9: A Review
I love animation. Since I was small I have always been thrilled by the ways that so much can be communicated with so little. Animation is like poetry. Minuscule changes and movement communicate depths of understanding. A slight twitch in the eyebrow, a shrug of the shoulder, all of it purposeful. From the amount that can be done with stick figure animation, to the depth and beauty of Hayao Miyazaki's films, to the perfect marriage of storytelling and quality in certain Pixar films, I find animation enthralling.
If you love animation, you should see 9. (Written and directed by Pamela Pettler and Shane Acher) It is well done and everything that I am about to say about the unsatisfying aspects of the story telling should not detract from the beauty, intricacy, subtlety, and talent more impressive than steroid era baseball records. There were a handful of scenes that I re-watched just to enjoy and be struck with wonder that someone could do that.
Now that I have laid my cards on the table, let me back up, and reswallow some of my participles and verbs. I like dystopian stories, and 9 was nothing if it wasn't dystopian. A good healthy dose of dystopian realism is good for the soul. I am not sure if anything pulled me back from communism as much as Lord of the Flies. And of course, Animal Farm should be required reading before anyone is allowed to put their name on a ballot. Brave New World shook my trust in science much deeper than any argument and Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins haunts me (in a good way) to this day. I can't see it on the shelf without getting goose-bumps. And what can be said about That Hideous Strength? That Hideous Strength is truly only approached by Till We Have Faces as possibly the greatest novel of the twentieth century. I appreciate the role of the dystopian story-teller that takes a current idea, especially a utopian ideal, and imagines what would happen if actual humans got ahold of the ideal and formed it into an -ism. In every case, if the author is telling the truth, you get a first order hell hole out of any utopian ideology. In fact, I believe that any ideology will lead to tyranny.
An ideology is when one idea, one ideal, is placed above every other. God didn't give us an ideal to rule us, he gave us a person, Jesus Christ. He didn't give us an idea, he gave us His Son. And so I revel in a good dystopian tale as much as the next guy, probably more, so the setting and the premise of 9 were right up my alley. The fights were great, the characters were instantly recognizable (which is of first importance to a well told dystopian story). The right things were made beautiful. Bravery vs. Cowardice, Selfishness vs. Loyalty, and the utopian ideology that went wrong to ruin the world was a desire for comfort above everything. But that is where things seem to clunk off of the rails.
The characters are a series of nine toys, brought to life by either magic, or technology (and really, what is the difference anyway?). These nine toys need to save the world from . . . From what exactly I'm not sure, and for what, well I'm not sure about that either. There is not any overarching purpose besides survival (as far as I can tell). The people are gone, the machines are trying to round up the toys in order to use up their strength in order to survive. But when it comes down to it, neither the protagonists nor the antagonists can reproduce. Neither of their races can create new life, though the evil robot seems to come closer. The entire rivalry is based on the fact that there is a limited amount of life to be had, and both groups want it.
This kind of rivalry is more than just common in the real world. This is what is behind much of the modern economic rhetoric about overpopulation, limited resources, and Unfair or unequal distribution of resources. Much like the toys here, there is assumed to be a fixed amount of every resource, therefore either the consumption or the consumers need to be limited. Then, much like the dystopian vision of 9, wars over consumption rights begin.
But people are not only consumers, they are also producers, they are primarily worshippers, but they are also consumers and producers. What is not regularly taken into account is the fact that the consumption generally leads to a production. People eat food in order to go work at the aluminum plant to prepare sheets that are sent to the factory that makes tractors so that more food can get produced. This idea that consumption is the end of the line is what leads to all of the apocalyptic declarations of the mathematicians and sociologists that want to solve our problems by getting rid of some of the mouths that need feeding, but as P.J. O’Rourke points out, it always ends up that there are too many of you and just the right number of me. So the economic theory was unrealistic, but it was dystopian. Maybe that was the point? But the resolution of the story was the most unsatisfying part of the story.
At the end of the movie, the spirits of the devoured toys are released from their imprisonment to go up into the sky, and be immortal spirits. Completely unsatisfying! Everyone knows that a good story ends with resurrection. Disembodiment is boring and terribly unjust. "I sacrificed my life and now I am going to a better place where I won't care about the fact that my sacrifice did nothing and changed nothing in the world. I planted a bunch of seed, and that is what matters, not the fact that after planting the seed all you had were fewer seeds.
This story was just begging for a resurrection, just like the real world, the difference is that in 9, all they got was "I'll fly away, sweet darling, I’ll fly away."
Paul makes this exact point.
“13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Cor.15:13–19).
A story that ends without any resurrection is a miserable story. Life without resurrection is a life of plowing and planting with no harvest. It is a life of stoicism. The ‘iron philosophy’ of Marcus Aurelius, patiently surviving the unmoving, unfeeling fates (whoa is he) all the while persecuting Christians on a massive scale.
The final resurrection and judgment of all things is what defines everything here in the present. Jesus promises to come and put things right by resurrection. A story that just ends with, “All that crazy brave sacrifice? Yeah. Totally for nothing. Cool to watch though. Very entertaining. Ok, scoot. Go to your better place.” Feels a little empty. Feels, in fact, hopeless. Like there is no actual hope for the actual world.
But there is. Because the world is aimed at resurrection, Christians can, and should, be people that bring the future resurrection into the present by faith. By faith, we look to put the world right with courage and bravery in the defense of our neighbor, honesty and mercy in our interactions with our neighbor, and love and faithfulness towards God and neighbor. And because of the coming resurrection, we can know that none of it is in vain.