Thursday, June 26, 2008

I saw the new Hulk movie.

It was a remarkable act of reparation for the prior abomination from Ang Lee. The previous effort spent what seemed to be about 5 hours on a mixed variety of origin stories, none of which were ever touted as the real reason Banner was all of a sudden changing into a monster. That left about 10 minutes for an actual discussion of what it meant for Banner to undergo this ordeal. Oh, but that was only after 2 hours of Nick Nolte playing a crazy, homeless version of Absorbing Man.

This new effort basically dealt with all the origin issues in the opening credits. Thumbs up already. It then proceeded on the wonderful course of the nature of Bruce's struggles and how they effect those around him. It is this element that provides a marvelous Catholic allegory on the monastic life. I'm sure I'll get some criticism for allegedly seeing Catholicism where it isn't (such as my view of Iron Man as a story about semi-pelagianism), but just hear me out.

Consider the dilemma faced by Bruce Banner. He must withdraw from essentially everything that feeds his passions. This was portrayed well in the TV version by the weekly closing with Bill Bixby back to hitch-hiking and the haunting piano music. If Banner declined to do this, he would condemn both himself, as well as those he loves and numerous unnamed innocents, to a path of destruction. Suppressing his passions is necessary for his survival. I must mention here that there is even a scene in the movie showing Banner as a celibate. Well done stuff, I thought.

The monastic withdraws into solitude for the exact same reasons. The temptations of the world, the flesh, and the Devil feed the passions of the soul, leading into sin, which is synonymous with destruction. The Church has always been emphatic about the nature of sin as a communal offense rather than merely an individual transgression, so the monastic finds himself in an analogous situation to Bruce, who disrupts everything around him when he succumbs to the rage of the Hulk.

However, this is not to say that the passions are evil in themselves. It is clearly the disordered passions which lead to sin and death. There is a line in the new movie in which Banner says that he does not feel he can control the Hulk but that he does think he can "aim it." Such is the case with our passions. The unchecked passions will ultimately lead us into sin. Having a fallen nature sucks. However, we can direct those passions and consequently overcome them by focusing them toward a virtuous end.

These scenarios lead to the same conflicts. Bruce is pursued by those he flees, whether it's Ross, or Betty or The Leader or whoever. He wants the solace of isolation, but he can never find it. Each moment is a struggle to contain the monstrous force within him, and nobody is really doing him any favors along the way. The monastic may somehow divest himself of elements of the world, but the flesh and the Devil will not let him go. Even the world will come searching, as evidenced by the multitudes who sought the wisdom of the Desert Fathers.

On a different note, both Banner and the monastic are faced with a singular problem. Their battles are utterly beyond their abilities to win alone. The movie might (I really don't know if it does) slide away from this a bit at the end, but the basic story is that Banner is impotent when he tries to take on the Hulk by himself. The monastic is painfully aware of his reliance on the grace of God to keep the angry seeds of temptation at bay. This is true by the simple fact that Satan will be doubly resolved to break him.

The picture above is of the Temptations of St. Antony. Replace the images with Banner surrounded by his enemies, and you have a good idea of where I'm going with this whole shpiel. Anyways, the bottom line is that the Hulk is a story about struggle with self and the lengths one must go if one is to truly conquer self for the sake of salvation (not just for the individual, but the world as well). This new movie effort tells this story extraordinarily well.

Go see the movie. Then read The Life of St. Antony by St. Athanasius.

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