Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm & backwards masking

I am sitting at Wheaton Public Library, typing away on my new laptop in the 'silent room' reserved for serious students.

Due to the re-modelling of the library a few years ago, I have a spectacular winter view of Adam's Park as the sun sets.

So to aid me in my solitude of sound, on a bleak December afternoon, I am listening to the Batman: Mask of the Phantasm soundtrack crafted by the late great Shirley Walker. It matches the chill December afternoon well with its somber brass and melancholy themes.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is an overlooked gem. It was WAY ahead of Batman Begins, taking a key motivational element from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One in its retelling of WHY Bruce Wayne became not only a crime-fighter, but the masked Bat-Man - a terrifying scourge for the underworld!

The movie plays out the tragedy and heroism that surrounds the Batman - that what keeps making Batman such a heroic figure IS the personal hard choices. It is good stuff and folks, if you have not seen it, you ought to. Personally, I was blown away by it in the theater [I had no idea it was coming out, so poor was the marketing] but my best bud only remarked "I just paid $6 to watch a cartoon?" so my opinion and rave is NOT universal.

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If the EXACT same script had been shot with live actors, I think his tone would have changed.

Bruce Wayne does something with taking on this identity that Christ-followers in service need to do. We need to wear and be Christ, just as Bruce needs to be this avenging angel of the night. He wants the criminals to FEEL the terror they dish out to others, and frankly, I have no problem with that for the unrepentant.

But while Batman is created to instill fear, we Christians are to instill hope and love and faith. And as Wayne admits in Batman Begins "I cannot do this as Bruce Wayne -" we also find WE cannot do it as merely our natural selves.

That is not a spiritualized metaphor. If we do NOT ask for Christ to live in us and try to work against the world's onslaught, we are going to lose immediately. "Apart from Me, you can do nothing," Jesus says.

So when we ask for "Give us this day our daily bread..." keep in mind that Jesus IS the bread. So we need to keep asking for Him one day at a time. We need Him to keep us from being like the rest of the world.

That covers the internal need to be like Christ - but what about the EXTERNAL style of being Christ-like?

Do we need to wear sandals? Or more Christian-themed clothing? Or put another fish on our car?

Would that be deceitful to put it on - or cowardly to NOT do so?

Would it be cheap superficiality or crass advertising? Maybe the answer lies in our motive for the 'mask' we wear - or do not wear.

There is one disturbing thing in Batman Mask of the Phantasm, and I just found out about it these 18 years later. The beginning theme, sounding so ominous and brooding, has a Russian
choir singing what sounds like Latin. I tried to find out what the lyrics meant, and what I found blew me away. You see, you are SUPPOSED to think it is Latin. It is played and performed as if it is some ancient Latin chant.

It isn't.

It's the names of several of the orchestral team and support staff, spoken backwards.

Yeah, I'm afraid it is true. Shirley Walker was crunched for time, so she did it as an in-joke to give some hidden credit to her peeps - and one of her sound editors caught on to it.

It's nonsense Latin, created just to sound good. It means nothing - unless you KNOW its the names of the support staff, disguised.

So Shirley, vigilante-style, put a 'mask' on her good deed - giving hidden credit to the orchestral staff that worked so hard and got so little credit.

It was her own version of backwards masking -for a good cause.

You know, Jesus Christ wore a mask - that of an ordinary man. With it, he was able to do many mighty deeds before his crucifixion. We evangelical types work very hard to reveal the divinity of Christ, it gets frustrating at times.

I am beginning to suspect Jesus doesn't WANT to reveal Himself to everyone. Not just yet, anyway.

Maybe wearing a mask can have a good purpose, even a spiritual one.

Maybe Christ-followers need to mask themselves more, not less. There is a lot of power in covert ops in a fallen world.

Maybe it is best if people misunderstand and underestimate us.

If we understand that fame is often VERY constrictive and expectations turn all too often into condemnations, we may very well see it as a blessing to do what we can do without recognition or fanfare.

I have been so ashamed of my past disobedience, I have been quick to show my current obedience to Christ. I am glad, rightly so, to be serving Him.

But to be even more like Him is to do greater things with even less recognition.

Maybe my own narcissism will get in the way but I am going to give it a try.

So that, one day, someone will be singing my name loudly in heaven!

Backwards, just to keep me humble.


May God bless you as you decide to live for the Lord who wore a mask for you.
"None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."


1 comment:

Jay McHue said...

A bit taken aback by your sudden link to Christianity, but what you say is intriguing. To me it seems along the lines of 1 Peter 3:8-15, which calls us to do good while holding Christ in our hearts (which is not openly declaring Christ, at least to start, and fits in with your reasoning regarding "masks") and being prepared to tell people why we have the hope that we do when they ask (an eventual "unmasking").

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