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June 03, 2009

Christian Worldview Conversations Can Be Found Almost Anywhere

Drag poster Now I make no recommendation of the new horror movie Drag Me To Hell, owing to its gory violence, dabbling in the occult, and premarital sex references. However, I can say that it was better acted than most films in this genre, with the ability to laugh at itself, while still keeping a few jump-in-your-seat surprises in store throughout.

But what I was most struck by is how it would provide for some teenagers watching the film a springboard into the topic of moral consequences for one's actions.

In the film, Christine (played admirably by Alison Lohman) is a likable young loan officer with a nice, smart boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long). Christine's troubles begin when she is told by her boss that it's her choice as to whether to give a poor old gypsy lady a third extension on her mortgage payment.  

Christine's heart tells her to grant the old lady's request. However, her ambition for the coveted job of assistant bank manager gains the upper hand. Wanting to show her boss that she can make the "tough decisions" necessary for that promotion, she turns the old lady down. Worse, she accidentally humiliates the octogenarian on her way out of the bank, prompting the old lady to curse her.

The rest of the film involves this curse and its attempt to--you got it--drag Christine to hell. Somehow, the film's director, Sam Raimi (Spider-Man), finds a way to make Christine's rough ride alternatively hilarious and spooky, keeping the audience's attention quite well.

Now, are there better vehicles to teach about moral consequences and the way God, rather than the devil, deals with us? Of course. And even if the director pokes fun at some of the occult remedies for this curse, is it still necessary? Probably not. But in terms of making the point to follow one's conscience instead of one's selfish ambition, the film gives a convincing lesson for many in the darkened movie theater who might otherwise not darken the doors of a church. And for those young people who see the film and do attend church, I can imagine some enlivening discussions afterwards on the same theme of bad actions having consequences. 

In short, at least Raimi didn't leave this kind of discussion out of his film. In fact, he made it his central theme. In a horror flick, for goodness' sake! Moreover, while the film is campy at times, Raimi depicts hell as a real place--and not a place one wants to be.

(Image © Universal)

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Stephen, when I was a teenager you could reliably predict which young women would survive to the end of the horror movie and which ones would not, based on whether or not they engaged in premarital sex. Do you think that's still true?

Also, when I was a teenager, the brunt of the horror was borne by males; the females were usually killed quickly after screaming (and possibly running away ineffectually). Torture throughout an entire film was unknown for the women. Now, it seems that entire plots are based around the ongoing suffering of just the female character(s). Is that correct?

Finally, did you lobby at all to get this title into the Point Poll? ;-)


In this version, it appears that the boyfriend gets let off easily while the heroine has to fight it tooth and nail. So maybe you're on to something there.
The times they are a'changin...


In addition to the topic of sexism in the horror genre, another interesting point is that Hell is often portrayed as a place you get into due to your actions. I.e., if you merely towed the line, you'd avoid going there and end up in Heaven by default. Of course, this radically conflicts with Christian theology.

And, there's an implication that "nice people" don't suffer in *this* world, either. This is a particularly pernicious belief for someone who converts to Christianity with the assumption that now their life will be better all around.


Well, I don't think it's only the horror genre that has implied the good deed folks go to a nice heavenly reward and the bad deeds folk go to hell. That's throughout literature in the East and West, in almost all world religions, etc.

Since the main problem today seems to be more of an ignoring of consequences for behavior, at least this Director wanted to reintroduce this theme to the younger audience. I saw an interview with Raimi, and he pointed out that the lead character actually makes several bad choices along the way, not just the original selfish act.

Finally, even Christian theology suggests that, without Christ's grace,
all of us are going to hell, a place we'd find more appropriate for our sinfulness.

I don't expect a horror film to get the nuances of Christian theology right; I was simply noting that there are parts of this film that allow for a discussion about moral choices to be opened up.

Finally, just so you know, this film in no way suggests that those who are nice won't get hurt, too. The kindly boyfriend certainly gets knocked around, too.


Ah - sorry, Stephen, I didn't intend any criticism of your position or of this movie in particular. It's certainly good that young people would hear a message that choices have consequences.

My complaint is two-fold: first, that in the horror genre of late women seem to bear the brunt of the suffering from choices both they *and men* make. In the past that was definitely a cautionary tale directed to the women, and a call to action for the men who would (and should) protect them; I hope it stays that way. Second, it is a problem to give people the idea that avoiding bad moral choices is sufficient. It can easily lead to people who are proud of their own righteousness. And you're right that this is common in literature, but horror is the only genre to press on this point so... graphically.

And I would hope, as you originally indicated, that this movie and others like it would be a catalyst for more discussions like you and I have just had.

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