at least one silly disaster flick hitting theaters in the early part of the year. I will admit that I have a soft spot for these types of films even though they lack the cinematic elements I normally enjoy—developed and nuanced characters, a thought-provoking story—and lean hard into the elements I normally detest—mindless CGI spectacle and over the top action. Much like a car crash on the side of the road, there’s just something captivating about a disaster that makes it hard to look away no matter how awful the sight is.
No one goes into a disaster movie expecting high cinema or to wrestle with deep philosophical themes. They go to see stuff blow up and get destroyed. As much or more than any other movie genre, disaster films are driven by spectacle. Nevertheless, I believe the genre actually has some value for Christian viewers beyond the mindless entertainment. Here are four ways that disaster movies can be beneficial viewing.
1. Humility & Perspective
Like the architects of the tower of Babel, modern society takes great pride in its own achievement and greatness. We are the self-proclaimed most technologically advanced and enlightened people to ever walk the planet—and none of that matters when the moon suddenly comes hurling toward earth.
While the plots are exaggerated fiction, there is something sobering about watching how futile people truly are against the overwhelming powers of nature. For an arrogant culture that prides itself on being in control of its own destiny, disaster films reorient our perspective and inspire humility before the power of God and His creation.
2. Human Nature Exposed During Times of Crisis
A central theme in many disaster movies is the human response to a crisis. Spectacle is important, but a two-hour runtime of uninterrupted disaster spectacle would quickly become tiresome. What makes disaster flicks engaging (or uninteresting) is the characters. The disastrous circumstances set the stage to probe human nature.
Just like real life tragedies, fictionalized tragedy brings out the best and worst of human nature. Some characters inevitably rise to the occasion and heroically sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Other characters use the tragedy as an opportunity to exploit other’s misfortune or indulge in carnal passions. Disaster movies may not always be the most profound character studies, but part of the experience of watching these films is to ask the question, “What would I do in such a scenario?” (Spoiler alert: I would be dead. Very quickly. Sorry, and good luck!).
3. Value of Human Life
At first glance, this theme may seem ironic or even absurd. Most disaster movies feature a staggering amount of death and devastation, implied if not always explicitly shown. Admittedly, some disaster films can glorify death and reduce the loss of human life to an entertaining spectacle. Much creativity is spent in Hollywood writers’ rooms to brainstorm new and innovative ways for characters to meet their untimely ends. Christians should be cautious about celebrating death, even in the realm of fiction.
On the other hand, disaster movies can also serve as an affirmation of the value of life. The value and sanctity of human life is rarely understood as clearly as in the event of real-world disasters, when life is viewed against the sobering backdrop of widespread death and loss. Legitimate arguments can be made that constant exposure to cinematic violence and death has desensitized viewers to the reality of violence and death. But disaster movies can also invoke the same reaction to tragic loss and death as real-world tragedies, but without the real-world consequences. Fictionalized tragedy may provoke an emotional response of a far lesser degree, but that does not render it without any value. The best disaster films have audiences cheering for characters to persevere and survive against the odds, a struggle made all the more praiseworthy by the torrent of death and devastation all around them.
4. God’s Perfectly Balanced Creation
Few disaster movies bring God front and center, unless the infamous “End Times” genre of Christian films are counted amount their number. Yet, few genres focus as directly on God’s creation as disaster films. For many disaster films, the inciting incident revolves around some disruption of the created order. In the recent disaster film, Moonfall, a character spouts expositional dialogue about how finely-tuned and perfectly balance the moon’s orbit is, so that to knock it even a small degree out of its orbit will lead to utter annihilation of earth and extinction of humanity. Christian philosophers and apologists have been making similar arguments for centuries! By demonstrating the devastation and horror that results from an unbalanced universe, disaster films implicitly point toward the glorious perfection of God’s creation.