The Incredible Hulk/Mongol/The Happening
All three are stories about irresistible force. One is historical, one is modern fiction, and the other is literally straight out of a comic book. In all three, there’s lots of random violence. In all three, the hero prevails, but what varies is whether the hero is himself the monster.
Genghis Khan didn’t grow up in palaces, even though his father was a local chieftan. They were nomads; they lived in tents and traveled with the herds. His father took him, at age nine, to be betrothed in a political alliance with a neighboring tribe, but Temudjin, even as a child, could do no other than be guided by his own lights. He picks a girl from another, less powerful tribe, which was a less honorable choice for his father, and, it turns out, also fatal. His father was killed in battle shortly thereafter, and since there was really no rule of law in any of the Mongol tribes, the successor is the one who seizes the possessions of the slain leader. (See Absalom sleeping with David’s wives to demonstrate that he has literally usurped the king, 2 Samuel 16.) The boy is taken as a slave, and most of the movie follows his various captivities, imprisonments, and inability to get any traction even as a chief of a small band of warriors. But the combination of his dogged perseverance, his fierceness in battle, and his innate gift for military strategy eventually catapults him to the leader of all the Mongols (they leave the viewers to fill in the blanks about the Mongol horde then conquering an incredibly vast terrain, virtually their entire known world, and then some). Throughout his ordeals, our Khan is incredibly loyal to his friends, treats his soldiers fairly, extends mercy to his former adversaries, and relies on his one lifelong love to be his rock, and to always stand behind him. He also, like King David, considers an assault upon a king a capital offense, even if said king is his sworn enemy. And this is supposed to be history’s most notorious barbarian?
“The Incredible Hulk” shares some of the Khan’s characteristics: he, too, will never give up on his one true love, played by Liv Tyler. But she has to figure out how to tame the savage beast, quite literally, and also battle the nefarious forces of our own military, headed by her father (William Hurt), the general determined to harness the Hulk as a military weapon. Of course, the technology falls into the wrong hands, and is misused and abused. Naturally, we rely much on computer-generated imaging to convey the massiveness of the Hulk, even though the foreign film, “Mongol,” shoots all the scenes live, the old-fashioned way.
Well, M. Night Shyamalan also disdains the computer trickery in “The Happening,” but he does create a harrowing horror story, anyway, of Natures’ revenge on hapless humans. Something about a toxin that comes from plants and is airborne, and causes humans to first become confused, then catatonic, then suicidal? We’d almost prefer terrorists. Yes, Mark Wahlburg, the high school science teacher who figures out that he literally needs to head for the hills, is also fiercely loyal to his one true love (Zoey Deschanel), even though during the chaotic flight to the hinterlands, she indulges in a moment of true confession and admits to him that she had dessert with another man after work one evening, and was not working late, as she had said. But forgiveness is perhaps easier when faced with imminent demise. They wind up with a friend’s daughter, who presents a child’s perspective on the horrific plague, but the violence done to children will make this movie indeed a horror for many genteel viewers.
All three feature a story about a veritable force of nature, one literal, once symbolic, and the other historic. Can you root for the monster? Well, maybe if he’s a loyal romantic,. And then turns into mild-mannered Ed Norton.
Questions For Discussion:
1) Do you think that there could be a virus or plague for which there is no cure?
2) Do you think that experimentation with human DNA could produce a monstrosity?
3) How do the keepers of high-tech weapons keep them from falling into the wrong hands?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian