The Theology of Screenwriting, Part 9: Hell

September 27th, 2012 by

Last week and this, I am exploring theological themes in relation to screenwriting, considering them metaphorically because in my view, we see these themes in movies all the time. By understanding them, we can use these theological themes to enhance the meaning and depth of our stories.

For background on the general subject, you may read my introductory comments in Part 1 here.

Today in Part 9: Hell.

When you think of a theological concept of Hell, you may conjure up an image something like this:

In actuality, Hell has a few meanings in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Whether the Greek Ἅιδης” or the Hebraic term She’ol, both refer to an abode for the dead. Then there are Biblical verses such as Matthew 25:41 which says, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” We can extrapolate metaphorical meaning from both of those as it relates to screenwriting.

What if we think of Act Two as Hell?

Consider the broad contours of The Hero’s Journey. Three movements: Separation. Initiation. Return.

The Hero begins in the Old World what screenwriters may think of as the character’s life leading up to FADE IN. The Hero has cobbled together an existence, a combination of beliefs and behaviors, coping skills and defense mechanisms. Whatever one can say about them, psychologically or even spiritually, they are making do, but living an inauthentic life, a state of Disunity because there is a fundamental disconnect between how they are approaching their existence and their Core Essence.

If, as Joseph Campbell suggests, the point of life is to follow your bliss, that part of who we are that is real, vitalizing and empowering, the Protagonist is not doing that in the Old World. Hence the Call To Adventure.

So the Protagonist separates from that Old World [and Old Way Of Being] and by going on their Journey enters a New World. Symbolically this is an initiation and serves as a process that sheers away behaviors and beliefs, enabling them to get in touch with and eventually [hopefully] embrace their Core Essence which becomes the foundation of their Unity self.

Psychologically speaking that is the function of Act Two, what I call Deconstruction and Reconstruction.

How does Hell tie into this thematically?

Abode for the dead: When a Protagonist enters this New World and experiences trials and tribulations, in effect they put to death their Old Way of being. That life they stitched together leading up to FADE IN is found wanting. Indeed the experiences of this initiation into the New World is the only path through which their Core Of Being can emerge from the depths of their unconscious and emerge into the light of consciousness, thus leading the way toward Unity. So in one respect, Act Two is about putting the Old Self to death.

Fire: There is a verse in Malachi [3:2] which talks about a “refiner’s fire.” Think about that imagery for a moment:

A fire that purifies precious metals. The ‘fires’ of Act Two ‘burn’ away the impurities of a Protagonist’s Old Self  allowing the character to see clearly, realize and embrace their Core Essence.

Death. Fire. An interesting way to think of the ordeals which a Protagonist must endure in Act Two, and from a writing experience inspire us to make their life a Living Hell.

What are some movies which are good examples of Act Two as a metaphorical Protagonist-Goes-Through-Hell experience? See you in comments to discuss.

For Part 1: Sin, go here.

For Part 2: Conversion, go here.

For Part 3: Predestination, go here.

For Part 4: Salvation, go here.

For Part 5: Doubt, go here.

For Part 6: Guilt, go here.

For Part 7: Forgiveness, go here.

For Part 8: Incarnation, go here.

Tomorrow: Another theological theme in screenwriting.

Comment Archive

5 thoughts on “The Theology of Screenwriting, Part 9: Hell

  1. […] The Theology of Screenwriting, Part 9: Hell ( […]

  2. blknwite says:

    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, literal fire, Indy realizes “the power of the rock” is more important than “fortune and glory”
    The Devil’s Advocate, Kevin, confronted with the real Satan, his father of course, chooses a do-over but cannot escape.
    Apocalypse Now of course Willard enters hell but one wonders if he ever leaves it.
    Shawshank Redemption, we’ve talked about Red’s journey back to himself or to a more authentic self
    Se7en, in a sort of way Brad Pitt’s character is taken through hell, deeper and deeper though, expressing his pure rage as Kevin Spacey’s character predicted he would.
    Will think of more. Interested in what other films people come up with. Clearly I’m very interested in Hell.

  3. blknwite says:

    Natural Born Killers, the snakes and fire scenes of course.

    A Beautiful Mind, hell is inside his mind.

    Leaving Las Vegas, Las Vegas is symbol of hell. So then dying would be Nic Cage’s salvation. “You can’t ever ask me to stop drinking”.

    I will think of more….

  4. […] Part 9: Hell In actuality, Hell has a few meanings in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Whether the Greek or the Heb… […]

  5. […] has written a series of posts showing how screenwriters can metaphorically apply theological ideas including Hell to raise their work to the next […]

Leave a Reply