St. Paul Goes to the Cinema explores Christian imagery and motifs found in contemporary film.
Though released back in 2017, I still find myself gripped by the children’s movie, Paddington 2. I am happy to say I am not alone in this. The film received universal acclaim from movie critics, achieving the coveted 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite the beautiful visuals and masterful storytelling, that is not what struck me most about the film. To me, Paddington in Paddington 2 is an excellent portrayal of Jesus as depicted in the Gospel of John.
In Paddington 2, Paddington Bear does not undergo any significant character change. The typical hero’s journey sees the protagonist overcoming obstacles and transforming themselves; going on a perilous; or even vanquishing an evil foe. For example, in A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge overcomes the notion that a person’s value can be measured by the amount of wealth they possess. There is no great transformation of the main character in Paddington 2.
Paddington’s character arc is flat. Rather than the people and circumstances he encounters changing Paddington, Paddington is the one instigating change in people. After sampling one of his famous marmalade sandwiches, the previously vicious prisoner ‘Knuckles’, played by Brendan Gleeson, begins to warm to Paddington and his fellow inmates. Indeed, in all areas that Paddington finds himself, those around him change for the better.
John’s portrayal of Jesus is a similar one. Whereas in the Synoptic Gospels, the cross is seen as a trial which Jesus must endure, in John it is seen as the pinnacle of His glory. Jesus’ character arc is less focussed on enduring trial and defeating evil, more pointing people towards Himself and instigating change in others. The fact that, in Christian circles at least, many of these incidences can be referred to just by the name of the person involved is testament to this. Nicodemus. The blind man. The woman caught in adultery. All meet with and are radically changed by Jesus.
John chapter 4 epitomises how Jesus changes others. In the story, Jesus meets a woman collecting water in the heat of the midday sun. The woman is avoiding interaction with her village as she’s had a string of husbands and is currently residing with a man who was not her husband. In the culture of her particular time and place, this would’ve been an incredibly shameful set of circumstances. Hence the trip to the well at noon, she would be sure nobody else would be out.
However, through Jesus treating and conversing with her as an equal, the woman undergoes a radical change. Rather than continuing her culturally imposed exile, she immediately reintegrates herself into her community. Like Knuckles with Paddington, the woman’s perception of herself and her role in the community is transformed for the better.
As we see Paddington giving hope and joy (and marmalade) to prisoners; transforming his neighbours on Windsor Gardens from a hodgepodge group of individuals into a community that loves and cares for one another; we hear echoes of Jesus. We see a glimmer of a God who changes not only a small fictional road in London, but a God who transforms the entire world, whose ultimate plan is a restored universe in which humanity lives in community with one another and the God who made them.