John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by
him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from
the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do
not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our
ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to
raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at
the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not
bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire…
John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you
with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming;
I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will
baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing
fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.”
Luke 3:6-9, 16-18
Nicolas Cage always makes a good Everyman in the fantasy adventure films so popular with the young crowd (witness the National Treasure films, as well as more serious fare such as World Trade Center and Matchstick Men), and this new film is no exception, though it’s ending is a bit different from his earlier films. He plays MIT Professor Astrophysicist John Koestler, son of a pastor from whom he is estranged. A few years earlier he lost his faith when his wife was killed, leaving him to raise their son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) and trying to drink his sorrow away. He is so depressed that when his students ask if events in the universe are random or predetermined, he quietly replies, ‘I think s—t just happens.’ Not what he heard from his father’s pulpit, or learned in Sunday School!
In 1959 students at the middle school that Caleb attends, in preparation for sealing away a time capsule, were asked to draw pictures of what they thought the world would look like in fifty years. And so there were rocket ships and modernistic buildings and such—all but the paper handed in by the disturbed Lucinda. Hers was filled, all the way out to the four edges, with series of numbers that she hurriedly scrawled. Fifty years later, when the capsule is raised and opened at a school ceremony, during which the papers are handed out to students, of course it is Caleb who receives Lucinda’s. He is disappointed that his has no picture, but also becomes somewhat affected by it—and strangers start showing, and he has visions of the woods and hills outside ablaze.
John shrugs the paper off at first, but then becomes intrigued when he perceives that there are sets of numbers. He witnesses a jet liner crashing into cars on the crowded Interstate outside of Boston, and is shocked later to see that the date and the number of deaths make up one of the sets on Lucinda’s paper. He also sees from the locater gadget in his car that the longitude and latitude numbers are also included in the sets. A lot of Internet searching of the dates and map coordinates on the paper reveals that the girl had predicted every major world catastrophe of the past fifty years, along with the number of casualties. He searches for the grown Lucinda, and finds her daughter Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne), also a single parent, with her daughter Abby (Lara Robinson). She fearfully orders him to stay away from them, but because he is convinced that he might be able with her help to prevent still further disasters, he persists—with incredible results for them all. Oh yes, we should also say that he believes that Caleb has been chosen to receive the paper—his scientific skepticism is giving way, bringing him closer to the faith of his father.
Usually Hollywood makes a mess of Bible prophecies and themes, and we must observe that this is not a film to base one’s view of the end of the world. However, what the filmmakers are good at are special effects that are truly awesome. And the relationship between father and son is well handled, including that between the two elder Koestler’s, shown at the climax of the story. This is a good film for a church group to watch and then discuss some of the apocalyptic passages in the Scriptures. Be sure, however, to watch this on the big screen so as to experience the power of the special effects. Note that Luke
This contains spoilers.
1. What is John Koestler’s state of mind when we first meet him? How is John like a number of other scientists and philosophers who have garnered a great deal of media attention?
2. Have you had a similar faith shaking (if not shattering) experience as he? If a sudden death or loss did not destroy your faith, what do you think contributed to your retaining it?
3. What do you think is the identity of those creepy figures in the film whom we might call “The Seekers” ? Aliens? Angels?
4. How can we see this as a film about faith as trust? What happens when Diana does not trust John? What has happened to him and his family relationships because he no longer could share his minister father’s faith? Who was the one who apparently broke off relationships?
5. After seeing the film together my friend Don Smith commented that he saw John’s giving over his son as a re-enactment of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, “only this time there was no ram in the bushes.” (See Genesis 22 for this story.) What do you think? How did this involve a great deal of trust on John’s part, as well as Caleb’s?
6. When John rejoins his father and mother, what does the father say about what is about to happen? How is this attitude different from most people’s, and certainly of the majority of apocalyptical films? How do we see that Apocalypse in the Scriptures is based on faith, whereas in the films it is a matter of fear? Note that the last line in the account from Luke about John the Baptist’s apocalyptic preaching ends with “he proclaimed the good news to the people.”