Like many of you, I am looking forward to the season of Halloween. It’s a time for youthful energy and artistic expression. Whether our costumes are thoughtfully and carefully put together over many days and weeks of preparation, or thrown on at the last second (like yours truly), it’s an opportunity for us to lean into an identity or personality that we might never have before in public. We turn carefully bred squash into ornate and terrifying works of art, roast the seeds as a delectable snack, and even consume many food and drink items flavored with an aromatic and intense spice mixture commonly associated with the fruit itself. It’s also a time for fellowship and fun, as neighborhoods, churches, and divinity school Lower Auditoriums can provide safe and welcoming spaces for folks to enjoy communal creativity, laughter, and candy. Oh, my goodness, the candy. The air is getting cooler, the leaves are changing color, and the whole vibe of nature seems to be sighing into winter, inviting us to take its hand as it leads us slowly and comfortably into the coldest part of the year.
If you would, picture that in your mind’s eye, for a moment. Close your eyes with me, and internally visualize your fall, your Halloween. Hold on to that. See the bright colors of nature, costumes, and candy wrappers. Smell the aromas of pumpkin spice and evergreen trees. Touch the rippled skin of a pumpkin. Hear laughter and joy. Taste candy and pumpkin seeds. If you have your own cultural or personal custom or practice during this time of year, then I invite you to live in your own space and self-expression. Sit in that projection of your ideal Halloween, your ideal fall; let yourself be permeated with the warmth and contentedness it brings you, and carry it with you as we continue.
It can be hard to find things to be hopeful for in our current time. In an anathema to our Creator, we live under the governance of those who do not deem all human life to matter. This is not a merely a willful ignorance or cold shoulder but an open hostility to those not in the dominant culture: the culture of white supremacy and exorbitant nationalism, the culture of presidential, judicial, and legislative misogyny and tyranny, the culture of reactionary fear and willful misdirection, the culture of silencing and marginalization. The culture where black lives, brown lives, gay and trans lives, women lives, non-binary lives, immigrant lives, and the very life and environment of our planet Earth, do not matter. If those in power knew of what we were doing at Wake Forest School of Divinity, knew of our mission statement and vocational practices and our declarations that ALL of these lives matter, then they would not be pleased. Let us begin to first take hope that our very presence at this institution is an affront to this power, that our learning, ministries, and fellowship with each other are revolutionary acts to this national ugliness.
And let us, perhaps a bit jarringly, switch to the topic of horror movies. These films are another unavoidable aspect of Halloween. They can be cheap and artificial, expressive and cathartic, technical or threadbare, and sometimes just plain bloody. They tap into an incredibly wide and often carnal range of emotions and feelings. I have a complicated relationship with them. As someone with a history of depression, anxiety, and a cavernous emotional spectrum, sometimes they can be a bit, well, much. Horror film in general provides a canvas for rich and diverse storytelling that can heal trauma as well as inflict it, speak to a number of social and moral ills of the film’s time, and sometimes just give us a badass heroine to root for. However, experiencing the despair of a particularly harrowing film while living in the current age can have a very poor outcome to one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health. So, I’d like to propose an exercise. One of the common tropes or themes seen in horror movies (and often film in general) is the Hope Spot. Essentially, the moment in any storytelling medium where the heroes/protagonists, who have been under siege for most if not all of the story, arrive at a hopeful moment or opportunity, only for that moment to be unsuccessful, provoking a feeling of despair and hopelessness and usually a villainous success or victory. For our task, I’d like to re-work some famous hope spots in film and other genres into a something positive and hopeful. You can make them as funny, poignant, meaningful, silly, etc. as you like. Let’s take this opportunity to take something despairing and evil and make it good and full of hope.
Feel free to post your own re-imagined hope spots in the comments! Also, since many of these hope spots are plot-sensitive in nature, there will most definitely be some spoilers. So, here’s that warning.
• Collateral: Instead of being killed by the sociopathic assassin’s bullet while rescuing our protagonist, Mark Ruffalo’s Detective Fanning instead glares death at him, starts to hyperventilate, turns a rich shade of green, grows in size and strength… That’s right! He’s actually the Hulk. Assassin man gets smashed into the ground and Max gets taken to his beach paradise, where he’ll never have to work a night shift or chauffer paid murderers ever again.
• The Dark Knight: Batman learns the Joker was trolling him with a pure guessing game instead of an unsolvable paradox when he arrives at one of the given addresses to find… both Harvey Dent AND Rachel Dawes! He rescues them with all coming out unscathed. Batman, Dent, Dawes, and Gordon provide Gotham with stability for years to come and The Joker turns himself in from shame.
• The Lord of the Rings: Isildur throws the damn ring in Mount Doom and saves entire nations and generations of folks from unimaginable grief and despair. Frodo and Sam make for a happy couple and have the most majestic vegetable garden Middle-Earth has ever seen.
• Avengers: Infinity War: Star-Lord waits until after they subdue the evil reality-altering villain to lose his mind over Gamora’s death. Or, Thanos is so moved by Vision’s sacrifice that he gives up and starts his farming early. Or, Thor, who had cut such precise swaths of death for the entire film, doesn’t miss that giant purple head. Man, this one has a lot. Let’s just go with Thanos realizing from the beginning that his plan is flawed and cultivating some of the finest space wheat in the galaxy.
• The Perfect Storm: As our lovable roughnecks are about to be capsized by that iconic wave, a massive hand reaches up out of the ocean and gently carries them to safety while quieting the weather. It’s Poseidon! In a rare good mood and impressed with their bravery, he brings them safely home and grants them massive bounties of fish for the rest of their working lives.
• The Mist: Surprise! The Mist produces giant friendly dinosaurs that let you ride on them and you all live peacefully together.
• You’re Next: Aimee sees the garrote wire in time and defiantly snaps it before running to get help.
• Scream: Casey defeats the killer in a game of scary movie trivia, who renounces their evil ways. They have a scary movie marathon and eat popcorn and mini M & Ms.
• The Thing: MacReady and Childs accept their mutual Thingness and, instead of assimilating the entire world, only do so to those who subsist off the cruelty of others. Otherwise, they enjoy a quiet life in the Antarctic and bake cookies and sing songs to each other. That bottle of fine Scotch never runs out.
• Red Dead Redemption: The only visitor Marston gets at the end is a preacher, who declares him forgiven in the eyes of God and implores him to follow Jesus and live a quiet life of prayer and good works. Marston does so and never touches a gun again.
• The Invitation: The entire group enjoys a communal meal and shares their stories of loss and grief. There is healing instead of death, fellowship instead of combat.
• Poltergeist: Robbie sets fire to the clown jack-in-the-box the moment he lays eyes on it.
• 28 Days Later: The military compound at the end is full of a military unit that provides expert security and hospitality to any who enter. One unfortunate solider does attempt to assault the female guests, but his genitals immediately fall off. He is overpowered and verbally excoriated by his drill sergeant for eternity.
• Misery: When Annie discovers that Paul has been escaping and hid away a knife, she yells: “Congratulations! You have now finished the world’s most immersive escape room.” He is free to go.
• Halloween: Michael Myers sits up behind Laurie Strode… only to fall back down again. That stab wound was just too deep.
• IT: Pennywise really takes Georgie to a fantastic circus and then returns him home safely.
• Hereditary: When Annie throws the book in the fire everyone wakes up and the whole story has been revealed to be a horrible nightmare. They all hug each other and go to Dairi-O for lunch.