Sunday, June 05, 2011
X-Men: First Class
"Not as humanity sees does God see, because you see the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart." 1 Sam. 16:7
There are many characters that run through X-Men: First Class as this film franchise prequel tells the story of how a myriad of mutants come together for the very first time.
We are introduced to a more egocentric, dashing, and youthful Dr. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and a troubled and increasingly embittered Erik Lehensherr (Michael Fassbender), who would one day become the dark antihero Magneto. Their stories form the core of the film as friendly compatriots in helping those with genetic mutations discover their true selves and relinquish their fear of those who would oppress them.
Charles' and Erik's differing approaches to the relationship between mutants and humans was played out in yet another character's origin story - in the person of Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), a shape-shifting young woman whose natural appearance was that of a scaled blue creature with yellow eyes and deep red hair.
When Raven was aligned with Charles Xavier, she adopted his approach to mutation: integration and cooperation. When in the company of other humans, she changed her appearance to fit into the crowd - and in many cases, kept this look even in the private company of close friends.
Yet when Erik Lehensherr came into her life, he encouraged Raven to be who she really was - to not be ashamed of her natural appearance. "You are beautiful," he told her, "just as you are."
Despite all of Charles' love of interspecies dialogue and hope, he acquiesced to humanity's natural tendency to fear the unknown and the stranger. He didn't want to upset the apple cart or rock the boat if he didn't need to. Integrating into human society was his goal, allowing mutants to be who they were - just as long as it didn't interfere with everyday life.
And despite the villainous Magneto who Erik eventually becomes, he looked upon his fellow outcasts with love and saw in them great beauty and greatness. In some respects, Erik's approach mirrored God's way of looking upon the world, as explained in the Scriptures: "Not as humanity sees does God see, because you see the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)
Poor Raven always thought less of her natural appearance (perhaps brought on by her trusted confidant Charles who averted his eyes from her blue scaled skin); however, when she heard Erik's kind words and met the affections of another mutant with an awkward appearance (Hank McCoy played by Nicholas Hoult), she began to love who God made her to be.
The X-Men franchise has long had a particular appeal to audiences because so many people can identify with mutations or imperfections. Whether it's a physical, mental, or emotional distinctiveness, no human being is a cookie-cutter image. Despite the commercials that promise perfection, no one is truly flawless.
What Charles Xavier (and real-life geneticists like him) call mutations, God calls the varied beauty of creation. We often run from these so-called imperfections, hiding them so we can fit into "normal" society. Like Raven, we even go to lengths to change our appearances so no one will notice what makes us different or unique.
But it is precisely those imperfections that God loves the most about us, believe it or not. However, what God does look out for is how we will use those special and unique aspects of our appearance, our personality, and our mind to love one another and to glorify the heavens.
Jesus himself called out to the mutants of his day - by ministering to the lepers, the possessed, the tax collectors and prostitutes, the poor and marginalized, the blind and the lame, the outcast and the rejected of society. It was these imperfect, flawed human beings upon which he built the Reign of God. He saw them as beautiful, as God sees humanity.
Poor Raven - caught between two understandings of mutations and imperfections. As we know from her alliances in later movies, the balance between Charles' and Erik's philosophies are not as clear-cut as black and white. Even though Erik saw her as God sees her, he also favored violence and vengeance as the response to anyone who saw mutants as less than perfect. And while Charles Xavier had much to learn about loving the mutations, he was drawn to forgiveness and patience in the long run.
Poor Raven. Poor Mystique. Hers is a tragic tale - one that many of us can identify with. We long to be loved by the world as God so loves us. We want to cling to anyone who will accept us for who we are - but can sometimes be blinded to see if those who accept us are also so gracious in all aspects of their lives (consider, for instance gangs and kindred groups that may alleviate fear for its members but cause havoc for all others).
Being an outsider is a tough road. But it doesn't need to end like Mystique's did.
Instead, in the real world, we have the opportunity to follow Christ - who combines Xavier's philosophy of integration, kindness, understanding, and patience with Magneto's approach to personal strength, inner beauty, and giftedness. Sadly, in this film (and in many cases in our world today), the two sides split. But in Christ, they come together and are perfected. Let us follow that path - and in so doing, truly become "first class."