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A fiend had snatched from me every hope of future happiness; no creature had ever been so miserable as I was; so frightful an event is single in the history of man. But why should I dwell upon the incidents that followed this last overwhelming event? Mine has been a tale of horrors; I have reached their acme, and what I must now relate can but be tedious to you. Know that, one by one, my friends were snatched away; I was left desolate.

Frankenstein is not a book about an aloof monster slowly creeping about, freaking out people with his funny green skin, lack of intelligence, and incredible strength. It is a book about the tragedy of sin. It is a book about how you cannot run from your sin. Sin is devastating, destructive, and results in death.

The Allure of the Monster

Young chemist Frankenstein ignores his happy upbringing, his father’s counsel, the counsel of a respected elder, and his future when he gives himself over to creating the monster. Like that piece of candy sitting on the counter all day, he cannot runaway from the allure of the power of performing his own creation. Just like many of those times when we yield to a temptation, he instantly despises it all, runs away, and hopes the monster, his sin incarnate, just disappears. It does not.

“Alas! My father,” said I, “how little do you know me. Human beings, their feelings and passions, would indeed be degraded if such a wretch as I felt pride. Justine, poor unhappy Justine, was as innocent as I, and she suffered the same charge; she died for it; and I am the cause of this–I murdered her. William, Justine, and Henry–they all died by my hands.”

The Monster’s Path of Devastation

While reading this book, I kept hoping for better, hoping for things to turn around, and for him to defeat this monster and move on to a better life with his sweet, innocent, and beautiful betrothed.

They are dead, and but one feeling in such a solitude can persuade me to preserve my life. If I were engaged in any high undertaking or design, fraught with extensive utility to my fellow creatures, then could I live to fulfil it. But such is not my destiny; I must pursue and destroy the being to whom I gave existence; then my lot on earth will be fulfilled and I may die.”

But there is no happy story here. There is no victory. You ache for Frankenstein but you realize what a fool he was and that it’s all his fault. He is not innocent. This is such a convicting book. Sin is ugly and destructive and yet I run or yield to it all the time.

The Monster is Pursuing Us

I also love how Shelley paints the picture of sin pursuing and chasing us. Listen to the monster speak about his thirst for destruction and then read God’s warning to Cain:

For while I [the monster] destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were forever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned.

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7 ESV)

Can this Monster be Defeated?

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a powerful book. It is about the tragedy of sin. It is about the sting of death. It is truly a book about a living nightmare and hell on earth. But she gives no solution. Frankenstein’s monster is never defeated and easily prevails. Is this reality? Only apart from Christ. Jesus died a horrific and gruesome death to satisfy the result of sin and bring victory. Christ became as ugly and repulsive as the monster, as our sin.

Oh! No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him [Frankenstein’s monster] while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5 ESV)

Just as in the book, Frankenstein, the monster is no funny monster or comic relief, sin is no joke. It’s not as simple as saying “We all make mistakes.” It would be the death of us. But praise God, Jesus stepped in and gave the monster one sweeping death blow for all time. The monster is still in us, fighting and persuading us, but he can only wound those in Christ. His power of death has been taken away. Someday soon, his death will be final and forever.

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I have to confess that between my kids and my marriage, losing my father 9 years ago, and simply growing in my understanding of the gospel, I have become quite a softy. I feel like I come to tears nearly every day now, which, as an ISTJ who grew up being taught to never take anything personally, is just not like who I have been most of my life. I was moved to tears many times in Hereafter. Yes, it can be contrived and the film’s depiction of the hereafter is vague and unbiblical, but I got into it and I genuinely appreciated this movie. This is a film not truly about the hereafter but more about loss and loneliness and the question of whether the hereafter is a solution or not.

Loss

I thought Clint Eastwood did a great job with this movie in helping you feel a sense of the loss that comes with losing a loved one, that loss that accompanies death. Marcus and Jason’s story absolutely crushed me. This might have been helped by the fact that I have 2 sets of twins of my own, but I really felt the ache of Marcus and was gripped by every scene. The movie’s portrayal of the events of the tsunamis of 2004, and of deaths of individuals, all felt meaningful and weighty. There’s another event that happens later in the movie that I was struck by the weight of even the ambiguous loss wrapped up in it. In our post 9-11 world, not many things shock us anymore. Earthquakes kills thousands in China and Haiti, floods kill many across America, soldiers die daily, and terrorists blow up busses. On top of those things, news outlets sensationalize the negative and we keep being more and more desensitized in the overload of bad news. But when a big event happens in the middle of the movie, it is not merely glossed over and I was surprised by how Eastwood even used it to give meaning to death and help you feel the loss in it by how people react and engage with that event.

Loneliness

As well as loss and the weight of death were portrayed, they were simply a means to get to another theme: loneliness and the sense of being alone. This is a pervading theme that I saw very early on. The 3 main characters are searching not merely for answers but for relationship. Marcus wants his brother back and feels lost without him, utterly isolated. George (Matt Damon) is completely isolated by his ability to speak for the dead. His gift isolates him from every relationship except for his brother, (excellently played by Jay Mohr) who truly is for him and loves George but still doesn’t get it. Marie has a near death experience in the tsunami tragedy and seemingly no one believes her or understands what she went through and she is subsequently ostracized. Ultimately, this movie is not a movie about the hereafter. The hereafter only acts as a means of drawing out the problem of loneliness. When death happens, we are crushed and hurt but we are lonely. In my experience with my dad and every experience thereafter, loneliness has been the overriding emotion associated with death. I want him back! I miss him dearly! Can’t I just have a few minutes with him? Why didn’t I appreciate him more! Hereafter even goes beyond that in demonstrating loneliness felt not merely from death but from life in general. Marie and George don’t even have relationships from which to even feel that deep loss from. They don’t have relationships where they can truly be themselves.

This sounds depressing, why see this movie?

We all feel the loneliness and loss that Hereafter displays at some point or another, many of us more than others. Deep down though, we all feel this loss and loneliness deeply. We long for intimacy. We desire friendships and relationship where we can be ourselves. But we’re disappointed time and time again. Friendships change. Our marriages struggle. People let us down. We let others down in spite of our best efforts. We lose friends and parents. Our wives get breast cancer. Relationships just seem to erode or get derailed by life. So is that just how life is and we just gut it out? We know it should be different. We long for more for a reason. What is our hope? Hereafter presents the afterlife as a sort of peaceful weightlessness and reunion with the only backing being that’s what people see in near-death experiences. Even if that was true, is it enough? I think it’s weak. I think there’s more.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3 ESV)

We don’t have to scrape and claw for answers in the vague near-death experiences, the God who is not silent has given us guidance in the Bible. What do we learn there? Religion is the solution, seriously? Nope. You learn that we were made for relationship with the triune God of the Universe. But we rejected Him. We fell into sin which broke that relationship. But God the Father send His precious, eternal Son to suffer and die to get us back. Now God has opened the door and is waiting with a lavish grace and mercy ready to take you as you are. He knows you better that you do and through Jesus He is for you. The good news of the Bible is not another 4 step method to happiness but restoration of relationships. First, God restores us to Himself. Through that restoration, our relationships with people can be redeemed. That is only way through the ache of loneliness and loss and despair that Hereafter beautifully presents to us.

Few delights can equal the mere presence of One whom we fully trust. – George MacDonald

Funny One-Minute Review of Hereafter from the Rabbit Room

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