There’s a saying about film criticism I’ve been thinking about recently: “Movies aren’t about what they’re about.”
It’s a bit cheeky but it points to something that’s important for Christians who are mindful about consuming story: Namely, that movies, books, and television shows are more than just their plot. There are themes under the surface (or even on it) that do apply to the way we see the world. This is why the recent video game adaptation “Sonic the Hedgehog” is not about a super-powered anthropomorphic hedgehog so much as it is Millennial loneliness.
Isolation and Digital Friendship
Millennials recently surpassed Generation X and Baby Boomers as the loneliest generation. This has happened even as Millennials continue to have lots of friendships mediated through forms like social media and texting. In a rather interesting turn, Sonic himself mirrors these struggles in the film’s opening minutes.
Fleeing those who would use his powers for evil, a young Sonic dedicates himself to a life of isolation, trusting no one. In an effort to cope with this loneliness, he participates in mediated experiences, watching TV through his would-be friend’s window and watching a baseball game from the bushes. He speaks of these people as though they are his friends, even though they haven’t actually met him. While the film’s plot is about getting his ring portals back, finding a real friend is Sonic’s true character arc. This is in sharp contrast to Dr. Eggman, who continually insults and pushes folks away, discounting the need for friends at all.
The connection to Christian principles is, I admit, not initially obvious. What’s so striking to me is that this was selected as the core theme for a franchise that is connected with Millennial childhood (Sonic’s heyday was in the early 1990’s). It highlights the importance of community for human flourishing – something that Scripture speaks of repeatedly.
“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.” – Gen. 2:18
“I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away.” – 1 Kings 19:14. Note that immediately after this, God says he’s not alone, but also instructs him to call Elisha.
“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” – Hebrews 10:25a
“I appeal to you…that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” – 1 Cor. 1:10
This is the reason being “spiritual but not religious” is not God’s plan for human beings. This attitudinal approach neglects work within a Christian community. Culturally, we have shifted so far into individualism that we fail to extol the virtues and human necessity of community. That’s just as important in the church as it is for our favorite blue hedgehog. As you watch and discuss the film with friends, here are a couple of possible conversation prompts:
- For Christians – do you think our spiritual lives ever look like Sonic in the beginning of the film?
- For (some) non-Christians – The movie seems to be saying that friendship is a critical need, just like food or water. Why do you think that need exists?