Over the weekend, I went to see the latest version of ‘The Magnificent Seven’, a remake of the western classic of the same name, starring Yul Brenner (which itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’). And it was exactly what I thought it would be and wanted it to be.
Western’s, as a genre, have experienced some hit or miss success in recent years, but there is still a large swath of people who enjoy watching them, and I think there are good reasons why. The main character is almost always someone we, as the audience, can identify with. The main villain is usually the worst kind of human being, with nothing worth redeeming. The stakes are usually an innocent person/population being treated horribly. It’s a classic good vs evil arc.
Now, God and I have the kind of relationship where He shows up in movies for me. And this was no exception. So here are a couple of ways I saw the Gospel in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (without spoilers)
The Troubled Hero – Westerns thrive on the classic ‘Troubled Hero’ protagonist. Whether it’s the reformed bounty hunter, soldier with a drinking problem, or the disgraced lawman, the heroes in Westerns always have elements of brokenness in them. Several characters have this archetype in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ – some have had violence done to them to turn them into this troubled hero, others are trapped by poor choices from when they were younger. All of them are broken in some way.
That brokenness is something that we readily identify with. As people, we all have parts of our lives that we’re scared of becoming public knowledge. We feel like people would clear the streets as we came into town if they saw us coming.
The Gospel of Matthew is written from the perspective of a guy with a broken past. He was supposed to be a priest when he walked away from it to become a thief (tax collector) who likely also ran with the “wrong crowd” (I’ll let you fill in what that means). In Western context, this is the former priest who left the clergy to become a brothel owner.
The central theme of Westerns is that no matter how troubled a person may be, if their intentions are pure, then so are they. The beautiful thing about Christ is that no matter how troubled a person may be, they can always be made pure.
The Readiness to Die – Western’s, as movies, have never really shied away from killing off or wounding the heroes of the film. It’s usually a final act of redemption, showing that they were truly noble by laying down their lives for a town they’d never been too, or an innocent person in dire need (usually women and children). In ‘The Magnificent Seven’, main characters didn’t talk a lot about being ready to die, but they clearly felt it’s presence in the build up for the final fight. They want to live. They fight to survive. But if this is the end for them, they’re seemingly ready for it.
Toward the end of his life, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians from jail, awaiting a trial that would ultimately end his life. In that letter, he expresses that while he is not eager to die, he is more than ready to be fully in the presence of God. “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” – Philippians 1:21. Christ Himself told His disciples and crowds that the only way to follow Him was to “die to ourselves”.
Christians no longer live for themselves. We serve a higher cause. It may not be as clear cut or easily understood as “defending the helpless town from the evil oil baron”, but the Gospel is still a cause that is greater than any single individual, congregation, or even country. That causes some internal conflict – Self vs Christ. By definition, Christians have said they aim to choose Christ over self. It isn’t an easy life, especially when you realize it might cost you everything. But it’s the choice we’re supposed to have made.
If you’ve seen the movie, did you see the Gospel anywhere? Or do you think I’m reading too much into it? Let me know.
And remember, I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.