Cruella: Humanizing the Inhumane

I generally don’t read comments attached to anything, as a rule. It’s usually a waste of time; after all, leading experts in any field are usually the ones writing the articles, not trolling people and being unfairly critical in the comments. The internet has magnified humanity’s need to be seen as right and if not right, than justified in our every view point and decision.

Anyway, in a rare moment, I happened to look through the comments below one of the trailer ads on Facebook for the new Disney movie, Cruella, to be released next month. Here were the ones that stuck with me

“Let villains be villains.”

“Some people are simply irredeemable.”

“Stop trying to humanize the inhumane.”

Facebook – Anonymous Users

These were phrases couched in several long rambling paragraphs of several different users and even more were ranting along the same lines. The sentiment generally being “Why try to humanize this horrendous person who wanted to skin puppies?” And while it would have been easy to brush off, I have been thinking about this problem for days, so I’ve decided to share. (Like I said, the internet has made us all believe our opinion is of great value – if we weren’t already predisposed to think that before hand 😉

Let Villains be Villains

We like villains. Not necessarily that we like them; but we like to hate them. We like the idea of a system that creates an evil that we can see, give a name, and identify by some external means. We like the classic fight of “Good vs. Evil”: we like being able to point the finger and say, “At least I’m not that bad.”

The problem with villains – Disney or otherwise – is that from the Christian perspective there aren’t as many as we’d like in our day-to-day life. In fact, they aren’t even other humans. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12 that “Our struggle is not against the flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities , against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (ESV)

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reflected in The Gulag Archipelago:

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

We want to believe that there are villains, not just in movies but in our real lives as well. It would be a lot easier if those people we disagreed with were actually the horrendous malicious villains we made them out to be. But the truth is, we all “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all fallen and living apart from God and who He created us to be. We’d like to believe that there are people who are inherently “worse” than us: that we measure up better than at least a handful of truly horrible monsters. But the truth is, we’re all a little villainous – either in our intentions or actions.

Some People are Simply Irredeemable

We would also like to believe that our “little evil” is nothing compared to the “big evil” of other people: that we are more redeemable than the most evil. At the very least, we believe we are justified in our actions and intentions. The problem is that in our fallen state, we are all just as affected by our condition as the person next to us. Our symptoms might be different, but we are all suffering from the same root cause: Sin.

Yet, the good news is that Christ came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19: 1-10). It’s His sacrifice that has made it possible for us to repent and return to the Father. Every single last one of us has been extended the invitation to be redeemed, for “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16 – 21).

Still as Christians, we act as if we are somehow better than those who wander lost around us. We still believe in our hearts that there are people who are “irredeemable” because of the unspeakable evil that they have committed. Christ teaches differently. In Matthew 20, the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard tells of a host of workers who are paid the same wage, even though some came later than others. Those who came first feel indignant – they believe their reward should be greater than that of the workers who came after them. In the same way the parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15: 11- 32, the older brother becomes surly because he believes his brother was unworthy of the celebration the father held on the prodigal’s behalf.

Even though we will tout that our salvation is not dependent upon our works, we often act that way, particularly in regards to other people. Not only should we believe God can redeem those we’ve deemed “irredeemable”, we should desire their redemption as well.

Stop trying to Humanize the Inhumane

The last few years have been riddled with remakes and reimaginings of classic stories. There has been a lot of “telling the untold story”. In more recent history, we’ve seen movies like the Star Wars prequels and Maleficent and Broadway shows like Wicked telling the tale of the villains we’ve grown to hate. These stories have an odd way of captivating our attention. Despite all the baggage we’ve talked about, we still want to believe that there is hope: we want to be assured we can be redeemed.

Then there are movies like Joker (which I have not seen, but there’s a blog post about it here.) Movies that try very hard to convince us that this person, who has done unspeakable evil is somehow the victim or shouldn’t be held accountable. This is a more complex issue to sift through, so stay with me for a minute.

  1. All humans are human and therefore deserve to humanized. That is to be seen as being fallible (in both body, mind, and spirit due to our fallen nature) and as worthy of redemption because of what Christ has done for us.
  2. Yet, being redeemed does not save us from worldly accountability for our own actions.
  3. Regardless of what has been done to us, we as Christians are expected to love our neighbor. We cannot justify inhumanity for the sake of saving face or exacting revenge. We are to be “perfect as {our} Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

One of the many roads movies like this tend to go is to try and justify the characters’ actions based upon what has been done to them or how they have been passed by or misunderstood. It’s a hit or miss tactic, but it’s based upon the idea that we are able to empathize because we all know what it’s like to feel left out or left behind. These movies hold up a mirror and ask us what we would do if put in this character’s shoes. If their clever, they’ll make it seem like there was no other way.

But the truth of it is, we are still accountable for our actions. We can always seek forgiveness from God when we fail, but that does not mean we are free of the consequences. So even if a villain should seek redemption, that doesn’t mean they are free from the consequences of the evil they’ve put out into the world.

Talking to Our Kids

So what do we do with these kinds of movies and stories? How do we as Christian parents navigate them without giving our kids the wrong idea?

I suggest making it a point to talk about the movie. If you need to, take time to either watch the movie before they do or read a review detailing what happens. The first step to starting the conversation is to ask questions. A simple one being, “how could X have handled that situation better?” Involve your kids in the tough moral questions presented. Ask them how they would have parsed it out if they were put in that situation and offer your own ideas as well.

Don’t let them leave thinking the actions of these characters were acceptable but don’t fail to remind them that there is always a chance to turn it around. I think sometimes we think we or other people are too far gone for help, and that’s simply not the case. Encourage them to pray for those who feel caught in tough decisions and who feel like there is no other avenue to take.

But most of all, don’t let them believe that anyone is beyond the grace of God. I know that it might sound cheesy and I know they will probably roll their eyes, but you can’t let them grow up believing that they can ever stray too far away that He can’t bring them back. After all, that’s what the villains believed. At some point they all believed they couldn’t turn back and do the right thing. What a hopeless existence – believing you’re too far gone.

Final Words

It’s not an easy issue to think about. Or even to present. But it’s important that we confront our own tendencies surround the issue of redemption because it really does affect our lives: in how we treat ourselves, each other and in the choices we make. No matter what we do or what we’ve done, we are always being called back home to the loving embrace of Christ, to start anew as redeemed members of the body of Christ.

Published by MCGongola

Writing has been such an important part of my life. I started blogging when I went abroad my Sophomore year of college and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and how much it challenged me to be concise. Since then I have jumped around, creating blogs for different projects. Currently, I keep up with two separate blogs "Momming" and "Let Me Tell You A Story": they each have their own style and content. I'm still learning a lot about written communication - but then, when do we ever stop learning?

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