How I Trained My Dragon: A Morality Play on "The War on Terror"

Last Friday, Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed posted my review of How to Train Your Dragon.
I thought it was a fun movie and insightful on many levels. Here are my thoughts:

Friday Night at the Movies: How to Train Your Dragon
by Bob Robinson

In a thoroughly enjoyable, family-friendly movie, Dreamworks Animation has created a wonderfully entertaining, visually exciting movie. With How to Train Your Dragon, directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders provide thrills and laughter for all ages, but underneath the dazzling 3D effects hides a deeper, much more profound message.

The story is about a village of vikings who are terrorized by dragons. The film is filled with battle scenes where dragons destroy the vikings’ village and steal their livestock. The vikings have been fighting the dragons for generations. It has gotten to the point that the very identity of being a viking is tied directly to killing dragons.

The young hero of the story, Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), is a wimpy kid trying to prove his worthiness as a viking to his father and leader of the vikings, Stoick (Gerard Butler), as well as to the dragon master Cobber (Craig Ferguson).

The most frightening and most despised dragon is the “Night Fury,” a dragon that has never been seen, who streaks over the village in the darkness and shoots deadly firebombs at buildings. Hiccup manufactures a gun in order to shoot down the Night Fury. It works, and after a search, he finds the Night Fury injured near a crater lake, trapped and unable to fly away.

He slowly gains the trust of the Night Fury dragon, names him “Toothless,” and even flies on the dragon’s back (in 3D, this was a marvelous ride!). Hiccup finds that the most feared dragon, the Night Fury, is actually as loving as a tame puppy.

The underlying message begins to shine through as Hiccup begins to doubt the endless war against the dragons. He begins to wonder if the vikings have been battling the dragons for so long and are so sure that they are heartless terrorists, that the vikings are perpetuating a war that may not be necessary. When Hiccup tells his father what he is discovering about this reality, his father is repulsed not only by the idea, but by his own son.

This movie brings our current “war on terrorism” into a new light. How have we so dehumanized our enemies that we see them as no more than animals – dragons – streaking across the sky with the intention of doing us harm?

I don’t want to give any more of the story away, but there comes a moment in the story when Hiccup understands the real reason why the dragons are doing what they are doing. With that realization, he is better able to think of and implement solutions to the conflict – better solutions than merely killing every dragon.

Jesus’ demand that Christians must love our enemies is a difficult command to follow. In real life situations, it is emotionally difficult to actually understand what our enemies are thinking, what motivates them to oppose us, and what we must do to reach out for the purpose of reconciliation. Sure, it is not simply forgiving and forgetting; it takes seriously the sins that were committed and seeks to tell the truth about those things. But the burden of peace and reconciliation is placed squarely on our shoulders.

However, the American way has often been to treat enemies as not worthy of understanding. We take the easy route far too often, simply deciding to fight rather than to understand, to hate rather than to love.

We need to ask hard questions, questions that our hardened hearts do not want to ask. What drives terrorists to do such atrocities? How can we provide possible solutions to these underlying causes? Are we doing all we can to understand the mind of our enemies? How can we overcome their animosity toward us? What are we doing to overcome their evil with good?

Glen Stassen and many others have been advocating “Just Peacemaking” as a means to overcome conflict. They say that a biblical way of seeking peace is when “adversaries listen to each other and experience each others' perspectives, including culture, spirituality, story, history and emotion.” To find peace, we are to “seek long-term solutions which help prevent future conflict,” and “seek justice as a core component for sustainable peace.”

It wasn’t until Hiccup understood the dragons’ perspective that he could figure out a long-term solution to the conflict between the vikings and the dragons. It wasn’t until Hiccup engaged his friends to seek justice for the dragons that a sustainable peace was found.

1 comment:

Neil said...

Very interesting Bob. One argument I hear is that why should we (ie in Australia) have this attitude (ie love your enemy)when the enemy don't. CHristians tell me this.