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BY Steven D. Greydanus
Opening on Good Friday and setting a new Easter weekend box-office record, the new Clash of the Titans features a divine father in the heavens (Liam Neeson, the voice of Narnia’s Aslan, as Zeus) who tells his divine/human son, “I wanted [mankind’s] worship, but I didn’t want it to cost me a son.”
The son (Sam Worthington as Perseus, once again caught between humanity and something else) has descended into the realm of the dead and returned, not to do his father’s will or out of love, but on what boils down to a mission of revenge.
Not only does the son not consider divinity something to be grasped, he doesn’t want it at all; he spurns the worship that his father craves, though his father tells him that men will worship him anyway. In the end, his father rewards him with a resurrection—not his own, but another character’s.
Is the release date accidental? In my review of the new Clash, I wrote:
The gods of classical mythology have always been selfish and capricious, but in a tempestuous, grand, passionate style, sort of like “Dallas” in heaven. In the new Clash of the Titans, the gods are about as grand and passionate as “The Simpsons,” and not a tenth as interesting. The original 1981 Clash of the Titans gave us Zeus portrayed by Laurence Olivier with a sort of dissolute patrician dignity. As played by Liam Neeson in the remake, he’s merely grumpy and vacillating. No wonder his half-human son Perseus (Sam Worthington) keeps telling anyone who will listen that he’s a man, not a god.
Clash of the Titans takes the secularizing bent of the 2004 film Troy a step further. Troy retold one of the best-known Greek myths as a purely human story, leaving out the gods. Clash of the Titans goes further: The gods aren’t just ignored, they’re all but dethroned.
Of course the false gods of classical mythology, with their all-too-human foibles, ultimately deserve to be dethroned—by the true God. As noted above, though, the gods of this Clash of the Titans sometimes appear not just as unworthy rivals of the God of revelation, but as parodies of Him.
Zeus has always “tempered his wrath with love,” Hades says, almost quoting the Bible. A wild-eyed prophet proclaims doom unless the people make reparation to Heaven, which in this case means offering the princess Andromeda as a human sacrifice to the Kraken. In the end, he’s just one more murderously zealous Hollywood true believer.
Perseus, of course, has a divine father in the heavens and a human mother on earth, and is raised in poverty and obscurity by a human foster father and his wife (not Perseus’s true mother, who dies). That much reflects the Perseus myth, but Perseus’s prickly relationship with his divine father is more reminiscent of the Jesus of The Last Temptation of Christ than anything in classical mythology.
Writing for Christianity Today Movies & TV, Russ Breimeier contemplates viewing the film as “a thinly veiled metaphor for the dismissal of religion, similar to the desire to kill God in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.”
The religious subtext is worth comparing and contrasting to Worthington’s other big 3D epic, Avatar. In that film, as I noted in my Clash review,
Worthington rejected his humanity and embraced otherness (big blue alien otherness). It wasn’t that tough a decision, since mankind in that film was pretty ugly and unlikable. In Clash, Worthington rejects Olympian otherness and embraces humanity—but humanity isn’t much more attractive or appealing here. The peaceful Na’vi in Avatar got a benevolent nature goddess. Perhaps in the movies everyone gets the gods they deserve.