Monday, August 22, 2011

Conan the Pagan

My Uncle Gene likes to say, “God created man in His own image and man has been trying to return the favor ever since.” The makers of Conan the Barbarian really try to accomplish that.
Throughout the film, but especially the first five minutes, symbols traditionally associated with Christianity and the Catholic Church are demonized. The priests who “ruled” over the people were obsessed with “secrets of resurrection” and “human sacrifice.” There is a mask the priest wears to become “a god” but it has to be filled with blood. When the priest wears this mask, it wraps around his head, like the legs of an octopus and becomes a part of him. Virgins are sacrificed to the gods. The barbarian tribes, disgusted with the way they were being treated, revolted against the priests, took the mask and shattered it into pieces, with each tribe of barbarians taking a piece and vowing not to allow themselves, or the mask, to be re-united again.  The plot of the film is the “villain’s” attempt at putting the mask back together, then resurrecting his wife who was burned to death at the stake.
Why would a barbarian be "resurrected?"
So, what does this mean?
The secrets of resurrection invoke Jesus and His Divine Resurrection; the human sacrifice offered is the Divine Sacrifice of the Mass. The virgins are men and woman who “sacrifice” themselves to celibacy and chastity for the sake of their vocation (there are lots of naked women in this film, seeing all that bare flesh really emphasizes how unchaste the writer advocates men and women being). The tribes that revolt are various secular denominations that break away from the Church’s teachings and refuse to be reconciled (such as homosexuals, pro-choice groups, radical political groups, etc.). The mask is the most important symbol because it represents the mystery of the priesthood. A mask symbolizes “putting on the new man,” leaving the old ways of sin and becoming the “man born again” in the image of God. When a man becomes a priest, he gains that power to be a priest by virtue of the Blood of Christ and the Sacrifice of Cavalry.
Tiny picture of Ron Perlman has
Conan's father just before the
future wrecker of civilization is
born during a bloody battle.
The Barbarian tribes revolt against the priest having this power over them and that is symbolized by Conan’s own birth: his pregnant mother fights during a battle, is stabbed in the stomach and gives birth to Conan in the blood and mud. The battle being waged is the war of Good and Evil; the mother being stabbed in the stomach is “death to the appetites” and passions in which Conan was conceived; the blood of the people dying represents the absence of the Blood of Christ who died for their sins and their eternal death because they won’t embrace Christ; the mud represents the stains of sin. The writer makes this chaos of evil into which Conan was born an absolute secular virtue and by virtue of being “free of all signs of salvation,” he is the champion of all the above named groups who make Christ their enemy. At some point in the film, when Conan says, "No one should live in chains," he is referring to the "chains" of the Ten Commandments and the teachings of the Church because they attempt to "discipline" the appetites which run wild throughout the film.
The original barbarian, "Ah-nold."
Another example of this bizarre symbolism is the Witch Marique (Rose McGowan), the daughter of Khalar Zym who is trying to get the mask and bring his wife (the Church) back to life. She literally has been twisted to represent Christians: she’s a witch because of the prosecution of the Salem Witch Trials. (My dad told me once that, when a farm dog kills a chicken, the only way to break him of it was to take the chicken and tie it around his neck so he won’t do it again; that is what Conan the Barbarian is doing by tying Christians to the Salem Witch Trials through Marique and her mother's death).
Rose McGowan as
Marique the Witch
Conan fails to fulfill the definition of a “hero” on two important levels: first, he is not motivated towards a greater good than himself, but by selfish ends of revenge; second, he lacks all personal virtue, which the writer tries to turn into virtue. His only attribute is his strength, and that accurately reflects culture/society: culture has no virtue, but it is (seemingly) stronger than Christianity (think of the power of the press, the prevalence of homosexuality, the fall of marriage, the legality of abortion, etc.).
She says she is a monk.
So what about “the girl,” in the film, Tamara? Her importance is that she is a "pure blood" and the last in a 1,000 year old blood line needed to revive Maleva, the witch’s mother. I am not positive because I never saw it, however, this maybe a reference to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. What’s important is, she’s not pure: she has sex with Conan, but symbolically, she represents the “liberated woman,” and we know this because she insists that she is a monk. She’s not a nun. She’s a monk. This is a clear reference to female ordination to the priesthood. The “monastery” (and it’s a monastery, not a convent) where she lives in co-habitation with male monks and other female “monks,” is already in ruins: it appears to be a imposing structure, however, when the camera enters the monastery grounds, huge blocks of the building lie on the ground and great roots have grown over the fa├žade.
Heretics stick together.
The “life” Conan the Barbarian argues in favor of is the life of the passions and the appetites of a pagan way of life, doing what you want to; as Conan himself says, “I live, I love (read: I have sex), I slay and I am content.” Well, that’s the travel brochure for destination "Barbarian."
There is a game which children like to play: “If God can do anything, can He make a mountain He can’t move?” The game isn’t about God’s power, rather, about “contradiction,” and whether or not God enters into a state of contradiction; the answer, simply is no, He doesn’t. Contradiction represents a state of evil because it perpetuates conflicting states of reality; God is reality. The makers of Conan the Barbarian argue that they believe in life, but do nothing that supports genuine life; the ultimate image of this is the skull on the hilt of Conan's sword, and you just can't argue around a symbol like that.