There are two ways of doing theological reflection on popular art like movies. One way is to try to uncover the “operating theology” in a culture by looking at how it depicts concepts like salvation and goal of existence. Such an approach can help a Christian to distinguish cultural narratives from the good news of Christ, and to identify points of engagement with the Gospel. The other way of doing theologic reflection on popular art is to look for ways the Gospel is actually hinted at in the art, even if unknowingly. This is like trying to find how God has hidden eternity in our hearts, so that even our aspirations and longings, encoded into our art, might be aimed at Christ. The first approach is one an apologist might take; the second, what a missiologist may use.
A friend and respected colleague of mine, Pastor Brett Davis, posted some thoughts recently on Frozen 2. It was insightful and thought-provoking. And it caught my attention because I had jotted down thoughts in quite an opposite direction. We decided that both perspectives may be helpful toward different ends. So, here they are. First, Brett’s beautiful thoughts.
The Gospel in Frozen 2 (and Frozen)
We see profound reflections of the gospel in both films. The self-giving love of God in Jesus echoes primarily through Anna in Frozen. We see Anna bear a wound from her sister trapped in self-obsession and then watch her lay down her own life for the sake of love. Anna’s unwavering love for Elsa mirrors God’s own unwavering love for the world. And it leads to eerily similar results: restored relationship, “resurrection,” a liberated cosmos. Anna’s willingness to self-sacrifice transforms Elsa, freeing her of her fearful existence in self-obsession and opening her up to the possibility of love. And then Elsa actively participates in liberating the world from its icy bondage (Rom 8.19-21).
The gospel reflections differ in the Frozen 2. These films stories are obviously not Christian allegory; rather they are two songs echoing the gospel melody in different ways. Second time around, Elsa explicitly embodies the “heaven-sent savior.” She gradually comes to recognize the necessity of her descending into the pit of darkness to reveal truth, atone for the sin of her family, and ultimately reign over every other power and authority (the elemental spirits). Anna, on the other hand, grants us a sobering and inspiring picture of the cost of discipleship. With her death, Elsa makes the truth known to Anna and Anna resolves to carry the cross through darkness (“the next right thing”) even through it will cost her everything (Arendelle). She loses her life and finds it.
The skeptic might consider these phantom melodies generated by a straining ear through the noise. Perhaps the skeptic is right. But it could also be that C.S. Lewis was right: the story of Jesus is the “true myth” to which all other human stories bear witness in fleeting fits and flashes. Our hearts ache for the gospel. And the beauty of the gospel takes our breath away even when a story unknowingly reflects it like mirror dimly. The Frozen films are perhaps a dim, distorted funhouse mirror, but gospel reflections are shimmering for those with eyes to see.
The Neo-Spiritualism of Frozen 2
I agree with Brett: there were many rich and good themes. For example, the permanence of love amidst the impermanence of life; the practical wisdom of doing the next right thing when the future is unknown; and resilience amidst depression, loneliness, and self-doubt. There is also the redemptive power of a willingness to suffer great loss in order to rectify an ancient wrong, the embrace of sacrifice in the service of reconciliation.
But there is also an expression of the neo-spiritualism of our day. Elsa is in search of the spirit that is the key to truth and freedom— in this case, the bridge between nature and humanity. In asking this higher power, divine force, to show itself, she discovers it’s…(SPOILER!) her. The god we are searching for is ourselves, fully realized. This is the quintessential spirituality of the secularized Western world today. There is no divine disclosure of a transcendent god— a creator or source, a redeemer or delivered; there is only the unveiling of the self as the true divine.
Elsa is in some ways set up to be a Christ-figure— a meditator who restores “shalom” to the world. And she does so by descending to the depths. But the “salvation” is not a victory over the powers or a deliverance, but a revealing of truth, not unlike the Gnosticism of the ancient times. Moreover, instead of being raised up by God (as Jesus was by the Father through the Spirit), Elsa is saved by her sister finding the courage to actualize her own potential. Not only is salvation knowledge, but the savior is you and me self-actualized.
Frozen 2 is great fun and very moving. And the music is killer. Regardless of which reflection resonates with you, we can echo the words of Olaf, “I just thought of one thing that’s permanent: love.”