Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Harrowing of Hell: The Movie? The TV Series?

As was my sentiment yesterday, there is a dichotomy of emphasis regarding the Friday and Sunday parts of Easter. Many of the sermons of various Christians churches focus on the Resurrection, which is essentially central to the religion itself. However, especially in American popular Christianity (and American pop culture as a whole), there is a bit of obsession as to the gory parts of the story, as is/was evidenced by the success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004). I'm not going to comment further whether this is healthy or not, or to pass comical judgment onto those who found some sort of conversion after merely watching Gibson's movie. I'm just going to suggest that we might need another paradigm shift regarding the Easter holiday; one option would be taking it back to medieval times, when they took the story mostly off script (not from the Gospel versions of the story): The Harrowing of Hell.

One theology (well, my brother told me he saw a televangelist talk about it on TV) behind this story posits that there was (at the time of the Crucifixion) two regions of Hell: A Limbo for the good souls, and Hell Hell (with fire and demons and stuff) for the bad souls. Basically, according to the televangelist, Jesus went to Limbo and preached to the good, and then lead them all the hell outta there. Jesus basically ignored the bad souls.

Since last blog post, I've been pondering how to present The Harrowing of Hell to modern audiences: A three-hour epic film or a 100 episode television series? I think there should be flashbacks (like Lost) to cover some character development, and a series would cover that nicely, with character-centric episodes. In any case, lots of religious groups would protest due to the inherent "blasphemy" of this concept, since Jesus Christ himself is the protagonist of this epic - and not, say, John Locke/Aslan/Neo as a metaphor for Jesus. Also, this epic won't totally fit into one denomination's brand of theology, so that could create discord among various protest groups.

Anyway, we'll call the Jesus character "the Protagonist" to alleviate some inherent irreverent South Park-like humor when placing the Protagonist into epic battle scenes or whatnot. (Try reading "the Protagonist" as "Jesus" below and witness the absurdity.) Without further ado:

The Harrowing of Hell

Hell wouldn't be the two-tiered Hell (Limbo and Hell) from the some forms of theology. Both good souls and bad souls are mixed up in this crazy, cavernous, twisted, oft-fiery world. As a rule of thumb, good souls would still be pretty sane despite their stay in Hell - cuts and scrapes eventually heal on these individuals. Bad souls would mostly turn into mindless, deformed zombies during their stay in Hell, but especially evil souls would either (1) remain in a deceptive, sane human form or (2) be promoted as some sort of ghoul or demon.

Anyhow, the story begins with the Protagonist unconscious and naked in Hell (having just entered), with a demon dragging him to a pit of torture. The Protagonist awakens and recognizes the demon, calling him by his angel name. There's a flashback to pre-Hell times, with the Protagonist hanging out with the pre-fallen angel. The scene ends with the demon asking for forgiveness, the Protagonist destroying the demon (who'll probably respawn elsewhere in Hell, since there is no afterlife for the afterlife), and the Protagonist wearing the demon's armor for clothing. We can't have the central figure of a major world religion stay unclothed throughout the entire movie/series (lest an offended fundamentalist cause violence in the real world in reaction), can we now? If you thought Dr. Manhattan's clothing situation was awkward on film...

In this retelling of the Harrowing, the Protagonist needs to assemble a team from various souls to make the mission successful. While having most of his divine power, the Protagonist is also cut off from absolute power (being imprisoned in Hell). In other words: He can easily take down an army of demons, but he doesn't know the geography of Hell and must adapt to this new environment.

For the most part, the Protagonist will be a flat character, since doubt and character growth aren't really part of this character's m.o. After all, he's the conquering Messiah with God powers and all. The real dynamics of character-driven storylines will come from the rest of the ensemble:

Judas Iscariot. This is a controversial story decision, but it might make good story sense at the end. Basically, this plays into the alternative interpretation that Judas is a sort of "Dark Knight" who "betrays" because it is part of the plan and accepts the role of being historically misunderstood. As the Protagonist's co-conspirator, Judas is basically the Protagonist's first mate and a sounding board to the Protagonist revealing the plans of this heist/prison break of Hell.

However, near the end of the movie/series, Judas will truly betray the Protagonist and his team, thus cementing his legacy as a traitor.

John the Baptist. Apparently, in some theologies, even in Hell, John continues his role as preachy forerunner to the Messiah. John basically tells the Protagonist where there are large pockets of good souls that are safe from demons, and where there are possibly good souls isolated and tortured. John also probably sees through Judas' ruse, but to the audience, it will seem that John is the betrayer and is trying to steal the Protagonist's thunder as Messiah. When Judas betrays the team (and disappears until the final scene/final episode), John becomes the Protagonist's right hand man.

Samson from the Old Testament. While Moses or David or someone more popular would have been better choices for the Protagonist's team, it will be explained that those characters are isolated deep in Hell and must be rescued. Besides, every team needs a strong man.

Eventually, Samson will go one-on-one with a demon version of Hercules, and both will fall into a deep chasm, never to be heard from again. It will be an emotional moment for the team.

Michael the Archangel. His backstory would make for great action/drama, as well as anger lots of the devout, who expect accuracy for their particular dogma. Basically, centuries before this Harrowing, Michael descends to Hell to try to create a revolution of souls in Hell - his own harrowing, possibly to prevent the Protagonist from being born and dying. Unfortunately, Michael fails and is stranded in Hell, constantly being hunted by demons/bad soul "zombies" and in turn hunting demons/"zombies." By the time the Protagonist finds him, Michael has almost become mad from his stay in Hell.

Michael is useful to the team because (1) he has wings, (2) wields a Heavenly sword, and (3) knows the terrain of Hell and the general location of the Exit point. He lacks the Key to the Exit; that's why he's stuck. Also, there could be a self-referential conversation between the Protagonist and the Archangel regarding possible confusion between the two, as many believe they are one and the same.

At one point during the movie/series, Michael will go face-to-face with the Devil, and lose. The Archangel will then be the Devil's personal captive, with great dialogue debates between the two characters. Somehow, Michael's sword will pass along to the Protagonist to wield.

Eve. Yes, that Eve. She's been separated from her husband Adam for several millenia and must find him. Of course, Eve's flashbacks will contain lots of nudity. Being the mother of humanity, and also due to unscientific film/TV DNA theory, Eve contains half of all possible genes of humanity. Sometime during her stay in Hell, Eve discovers that she could shape shift to various human forms - usually female but sometimes (a relatively unconvincing) male. Basically, if Samson is B.A. Baracus and Michael is Murdock, then Eve is Faceman. Even though she is a shapeshifter, Eve will either be played by an extremely multiethnic/multiracial actress, or a Brazilian supermodel.

Besides the inevitable reunion with Adam, Eve's story arc climaxes with a catfight, er, battle with Lilith and a bunch of succubi. It will be hot, I mean, move the story forward tastefully.

Token minority, non-Judeo-Christian, virtuous pagan - a good soul in elderly philosopher/sage/wise man form. Since Hollywood would cast the main characters - including the Middle Eastern Jewish Protagonist - with white actors of usually Western European descent, we'll need a token minority to seem "fair." If he's an Asian character, it'll be hinted that this team member is Buddha without explicitly saying so.

In any case, this character will have a sort of Sawyer/Miles sarcasm, usually giving the Protagonist himself some pet names: Mithras, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Dionysus, and even Persephone (when he's not in a good mood). The Protagonist apparently takes this mockery in good humor (as should the viewer).

Good Souls as minor/guest characters. We should probably throw a Neanderthal in the mix for controversy's sake.

As for the bad guys:

"Zombies." As mentioned previously, these are bad souls gone insane. They're basically the Stormtroopers (mass quantities, bad aim) of the movie/series.

Demons. Most are fallen angels, but some are promoted bad souls. Some demons might have flashback scenes/episodes. The team, when separated from the Protagonist, fight demons with great difficulty - even Michael struggles against the largest of demons.

The Grim Reaper (Death). He holds (or at least knows the locations of) the Key(s) out of Hell. The team will have to find all the Keys to gain access to Death and the main Key, which only the Protagonist can use. To win the last Key, the Protagonist plays a game of chess (or similar) with the Reaper.

The Devil. He's the big bad of the movie/series. If we're talking a full-length series, the Devil shows up in the characters' flashbacks, and possibly has a few Satan-centric episodes. He only shows up in Hell a few times: (1) To torture the good souls deep in Hell, (2) to fight and defeat Michael, and (3) to have an epic swordfight with the Protagonist. Consider the following:

At the conclusion of the epic fight with the Protagonist, the Devil and Judas (previously revealed as a traitor, again) fall into the frozen lake at the very bottom of Hell. The Devil then takes out his frustrations on Judas.

And that's pretty much the movie or the entire series. Yeah, I'm thinking series. Animated? CGI? Live action with lots of green screen/CGI? Low budget with lots of closeups and cheesy costumes? Would most devout Christians accept of reject this presentation of the Easter story?

Alternatively, instead of both the Good Friday sadism or the Holy Saturday epicness, we could have a paradigm shift emphasizing the Last Supper of Maundy Thursday - not in the communion sense that is the norm, but in the party sense that involves Passover lamb, matzo, and copious amounts of wine. Having just eaten some lamb and about three glasses of wine (Australian Shiraz this time), I can definitely get on board with that.

In any case, I wish you all a Happy Easter, in any sense you celebrate it: the Christian salvation (rebirth) holiday, the pre-Christian springtime (rebirth) holiday, the modern day commercial chocolate eggs and bunnies holiday, or not at all.

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