Why "Man on Fire" Is a Better Picture of Christ’s Love than "The Passion of the Christ"

A few posts ago I wrote about the perceptive and hi-larious site Stuff Christians Like. In one of the posts there that I particularly liked, the author writes about the “God element” in the movie “Man on Fire”:

In the film, Denzel Washington plays the role of Creasy, an alcoholic black ops military man in Mexico City serving as a bodyguard for a little girl named Pita. Pita is a blonde sprite of a seven-year-old played by the ubiquitous Dakota Fanning. Throughout the first half of the film we watch as Creasy hits rock bottom, only to find a new reason to live in Pita. Along the way, we see him spend increasing amounts of time in the Bible.

But because this at the core a revenge film, Pita is kidnapped after a piano lesson. Creasy is shot multiple times and the doctors say that without a month of rest, he will die. While Creasy is trapped in bed, Pita is executed by the kidnappers. He is devastated, his world collapsing in scenes of Pita laughing and playing. He leaves the hospital and decides to track down the killers.

…[Sorry the exposition is so long. If you’ve seen the movie, feel free to skip ahead – j]

After cutting a swath of death through Mexico City, Creasy finds the pregnant wife and brother of the villain, simply referred to as “The Voice.” The Voice asks him on the phone, “How much do you want?” Creasy responds by saying “Your brother wants to speak to you, hold on” at which point he shoots off all the fingers of the brother’s hand with a shotgun. “I’m going to take your family apart piece by piece. You understand me? Piece by piece. I don’t want your money. You understand me? I want you!” It’s numbing really, the brother tied up to a pole with a bloody stump of a hand, the pregnant wife wailing. But that’s when grace first makes an appearance. The Voice calls back and says “I will give you a life for a life. I will give you her life for your life.”

The camera spins on a confused Creasy as he struggles with the idea that Pita is alive. Suddenly the violence, the rage, the wrath of Creasy sinks out of his face. In the final scene, Creasy, Pita’s mother and the kidnapper’s brother drive to an abandoned bridge in the middle of the Mexican countryside. With a bullet ridden body and a weariness that is almost three dimensional, Creasy walks up the bridge. When the kidnappers see him waiting there, they pull a hooded Pita out of the car. They remove her dirty blindfold and with eyes not accustomed to light, she squints toward the bridge. With the sound of a child witnessing an unlocked gate in hell, she screams “Creasy” and runs to the bridge.

Pita runs to the arms of her mother. A red laser scope lands on Creasy’s heart, which he covers with a hand that is dotted in scars. He throws up his hands and walks slowly to the kidnappers. He stumbles to his knees as they drag him into a car. Pita cries watching Creasy surrender to certain death. Creasy closes his eyes in the car and dies.

See the “God element” yet? Well, here’s the nut:

I missed it the first ten times I saw the movie. Missed that I’m Pita. I’ve lived most of my life under the stairs in a dark, dirty cage. But unlike Pita, this is the place I deserve. For although she did not ask to be kidnapped or receive this experience as a consequence of her actions, I did. If this were the story of my life, justice would have already been served. The prisoner’s life is the life I deserve. But God is like Creasy.

If violence is what it would take to rescue me, I have little doubt that he [God] would be violent. That he would remove an entire planet in a flood to save the righteous family of Noah. And even though he is blessed with the ability to open the core of the earth with his fury, it is love and ultimate surrender that shows us the true depth of his heart. In the movie, Creasy could have easily continued killing the kidnapper’s family. The brother could have been tortured, the pregnant wife and unborn child murdered. But it wasn’t about revenge, it was about rescue. And when Pita was discovered to be alive, he stopped everything. He surrendered and walked willingly into a certain death.

Freaky, huh? I love this analysis, not only because it’s a unique take on a really good movie, but because it does something that we Christians don’t do nearly enough: find God in unexpected places.

In my post on goodness, I explained my thoughts on how God is the source of good–all that comes from God is good; all good things come from God. Love, loyalty, rescue, second chances–these are all good things, and they don’t exist without Him. Wherever you find even a little bit of good, you’re going to find God.

Now, the Creasy character isn’t your typical literary Christ figure. There’s a lot of fury accompanying his love for Pita. And his love for her is not unearned; he loves her because of the transformation she brought to his life. In fact, in the first half of the movie, Pita kind of plays Christ figure to the alcoholic, suicidal, lost Creasy.

Then again, any representation of God’s love is going to be imperfect, because we live in a finite world and therefore can’t comprehend the infinite, perfectly complete nature of God. We have to make do with what we can comprehend. Creasy’s rampage against the kidnappers is the comprehensible vehicle that shows us his utter, complete, unwavering love for Pita. It is the action movie equivalent of agape.

Sorry, I don’t mean to get all film school thesis on you. Point is, everything we see of God in this world is going to be through a glass, darkly; every symbol will be just our clumsy best guess. But the shadow of God’s hand is there if you look, in a lot more places than you think.

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