As film technology advances, the way we use it says something about our deepest longings. How theology intersects with de-aging in our favorite films and franchises…
Get ready for more fortune and glory, kid. The trailer for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny dropped this week. It’s the 5th installment of a franchise that started back in 1981 with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Aside from teasing the usual action and adventure, the trailer revealed a surprise. The movie will feature a major flashback sequence with a de-aged Harrison Ford. Ford was 39 when Raiders released, he’ll be nearly 81 when Dials of Destiny premieres.
The trailer shows Indy (Harrison Ford) significantly de-aged in two key shots. Most likely, it’s a flashback to sometime in the 1940s. Of course, Ford isn’t the first to get the digital treatment. You might remember Mark Hamill reprising his role as young Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian. And it’s not just Indiana Jones or Star Wars. Ant-Man, Terminator: Dark Fate, and Robert DeNiro in The Irishman are some other notable recent films to use this technology.
Christianity helps us pay attention differently. And theology, as language we use to speak about God, can help us articulate that difference as a witness.
There’s something profoundly theological going on here. What I don’t mean is something like, “Should Christians be for or against de-aging in film?” We need better questions found by setting broader horizons. That’s because Christianity helps us pay attention differently. And theology, as language we use to speak about God, can help us articulate that difference as a witness.
But there’s a sense, when it comes to de-aging, that it’s not at all that different from what’s come before. We might say this is just the continuation of an ancient practice. After all, masks were some of the earliest props in acting—especially in ancient Greece. Dramatic performance, even translated into the medium of film, has always involved illusion.
So what makes digital de-aging worth paying attention to? I think perhaps it’s the way it involves time. Film is a form of pseudo-immorality. You can watch Raiders today and there’s Indiana Jones in his thirties. And for nostalgic people (which we all are), that sort of access to illusory timelessness, to the suspension of the constant corrosive effects of time, is appealing. Theologically, the practice of de-aging in films like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny makes us pay attention to our propensity for nostalgia.
Nostalgia today is probably most evident in our love of pop culture and our politics. Digital culture is filled with a whole nostalgia category. You’ve seen memes like “Nineties Weekend Starter Pack.” Our politics, especially “Make America Great Again,” are fueled by nostalgia—for that return to a yesterday many hold on to.
The problem with nostalgia is that our remembering is faulty. The yesterdays we choose to remember are subject to a great deal of editing. The neurology here is beyond me, but there’s a real sense in which nostalgia is our own mind’s edit of the past. Theologically, what we need to ask is what does our nostalgia say about us as God’s creatures?
There’s a sense in which nostalgia is at some level a hope for eternity, and for God. Augustine writes, “Eternity is the now that does not pass away.” And isn’t that what de-aged actors in long running franchises do for us? They offer us an edited version of the past bounded up in the present, and this forestalls the inevitable future. For a second, our disbelief is transformed into belief. Time is stopped, and all there that remains is a now with past, present, and future together.
But Indy is ultimately an illusion. As Christians, we aren’t witnesses of illusions but to incarnation—to God entering time and space, and thus transforming time. We’re used to what the Scripture calls “chronos” time. Chronos organizes our schedules, it is successive time, of days and weeks and months. Now, Christians have eternal life, not as a possession but as participation. We are united with the life of Christ (Colossians 3:10) and invited by the witness of Scripture to see our days in terms of what the New Testament calls “kairos” time, a time of quality. Kairos is the moment we live in, united with Christ. I’ll be reflecting on this, while waiting for another Indiana Jones adventure.
This post originally appeared on The Kainos Project.
Image is copyrighted by Lucasfilm, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023).