Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Shape of Water and the Value of Humanity

What does it mean to be Human?

The Oscar winning film, The Shape of Water is.a quirky kind of fairy tale that.talks about what it means to be human. The theme of the film deals with the nature of love and compassion for others. This film is really a fantasy, directed by Guillermo del Toro, someone who has directed other fantastic tales, such as  Pan’s Labyrinth. In one of the key scenes, the mute janitor, played by Sally Hawkins, passionately signs to her good friend that the creature being tormented is worthy of love and compassion. And then she goes on to question herself.  If there is no compassion left for the creature that is alive in the laboratory tank, then what does that make her? Is she less worthy of help?

There are many instances in fantasy and science-fiction where the characters must come to a breaking point where they question their own humanity. The original film, adaptation of Bladerunner dealt primarily with the nature of what it means to be human. It was the same theme found in Philip K Dick’s short story, from which Bladerunner was adapted, which was titled: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” The central question, the one that gets to the heart of the dilemma, is right there in the title. In Dick’s story, all animals have been wiped off the face of the planet, and only a select few humans could afford “Electric Sheep.” So the question becomes one of the intrinsic value that makes us human, and therefore worthy of acquiring electric sheep.

Although the 1984 film didn’t use the particular plot device of sheep, the idea was an open question throughout the film: What does it mean to be human? Harrison Ford’s character, Deckard, begins with the rather callous question when talking about the race of robotic humanoids: How does it not know what it is? And we see the irony in this when he eventually falls in love with a humanoid.

This question of the nature of humanity is asked in many different ways throughout literature, and again in famous films. In Casablanca, Bogart plays the world-weary and cynical Rick, who still believes enough in the power of love to sacrifice his happiness for the sake of others. One of his famous quote is “….It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” So again, with this, Rick questions the value of our lives in the grand scheme of things.

 This same premise is seen in a classic episode of TV’s The Twilight Zone, many years ago. A man from Earth is banished to another planet, with no human contact. His only companion is, a robotic woman. When he is eventually released, he faces the dilemma of leaving and abandoning the only thing that gave him comfort and solace through the many years of his exile.  And the question becomes: What is the value that we, as humans, place upon our souls that sets us apart? We are constantly faced with the questions in literature, and in science fiction as well as in our own lives: What does it mean to be human?

What does it matter if we inherit the entire world, yet lose our soul?…In the Bible, we hear in Matthew 16:26 the famous question: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” And so the theme continues throughout literature. As Christians, we know the answer lies in our acknowledgement that we are all flawed human beings, and sinners, and Christ was the one who sacrificed all and forgave our sins. HIS Humanity gives us the guiding light to clear the path in this crazy world. 

In the end, it's the question that is answered for us in our care for others, and is echoed so often in Christ's teachings. To love others as we do our own family, as much as we do for ourselves, we should do for others. This is the simple and clear message found in Christ's teachings, and the answer to the often-asked question: "What does it mean to be human?"

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