I also like looking for spiritual symbolism in movies. Did you know that, too?
I'm just going to move on before I go into self-aware humor overload...
But I do like it when I'm watching a movie, and I'm like "Hey, this could apply to Christianity." I've already discussed this before in a few other posts, so this list will not include Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption or John Keating from Dead Poets Society.
Also, please don't get angry with this post and say that I'm trying to put any of these characters on an equal level with the Creator of the universe. When I consider somebody in a movie or book a Christ figure, I only mean that they display certain characteristics similar to those of Jesus. This could mean inspiring hope among a group of people, showing an extraordinary amount of benevolence, or committing a significant personal sacrifice for the good of others. And like I said, these characters are NOT perfect pictures of Christ by any means. All humans are called to be Jesus in the world, but we all inevitably have flaws, just as most, if not all, of these characters do. So here we go.
1. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver
"You talkin' to me?"
You probably weren't expecting to see this guy on the list. He's just a violent, mentally unstable taxi driver, right? Well, partially true. But, a lot of people don't take the time to delve deeper into his character. This man was disgusted by the sinful things he saw on New York's mean streets (hey, that would be a good name for another De Niro film), and he wanted to do what he could to transform them. He was particularly interested in saving a young prostitute from the life she was trapped in. He became willing to help somebody that was considered the lowest of the low in society, similar to how Jesus reacted to a lot of the sinners he met. He ends up charging into the house where she stays, eliminating anyone in his way. He rescues her, but gets shot himself. (I don't think it kills him though.)
Actually, Jesus was a manly man. I'm not saying He would be like this guy, but He was definitely no pansy.
2. Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront
It took him awhile, but he came through. Malloy is a guy who's owned by the town's crime boss, Johnny Friendly. Terry comes to do the right thing, and makes the decision to testify against Friendly in court. He boldly speaks the truth at personal risk. As a result, all of the people he thought were his friends betray him. But, he still wants to deliver them from his control. He has a showdown with Friendly, which does not end well for Malloy. The cowardly villain has his goons beat up Malloy when he's getting the upper hand. This example, though, inspires the other men to refuse to work for Friendly anymore. The best is the end when Malloy, despite having been beaten within an inch of his life, still gets up and walks away, and the men follow him, leaving the enemy with nothing.
3. Batman in The Dark Knight
Yes, I am serious. And don't call me Shirley. Basically, he allows himself to be hated and hunted by the people he loved and wanted to protect. After Harvey kills a bunch of people, Batman decides to take the blame for the crimes. He takes Harvey's sins on his own shoulders, leaving Harvey Dent spotless and pure in the eye of the public. And he rises in the third movie...
4. Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
I know, I know. McMurphy was a dishonest, disrespectful, foul-mouthed fellow. How could he be a Christ figure? Well, he did turn his attention away from himself and to helping the other inmates of the asylum. He took certain risks, such as hopping the barbed wire fence, so that he could show them a good time outside the walls of the institution. He taught the men how to play basketball. Ultimately, he taught the men to think for themselves, rather than letting the tyrannical Nurse Ratched tell them what to think. Most significantly. he had his brain fried for his "unorthodox" behavior, a sacrifice which inspires at least one of the other inmates to bust through the wall and run to freedom.
5. Luke in Cool Hand Luke
(See what I did there?)
Like other stories I've mentioned, this is about a man who goes to prison that everyone immediately knows is different from the rest. He challenges any sort of authority, earning the respect of his fellow inmates. He continually attempts to escape, but he keeps failing. In spite of that, he never loses the loyalty of his men or his resolve to not conform to the mindset that the jailers would like. They beat him worse every time they catch him. They beat him so badly at one point, they have to lay him out on the table in the crucifixion pose you see before you now. Finally, in the end, it looks like he will finally escape, until he's turned in by the Judas in the story. Luke tries to escape, but gets shot. It's unclear as to whether he died, but we do know that he never gave in, as he still keeps his perpetual smile while the police are driving away.
6. E.T. in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. is not just an alien visitor. He is just the kind of friend young Elliot needed in his troubled time. In Spielberg's classic, we see Elliot dealing with the pain of his parents' separation and the fact that he doesn't seem to have a friend he can turn to. But, one shows up. E.T. comes to Earth and becomes Elliot's best friend that helps him get over his hurt. They seem to become one. Of course, there are some obvious analogies that can be drawn from E.T.'s death and resurrection later in the movie. But, the most obvious symbol comes at the very end when E.T. leaves. His spaceship comes to take him back home, but Elliot begs him not to leave. E.T. hugs Elliot, points to his head, and says, "I'll be right here." Aside from making everybody in the room cry, this is also a reminder of when Jesus had to leave the disciples to ascend into Heaven and comforted them by saying, "I will be with you always."
7. Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire
It's as simple as this. Jamal represents how Jesus pursues us unrelentingly, no matter how hard we make it for him. He loves Latika because he believes they're destined to be together, and nothing stops him on his quest, even when both of their lives are threatened. This is probably the best love story I've seen in a secular film.
8. Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino
Hey, even this guy will back me up here.
This short-tempered man also believed in standing up for the weak. He saved the Asian girl from the gang pushing her around on the street. He also took a special interest in mentoring Thao, the neighbor boy, so that he won't become a criminal. He then commits the ultimate sacrifice so the local Asian gang (led by Thao's cousin) will stop harassing them. And he went to his final confrontation with them in a completely non-violent manner.
9. Phil Coulson in The Avengers
It's not always the main character who serves as the Christ figure. This guy was probably the most selfless character in the movie, simply being SHIELD's humble servant. The only thing he ever asked for was for Captain America to autograph his trading cards. He ends up committing the ultimate sacrifice when confronting Loki. And it was this sacrifice that persuaded the superheroes to put aside their differences and come together to save the world.
10. John Coffey in The Green Mile
It's pretty common knowledge that this story was partially intended to be a retelling of the story of Jesus. He has the same initials. He heals people when he can. And this movie specifically says that his powers are from God. "And I do not see God putting a gift like that in the hands of a man who would kill a child." Indeed, his powers are what persuade the guards on Death Row that Coffey is innocent of the crimes he's been accused of. His healing Paul Edgecomb's bladder infection could be recalling the time in the Gospel when Jesus healed the ear of one of the men arresting him. Also, we discover that it was another character in the story that killed the little girls in question. But, John Coffey still goes to the electric chair for the man's crime. And he does so willingly.