Please note: The following text contains spoilers. Viewer discretion is also advised – this film is rated ‘PG’. For more details on the film’s content, read Focus On The Family’s Plugged In Review: http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/irongiant
Hogarth Hughes: "It's bad to kill. Guns kill. And you don't have to be a gun.
You are what you choose to be. You choose. Choose."
In August 1999, the animated contemporary classic The Iron Giant, opened in
U.S. markets to many favourable reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes’ consensus summarised them thusly: “The endearing Iron Giant tackles ambitious topics and complex human relationships with a steady hand and beautifully animated direction from Brad Bird”. Sadly, such high praise is rarely spoken of an animated film – the Despicable Me’s and The Emoji Movie’s of the film world are usually preoccupied with being harmlessly cutesy, and not providing audiences (both children and adults alike) with artful ruminations on what it means to be alive, possess a soul and how one can become ‘good’. (And to some extent, that’s understandable.) The Iron Giant, however, offers all of this and more, in what the late great Roger Ebert described as “a Cold War parable”, “in which the Iron Giant learns from a little boy that he is not doomed to be a weapon”, because "you are what you choose to be" – naturally an important sentiment for
children to learn, but one which is also held by God, in His word, the Bible...
Throughout the course of the film, we come to learn more of the Giant’s backstory and of his defensive system (particularly in the 2015 signature cut which reveals the Giant is a soldier), which when employed, may yield potentially catastrophic results. It turns out that the Giant is armed to the teeth with deadly, futuristic weaponry, hidden beneath his friendly outer shell. Unaware of his world-ending capabilities (he has a case of robotic amnesia), the Giant is mostly pacifistic in nature and only uses his might to protect Hogarth. This behaviour is encouraged by his wise young friend at a pivotal moment – discovering a deer who was shot and killed by hunters, in the woods. The pair mourn for the creature, and Hogarth explains the concept of death to the initially bemused robot, noting that such a beautiful thing was killed using a gun. The Giant learns that the use of guns brings only death and misery, with Hogarth gently reinforcing that peaceful resolutions must be sought over violence. Such wise teaching positively impacts the Giant’s behaviour, but when attacked by government forces, the Giant falls once more into a trance-like state, in which his violent programming threatens to take over completely. In one moment, having destroyed many government vehicles, he eventually comes to stand before Hogarth, poised to vaporise him. But Hogarth petitions him: “It's bad to kill. Guns kill. And you don't have to be a gun. You are what you choose to be. You choose. Choose.” Remarkably, the Giant overrides his programming, returning himself back to his gentler, more loving side. It’s one of the film’s many, beautiful moments, and one which reminded me of how the Bible teaches that humanity, like the Giant, has free will and doesn’t have to obey its own sinful, destructive programming.
For the Bible teaches that humanity possesses an inherently sinful nature, one which has the power to manifest itself in every part of our lives. Our bodies are “sinful flesh” according to Paul, writing in Romans 8:3 (ESV). We have within us “earthly” desires, which leads us to indulge within “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire(s), and greed” (Colossians 3:5, NRSV). As a result of this sinful nature, our lives are not exactly our own – we are “enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6, NRSV) and are destined to live a life in which our sinful nature dictates who we are, what we do and who we become. In fact, our ‘programming’ is so ingrained within us, that we cannot override these evil desires as the Giant did.
But there is hope, as the Giant managed to circumvent his programming when he learnt and called to mind the following: We all possess a precious soul within us that must be cared for, and we can make a decision to/be taught to turn away from our destructive ways. How is this possible? The Bible teaches that each of us possesses a soul, an invisible part of our being that lives on for eternity, even after the body experiences death. Hogarth affirms this: if “you have feelings, and you think about things… that means you have a soul”. The Giant, whilst made of metal, is in fact sentient – he has feelings and ponders some of life’s biggest questions with Hogarth. The film, however, is vague on where these souls come from. But the Bible teaches that God is the one who “made our very souls” (Jeremiah 38:16, NKJV) and they are designed to return to Him upon our departing from this earth.
However, they can be destined for one of two eternal destinations – Heaven, with God our Father, or Hell, completely separated from our Creator. Sadly, our sinful programming dictates that we are destined to be separated from God’s loving arms – “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NIV). If we don’t overcome the darkness which pervades from our lives, we will not only experience physical death, but a spiritual one too. But God has made a way for sinful souls to be cleansed, to give us an opportunity to acknowledge our own sinfulness and accept God’s gracious gift of forgiveness, which leads to eternal life. He achieved this in sending His one and only Son to earth, giving Him over as a sacrifice in our place (taking the punishment we deserved and our sin upon Him). He was crucified on the cross as the “…offering for our sin”, so “that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NLT).
So, are we able to learn how to overcome our sinful nature? Hogarth says that we have the ability to choose, quite simply, whether we’re good or bad. In a sense, he’s correct. But the Bible teaches that we cannot redeem ourselves alone. For every stand we make against our sin, we cannot destroy its effects in the present, or the eternal, and hope to be freed from it. No, to be righteous in the sight of God, it requires us to make a choice which starts with Christ. For when we choose to follow Jesus, he gives us a new nature: “…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). And He fills us with his Holy Spirit which gives us the ability to choose to act righteously, instead of giving in to our sinful desires: “…walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16, NIV). It is only through Jesus doing a work in us, that we may pursue positive change in our lives. For once we have encountered who Christ is, we naturally will not want to do the bad, but only focus upon the good. It is in Christ alone, that our ‘programming’ is completely rewired, and we go on to experience “life…to the full” (John 10:10, NIV) with Him.
Why not prayerfully invite a friend or family member who doesn’t yet know Jesus, to watch The Iron Giant for themselves? Use the film’s themes to ask them what they thought of the film, if they spotted any links to Christianity and what they might think of the Gospel’s response to this subject.
If you feel able to, ask them what they think about Hogarth’s idea of what it means to possess a soul. Think: Is it real? Can it be seen? Do you have one? Or is it for only good people? Prompt them to consider their own soul, asking if they have an idea where their soul will end up, some day. Also, breach the subject of choice with them. Do they believe they have free will, and are they using it for good? Later, if they're open to hearing it, take an opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel message with them, mentioning the fact that we have abused our free will and cannot become ‘good’ without Christ’s help. To end, share with them about the unconditional love and forgiveness that is found in a relationship with Christ.
Prior to watching the film for yourself, however, take a moment to pray that God would speak to you through the film. If you feel comfortable, pray this prayer over all of your future, film-watching experiences:
Dear Lord, as I watch this film, I ask that you would be present here with me. Highlight to me anything within it that is honourable, anything that can be used in conversation for your Kingdom purposes. Amen.
The Iron Giant is available to rent through Amazon Prime Video and YouTube Movies (in the UK).