Question: How did God create heaven and earth?
Answer: God created heaven and earth from nothing by His word only; that is, by a single act of His all-powerful will.
Question: Why did God make you?
Answer: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
– Baltimore Catechism, Revised Edition (1941)
By Mike Darwin
If this universe we inhabit was created by an intelligenc(s), then it was not in that way, and not for those reasons. I think I know what one of those reasons might really be.
Early this morning I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011) in one of its opening release showings in state-of-the-art digital video and surround sound. It is a gorgeous work of art – a successful assault on the pinnacle of what is now possible cinematically. The imagery and mood of the film are evocative of those in the recently published and surreally beautiful book, Beauty in Decay: The Art of Urban Exploration by RomanyWG (Gingko Press, July 15, 2010, ISBN-10: 1584234202).
The resolution of the images, both real and computer generated (CGI), is superb and unassailable. The credibility of CGI has surpassed that of what is possible when merely capturing reality on film, and by this I mean that the unreal trumps the real and the unbelievable is more credible than the believable. Sitting there dazzled by the sheer beauty of the film’s imagery, it occurred to me why god(s), if there are any, made the universe – because they could realize a place vastly more beautiful and wonderful, and vastly more terrible and dark than the world which they themselves are confined to.
This film is, of course, only the barest and the most basic realization of that possibility. It represents the best efforts of a species with only sub-picoscopic knowledge of their universe to imagine a credibly different one. And it is for just that reason that this film is so amazing. The imagined living systems brought to life before the viewer reflect an understanding, rendered into equations and countless lines of code, of some of the fundamental principles of how biological things move and flex and interact in our world – of how they actually behave on a macroscopic level.
The labored respiratory movements of captive, half-blind dragon, and the animation of the creatures that populate the film are not just flawless, they are beyond that, because if you realize that these movements cannot be simply scaled up or down from some simple model, you then begin to realize some of the technical magnificence of the film. The CGI programmers are beginning to render their worlds from first principles, and armed with those, they are creating brand new worlds that are more credible and more real than any in our former imaginings. Artists can draw and paint, but the texture of their fantasies always falls short of truly achieving reality, let alone exceeding it. This film shows us the barest beginnings of what that excess is likely to hold, and it is at once exhilarating, and deeply disturbing. I looked at the unfolding of this “film,” a misnomer now, for it is far, far removed from the technology of unruly chemical reactions on a plastic membrane, and I was struck by the thought, “I can see now that we will soon be able to imagine not only much nicer places than we inhabit, but places that will be much realer, and more compelling too.”
By “nicer” I do not necessarily mean more “pleasant.” There are physical limits imposed by our universe on how much pain, how much suffering, how much physical distortion, disruption and rending of the flesh are possible, before life ceases. It is the sorrow of every sadist and every masochist that the flesh of the body can only be tortured in so few, and so finite ways. What are the implications of that? Perhaps it would be wise for us to reflect on the quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” And perhaps as well on a quote from the film itself, when Harry Potter asks about a postmortem experience he is having, “Is this just happening in my head, or is it real?” to which Dumbledore replies with alacrity, “What makes you think that just because it is happening in your head it is not real?”
The story line of the film captures with perfection the essential values of this culture. The “final” battle between good and evil is played out; Lord Voldemort, whom the author of the Harry Potter books has described as “a raging psychopath, devoid of the normal human responses to other people’s suffering,” is bent upon removing the last obstacle to his immortal existence and his ongoing journey to conquer his world. And that obstacle is the boyishly genteel Harry Potter. Now a man – emotionally, physically, and intellectually mature, Potter is repeatedly confronted in the film with the choice to grasp ultimate power, or to suffer and die. He chooses the latter, not once, but twice (Rowlings trumps Christianity, there). As the film ends, he finds himself holding “The Elder Wand” and realizes that it will grant him supreme power: his response is to break it in two and cast the pieces away.
The closing sequence of the film is of Harry Potter and his cohorts as mature men and women living in the everyday world we all inhabit. He has a child now, and it is time to send him off to Hogwarts boarding school to learn the craft of Wizardry. Age has begun to mark Harry Potter, and these scenes are meant to show us that by his deeds, he has ensured and acceded to the triumph of generational mortality. Harry Potter will grow old and die, as will his children, and his children’s children. Immortality is not for men, nor is super-knowledge beyond that already granted to Wizards, which is, of course, vastly greater than that granted to the mere “muggles” whose world they cohabit.
The word hallows means to honor as holy, to make holy, or to consecrate. “Deathly Hallows” indeed – the perfect title for this beautifully made and imagined film, with a poisonous message as old as Christianity, or or the denouement of the Epic of Gilgamesh.