Unusually obvious Gnostic allegory
, 22 Oct 2011
On the surface, an entertaining disaster film that does not need to rely on high-tech special effects. However, the subtext is a little more interesting if only because it makes us speculate about the director's motivations.
The structure is mostly Gnostic-Christian, with a little eclectic imagery thrown in from other sources.
We start with a Nietzschean speech by the preacher-hero character, expressing an individualistic will-to-power ethic where strength is the all-important virtue. Once the disaster has occurred, we are properly introduced to the Captain, a stick-in-the-mud character who insists on doing things by the rules. He represents the Demiurge, the powerful but limited creator-being who presents himself as God and traps his followers in the Earth that he has created, preventing them from attaining their infinite spiritual potential. In the Gnostic version of the Garden of Eden story, the Serpent is actually the Gnostic Christ, sent by the true God who transcends creation to rescue human beings from the Demiurge. Clearly the rebellious spirit of the preacher represent the Gnostic Christ.
The journey through the inverted ship is an Otherworld image reminiscent of Dante. The characters are actually descending to the bottom of the ship, through the layers of Hell (in Jungian or alchemical terms, the layers of consciousness around the true Self). This is a ubiquitous and ancient myth structure. The director eclectically throws in an inverted tree (inverted because its base is on the ceiling), which appears in European myths of the Otherworld.
The majority take the apparent safe option to follow the ship captain (demiurge) and remain to perish. They represent the Earthbound followers of exoteric religious teachings, i.e. belief systems that are not based on personal mystical experience. Only a courageous minority take the apparent risk of following the preacher (Gnostic Christ / Serpent).
The preacher finally sacrifices himself to save the others, forming the image of the hanged man (Tarot, Odin, Christ) in the process. His exercise of supreme will-power gripping onto the burning hot tap is also reminiscent of Sir Lancelot's voluntary self-crucifixion on the Sword Bridge in Chretien de Troyes' Arthurian romances.
Given this obviously mythological structure, it is interesting to consider the meaning of the film's ending. Possibly the impenetrable hull of the ship represents the Abyss between humanity and the absolute transcendence of the Gnostic idea of God, but through which indirect communication is still possible by means of symbols. Finally the rescue comes, which should be an allegory of the final union of human consciousness with the Divine, through the emissary that rescues us from the world of the Demiurge - but who effects the rescue in the film? The protective power of the State. Is this a sociological comment or a piece of propaganda?
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