"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..."
In his excellent review of the Beowulf movie, my cypher-cyber-buddy Scott Nokes -- whom I've also met offline at a Medievalist conference here in Seoul -- wondered about the religious angle to the film:
The Christian/pagan thing never quite got worked out well. I was under the impression that the film was trying to be anti-Christian, but it never really came to thematic fruition.Anti-Christian? I didn't get that impression, and I would be surprised if the director, Robert Zemeckis, were intending an anti-Christian film. I've read in an interview somewhere that he was raised as a Catholic by his Lithuanian father and Croatian mother. In itself, that wouldn't mean anything since one could rebel and become anti-Catholic. But in an interview with American Academy of Achievement, he's asked a question about his values:
AAA: There's a sense of quality and a value system that has infused your later work to a greater and greater degree. Where did that come from?Moreover, in addition to his movie Beowulf, Zemeckis also directed The Polar Express, which seemed to me to be a movie about faith, in which the spirit of Christmas can be experienced by those who truly believe. The official US website for The Polar Express movie says "This Holiday Season ... Believe." And there's that iconic image of the poor boy from the wrong side of town who, finally experiencing Christmas when he finds the gift that he first saw at the North Pole now waiting under his family's Christmas tree, runs out onto the porch and holds up his still-wrapped present whose bright-green ribbon forms a cross that stands out against the red-stripped wrapping, the dark night, and a world of snow.
Robert Zemeckis: I think that was bred into me, growing up. It was really a very healthy, balanced system when I look back at it. I was sent to a Catholic school when I was in grade school, and I think in those days, the 50s, that was a bit more heavy. I carry a lot of emotional scars from that, but that's all changed now. The idea of having solid values, coupled with the reality of how the world and the system works, I think is ultimately pretty healthy, because you're not walking around completely naive.
I haven't located that image online, but in the image above, you can see the boy in the lower right looking down at his gift soon after he had first seen it in Santa's workshop. Note, as well, that the above image bears the words "If you truly believe" ... though any 'spiritual' mood is somewhat marred by the words that follow: "find all 5 stocking stuffers."
Anyway -- to get back to the Beowulf movie -- the old Germanic paganism didn't come off looking especially positive. The pagan Danes and Geats are drunken louts prone to ready sex and even readier violence. Beowulf himself, though a cut above his thanes, is not entirely reliable in word or deed despite being a hero.
The only fully admirable character in the entire story is Wealtheow, who falls for Beowulf and becomes his wife. In the latter part of the film, she has apparently converted to Christianity, for she wears a small but prominantly displayed golden cross about her neck and serves as Beowulf's conscience.
Not that this redeems the film, which remains flawed, but on the evidence, I can't say that the movie was intended as anti-Christian.