|Posted on October 10, 2012 at 7:50 AM|
Last week, I talked about several Star Trek episodes that depicted threatening, frightful gods who demand obeisance without compassion. However, no film has shown the common attitude of ancient gods more than the 1981 movie, Clash of the Titans.
I know there has been an updated version made in 2010. Though I haven’t seen it, I understand from those who have, and from reviews on-line, that it was far more violent, and it went in different directions than the first movie or even mythology. Thus, the 1981 version stayed truer to the popular myths than the 2010 version—which really isn’t saying much. This pantheon is a mix of several pagan deities, primarily Greek but drawing on Norse and German legends as well. In spite of the title, there’s not a true Titan in the bunch.
Anyway, since CGI animation started in the late ’80s or early ’90s, the common stop-action type was used in the first Clash. Sure, the special effects are a little clunky by today’s standards, but at the same time, Ray Harryhausen’s monsters are clever and well orchestrated. Harryhausen was the last name in monster creation during his lifetime, a genius who worked wonders with the technology available to him. He’s also responsible for the creatures in the Sinbad the Sailor movies, and in Jason and the Argonauts among others.
Clash of the Titans opens on a battalion of soldiers, led by King Acrisius of Argos. Four of them carry a kind of black ark among them, which is supposed to be a coffin. Acrisius invokes the names of Greek gods to condemn his daughter Danae and his infant grandson Perseus to the sea, to eventually suffocate to death. Their crime? Probably because she had borne him after Zeus impregnated her. Bad boy!
Poseidon, in the form of a seagull, witnesses the death sentence and reports to Mt. Olympus. Zeus is so incensed, all we see is his rage, not a hint of compassion. Perhaps, since Acrisius is a tyrannical ruler, we can assume he has committed other heinous crimes along the way, making him a hardhearted rebel, so his destruction is not out of bounds. But wait, there’s more.
Zeus keeps a massive knickknack shelf containing several clay figurines, representing human lives. In a move similar to voodoo, he takes Acrisius’ figurine and crushes it to powder in his hand. Acrisius appears to have a heart attack while huge waves engulf his city. What, falling marble and a simple drowning would not be good enough?
Poseidon brings the coffin to the shores of Sariphos Island, under Zeus’ orders. Since Zeus had spared his own son Perseus, Thetis asks, “What of my son, Calibos?”
Stubbornly Zeus insists: “His crimes are unforgiveable.”
“Be merciful to him. Show pity.”
“Impossible! Calibos had every advantage. You, as the patron goddess of the rich city of Joppa, have spoiled and indulged him since birth.” He’s angry because Calibos had been an indiscriminate hunter of animals, including his herd of flying horses; the sole survivor is Pegasus. Consequently, Zeus turns Calibos into a grotesque semblance of a man.
To Zeus’ wife Hera, Thetis grumbles: “Had it been his own child Perseus, he would have forgiven him. But for my son Calibos, there is to be no mercy, no hope.”
Surely you can see the glaring contradictions to the God we worship. 1) He is not promiscuous. In fact, He discourages sexual liaisons for his people, for he is completely holy. Zeus is not. 2) Voodoo is a pagan practice, far from God’s frame of reference. 3) God does not play favorites. Calibos would have received as many chances as Perseus did, if not more. 4) The Lord freely delivers mercy and hope; all Calibos would have to do is confess his sins, then he could marry Princess Andromeda and live a blessed life. 5) God does not turn men into monsters.
Ultimately, this is Perseus’ story. He grows from infancy to a young man, at which time Thetis defies orders and places him in an abandoned amphitheater of Joppa. There he meets Ammon, a poet and playwright who helps him begin his journey, especially after three goddesses give him a sword, a shield, and a helmet, which miraculously show up at the feet of their statues.
Here we see the closest resemblance to a biblical concept. “Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the Evil One. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:16-17). Another author said, “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Perseus’ sword is so sharp, it can split solid marble in two. In the same way, when we fight our enemies by citing the Bible—and only the Bible—we can chop down even the hardest argument. One girl I talked to complained that I don’t consider any other scriptures in the world, probably because she couldn’t out-argue the Word. Such is the power behind the Bible—God’s power to change lives.
His shield has a mirror backing, so he can see himself as he fights. I see this as being aware of ourselves, our own shortcomings, when we engage the enemies of faith. It can also reflect an enemy’s true nature, perhaps make him back off. And the helmet makes him invisible, just as we surrender outward life and focus on the Spirit inside, and His assurance we are God’s child. But since he loses all three by movie’s end, I wouldn’t carry the analogy too far.
Perseus also hears Queen Cassiopeia blaspheme Thetis, who orders Andromeda to be sacrificed to Kraken in 30 days. He watches a giant vulture with a golden cage land on Andromeda’s balcony. Her spirit leaves her sleeping body and climbs into the cage. She’s taken to Calibos in the swamp, where he still tries to woo the girl.
To follow the vulture, Perseus rides Pegasus; and Athena’s barn owl Bubo—or at least a mechanical version of him—comes along as well. Joined by five soldiers, Perseus sets out to find a means to destroy Kraken and save Andromeda’s life.
I’m not going to say much about the Gorgons he meets and often disposes of. There are three Stygian Witches at their brew, blind witches with flesh over their eyes who use a crystal ball called an “eye” to see. They send him to Medusa, the snake-haired monstrosity who slithers along the ground. She’s probably the most famous Gorgon, because her gaze turns all living flesh into stone. The only thing Kraken cannot defeat is her glare.
Finding Medusa’s Underworld palace, Perseus and three of his men encounter a guard dog twice their height, with two heads. (In Greek mythology, it’s supposed to have three heads.) He and the three men with him kill the animal, but not before one of them dies. When they encounter Medusa, a second man falls into a boiling pool near the door, and the third is knocked down and turns to stone. I hate when everybody around the hero dies and he emerges unscathed. Let someone else be spared, please!
In the end, Perseus cuts off her head, and her acidic blood with the consistency of red paint oozes out of her neck. He puts her head in a red bag to carry back. That night, some of her blood seeps through the bag and touches three scorpions on the ground. They grow to immense size and threaten the rest of the army with their claws and tails. The remaining two men die in the battle.
The adventure apparently takes up almost the entire month, so by the time he arrives riding Pegasus, carrying Medusa’s head in the bag, Andromeda is being tied to a rock by the sea, preparing her for the sacrifice. Kraken appears, Perseus pulls out the head, and the monster turns to stone and crumbles into the sea. The movie ends with his and Andromeda’s wedding.
Aside from Perseus’ weapons, I don’t see much Christian parallel. It could be said Perseus’ quest reflects our own journey. We do face many seemingly insurmountable obstacles, like David facing Goliath. In my world, health problems are my enemy, as are financial straits. For others it may be severe depression, a failing marriage, feuds with friends, and so on.
But most of all, the ancient pantheons reflected human foibles: kneejerk anger, jealousy, violence, and promiscuity. They come up far short on mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Not an iota of holiness in them. Our God is clearly the complete opposite of them.
Remember, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4b).