A Christ figure, also known as a Christ-Image is a literary technique that the author uses to draw allusions between their characters and the biblical Jesus. More loosely, the Christ Figure is a spiritual or prophetic character who parallels Jesus, or other spiritual or prophetic figures.
In general, a character should display more than one correspondence with the story of Jesus Christ as depicted in the Bible. For instance, the character might display one or more of the following traits: performance of miracles, manifestation of divine qualities, healing others, displaying kindness and forgiveness, fighting for justice, being guided by the spirit of the character's father, and the character's own death and resurrection. Christ figures are often martyrs, sacrificing themselves for causes larger than themselves.
In postmodern literature, the resurrection theme is often abandoned, leaving us with the image of a martyr sacrificing himself for a greater good. It is common to see Christ figures displayed in a manner suggestive of crucifixion as well.
- Jim Conklin in The Red Badge of Courage
- Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities
- Uncle Tom and Eva St. Clare in Uncle Tom's Cabin
- Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath.
- Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
- Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Aslan the lion sacrifices himself to save Edmund but rises again from the dead to defeat the White Witch.
- Simon in William Golding's Lord of the Flies. When Simon reaches up and grabs the fruit from the top of the tree for the little boys in the group, which parallels the story of Jesus feeding the people on the mountain with fish and bread. Simon looks like Jesus, with long black hair. He also is spiritually sensitive. He likes to go off on his own (as Jesus did, going into the desert); he "wrestles with the devil" in the form of his conversation with the Lord of the Flies (the pig's head on a stick); he goes to the mountaintop to find out the revelation that the "beast" is only a dead pilot, and he is martyred for trying to bring the truth to the other boys. Finally, as Simon's dead body is taken by the sea, glowing creatures seem to form a halo around his head.
- Finny in A Separate Peace
- Billy Budd in Billy Budd by Herman Melville
- John Coffey from The Green Mile.
- Harry Potter in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series displays Savior qualities every time he defends the wizard (and Muggle) world from the devilish Lord Voldemort. On multiple occasions, Harry willingly presents himself as a sacrifice and, by so doing, is able to destroy the evil wizard. As an innocent baby, Harry becomes the only being to withstand the killing curse, a feat that leaves him with a Christ-like scar on his forehead (instead of his hands and feet), and which temporarily defeats Voldemort. Since his wizard parents are dead, Harry is then raised in humble circumstances - under the stairs of the unbelieving Dursleys, similar to Christ's birth in a stable and his rearing as a carpenter's son. Later, after defeating Voldemort for the second time, Harry lies in a coma, as Christ did in the tomb. In the end, just as Christ died and was resurrected to overcome Satan and death, Harry dies and returns from death to finally destroy Voldemort.
- Meursault in The Outsider.
- Randle Patrick McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
- Aragorn, a Ranger of the North and King of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings (film series). Aragorn represents the "kingship," nature of Christ. Like Christ, Aragorn too is the descendent in a long line of royalty who has been "exiled," or removed from his crown position. At the end of the series, Aragorn returns to Gondor and is named its official king. Along with Gandalf (sage) and Frodo Baggins (saviour), Aragorn completes the triune representation of Christ in the series as its king.
- Gandalf the wizard in the novel The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings (film series). In saving his companions from the Balrog, he falls into an abyss with it, battles with it, dies, and is restored to life by divine intervention. After his return, his robe is no longer gray but brilliant white. The film emphasizes and brings out the symbolic aspects that Tolkien felt compelled to cut back in the book.
- Frodo Baggins, a hobbit, also in The Lord of the Rings. His Christ imagery was more emphasized in the film series. Frodo carried a burden of evil on behalf of the whole world, like Christ who carried his cross for the sins of mankind. Frodo walks his "Via Dolorosa" to Mount Doom just like Jesus who made his way to Golgotha. As Frodo approaches the Cracks of Doom the Ring becomes a crushing weight as the cross was for Jesus. Samwise Gamgee, Frodo's friend, parallels Simon of Cyrene, who carries Frodo up to Mount Doom, much as Simon aids Jesus by picking up his cross to Golgotha. When Frodo accomplishes his mission, like Christ, he says "it is done". As Christ ascends to heaven, Frodo’s life in Middle-earth comes to an end when he departs to the Undying Lands.
Stage, television and film
- Babette in Babette's Feast. She gives entirely of her lottery winnings for the sake of a poor puritanical community.
- James Cole in Twelve Monkeys.
- In Hair, the character of Claude becomes a classic Christ figure at various points in the script. In Act I, Claude enters, saying, "I am the Son of God. I shall vanish and be forgotten," then gives benediction to the tribe and the audience. Claude suffers from indecision, and, in his Gethsemane at the end of Act I, he asks "Where Do I Go?". There are various textual allusions to Claude being on a cross, and, in the end, he is chosen to give his life for the others.
- Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still comes down from the "heavens" in a flying saucer, takes the name "Carpenter" to walk incognito among the people, and is persecuted and killed. However, he resurrects back to life, gives a stern benediction to the people of the earth, and then ascends back to the heavens.
- Neo in The Matrix Trilogy. Although the film series makes many visual and textual references to various religions, many Christ figure parallels exist. He is repeatedly called "the One" in a messianic sense; Neo saves various people (and all humanity at the trilogy’s conclusion); he suffers and dies; he rises from the dead; and, at the end of the first film, ascends into the sky. "Neo" is also an anagram of "one".
- Superman in Superman: The Movie and Superman Returns. Both Superman and Jesus have been sent to Earth by their fathers (Jor-El and God, respectively). Both films chronicle the beginning of Superman's story, and included the famous quote: "They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason, above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you: my only son." In the first movie Kal-El is sent to retire for 12 years to be educated "in spirit" by his father to be earth's savior. At the end of the film he made Lois Lane "Rise from death". In Returns, Superman tells Lois "You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior," (referring to her article, "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman.") "but every day I hear people crying for one." Later in the film, Superman is stabbed in the side as Jesus was believed to have been during the Crucifixion; after casting the Crystal Continent into space, the fatigued Superman falls to earth in a pose almost identical to that of a man being crucified. Superman wakes from coma in what seems the third day (by biblical timekeeping), mirroring Jesus' awakening on the third day after crucifixion.
- John Connor in The Terminator as mankind leader against the machines and T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sent to protect John and Sarah Connor. Sacrificing itself for the human race after defeating the devious T-1000.
- Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan exposes himself to a lethal amount of radiation in order to save the crew of the Enterprise, and is later "resurrected".
- Ellen Ripley in the Alien film series has been seen as a Christ figure. Both in the way that she serves as a personal savior to Newt in Aliens and in the matter that sacrifices her own life in Alien 3 (spreading her arms as she falls into a giant furnace) so the Alien cannot exist anymore. Others have noted that she dies in an act of self-sacrifice, yet similarly to Jesus, she returns in "another form" in the aptly titled Alien Resurrection.
- Jeremy Reed in Powder.
- Lucas Jackson in Cool Hand Luke.
- E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
- The Doctor in Doctor Who, dying in martyrdom and resurrecting from time to time to save many worlds.
- Alex J. Murphy in the RoboCop films and other media. A policeman dead as martyr in the line of duty resurrected to be a righteous champion and protector following faithfully his 3 "commandments": "Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law".
- Chris Keller in All My Sons. The son of Joe Keller who is the symbol of Christ in the play. He "makes people want to be better than it's possible to be."
- King Leonidas I in the 2007 historical-fantasy film 300, adapted from the graphic novel 300 by Frank Miller. At the end of the film, Leonidas, along with the rest of his 300 Spartans, stay behind to defend a narrow pass against their vastly more numerable Persian foe. Despite suffering a gruesome death to arrow fire, Leonidas' death gives the rest of Sparta time to mobilize an army to defeat the Persian Empire. The final shots of the film show Leonidas' body laying in a crucifix-like pose, pierced in the side and hands by arrows.
Comics and animation
- In comic books as in all other media, Superman saves the people from dangers they cannot overcome on their own. The House of El (Jor-El, Kal-El, etc.) echoes the Hebrew expression for God, El. He even had to resurrect once to keep watching over Earth.
- Nausicaä, the protagonist of Hayao Miyazaki's manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and its film adaptation, is the humane and peace-loving Warrior Princess of the Valley of the Wind, a small post-apocalyptic society in a world dominated by large, powerful insects who reside in the "Sea of Corruption". Fueled by her love for others and for life itself, Nausicaä attempts to restore the balance of life among other human tribes and the insects, often making numerous sacrifices to do so. Although her character was intended to be viewed in the context of animistic philosophies by Miyazaki, she is often interpreted, especially in regards to Disney's English dub, as a Christ figure.
- Kamui Shirō in the manga series X. The story takes place at the end of days. Kamui Shirō returns home to Tokyo after a six-year absence to face his destiny as the one who will determine humanity's fate. The construction of Kamui as a messiah is reinforced by his miraculous birth and given name. "Kamui" (a spiritual or divine being in Ainu mythology), like "Christ", doubles as a title that alludes to the character's divine nature.
- Kikyo, in Inuyasha, is a Christ figure, able to perform miracles. Resurrected, she eventually gives up on her love for the main character and dies for the cause which allows the other characters to eliminate the antagonist. See Inuyasha The Final Act Among The Twinkling Stars, Episode 8.
- Signless, in the webcomic Homestuck, is a Christ figure who:
- is born with no clear parents (albeit that being normal)
- has controversial ideas about how people should be treated
- is eventually tortured/crucified by the tyrannical government
- his handcuffs become a secret symbol for his followers, like the cross of Christianity
- one of his most prominent followers is named The Disciple
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[¶35] Although most viewers of the films would likely not notice all this symbolism, Gandalf’s death and resurrection scenes are clearly messianic metaphors that add an additional spiritual dimension to the mythology of The Lord of the Rings.... [¶36] After publication, Tolkien thought his book’s description of the return of Gandalf was a “defect.” He explained that Gandalf “must return at that point, and such explanations of his survival as are explicitly set out must be given there—but the narrative is urgent, and must not be held up for elaborate discussions involving the whole ‘mythological’ setting....” The visual nature of film can often compress information into a scene equivalent to many scattered pages of text, and Jackson “encoded” more Christ figure imagery into his scenes than Tolkien’s “severely cut” account. Since Jackson’s films visually amplified Tolkien’s Christological association in Gandalf’s death and resurrection scenes, Jackson’s cinematic presentations of Gandalf as a Christ figure may have communicated more fully the vision of what Tolkien had intended all along.
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Abstract: This article attempts to answer the preeminent question Babette’s Feast invites viewers to consider: Why does Babette choose to expend everything she has to make her feast? Of the critical studies made of the film, few have considered analytically crucial the catastrophic backstory of Babette, the violence of which is implied and offscreen. Appreciation of the singularity of Babette’s own personhood and the darker aspects of her experience, and not only how she might act as a figure of Christ, are key to understanding the motivating force behind her meal and its transformative effect: That through the feast Babette lays to rest the horrors of her past and takes refuge in God’s goodness.
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