The Dark Tower (the recently released film) tells of the struggle of good vs. evil to decide the fate of the universe. The tension of the movie exists in forcing us, the viewers, to ask a question: Do we believe salvation is possible?
Within The Dark Tower, evil is embodied in “the Man in Black” played by Matthew McConaughey. The good is embodied in the childlike innocence of Jake Chambers, played by Tom Taylor. Idris Elba plays Jake’s reluctant protector and accomplice, Roland the Gunslinger.
The Man in Black has a plan to bring down the universe: He’s going to destroy the Dark Tower. The Tower stands at the middle of the universe and holds at bay the forces of darkness and chaos. His plan involves hooking children up to a machine that shoots lasers at the tower. We don’t know the Man in Black’s motivation.
Nor do we know anything more about the Tower—either what is in it or how it holds the forces of evil at bay. This lack of information leads to a long line of questions: is it enough to believe the Tower is necessary because we were told it is? How does it hold darkness at bay? Why does it hold darkness at bay? Why does The Man in Black want to destroy it?
Despite the ambiguity surrounding it, we do know that if the Dark Tower falls, chaos and darkness win. The Man in Black is convinced the Tower is going to fall. He hints that death is destined to win, saying “death always wins.”
Meanwhile there’s innocent Jake Chambers, the young protagonist. Jake becomes the champion to save the Tower. While the Man in Black is convinced that the universe is headed to darkness, chaos and death, Jake’s innocence stands in contrast. Jake is hopeful for the universe; he believes in life and goodness. His innocent faith is expressed in the hope he places in the redemption of his friend, the Gunslinger, whose past has left him as a shell of his former self.
It’s troubling that the Man in Black’s motivations are never revealed. I actually found it a bit distracting as I watched the movie. But this has to be a deliberate omission for director Nikolaj Arcel and the team of screenwriters. I wonder if we’re supposed to be guessing at the Man in Black’s motivation. Maybe by speculating on his motivations, we’re being invited to share some empathy with the Man in Black: If I were him, why would I want to destroy the universe?
Questioning the Man in Black’s motivation ultimately leads us to questioning our worldview. The Man in Black is convinced the universe will end up in darkness in chaos. Do I believe that? Do you?
Or do we hold hope as Jake Chambers does? To hold hope means we believe that something more is possible for the universe — it is not destined to fall into darkness or chaos. It won’t end up ultimately controlled by evil.
Jake and the Man in Black differ on their hopes for salvation. One believes that the world can be saved, one doesn’t.
Defining salvation, from a religious standpoint, is a bit of a trick. One viewpoint suggests that salvation means access to heaven after death. Another viewpoint suggests that salvation means the world is set to rights — everything is put together in its proper order. Christianity affirms both viewpoints, distilling salvation for the world to mean that everything is restored into its right relationship with God. Salvation implies being made whole.
The Dark Tower invites us to also question our view of salvation. Do we share in Jake’s childlike faith, believing that the universe is destined for something more than darkness and chaos? Or do we identify with the Man in Black, convinced that the world is doomed?
When we meet the Gunslinger, he is a broken man — totally detached from the fate of the universe and bent on revenge. Jake looks at the Gunslinger and sees hope. Though the Gunslinger is broken and misguided, Jake sees the possibility of redemption. His hope for the Gunslinger mirrors a hope for the universe: broken as it is, the universe is redeemable. Jake’s hope may be due to his childish innocence, but it is not completely naïve.
We talk about having a childlike faith. While that may come across as cute and a glib, it can actually be quite subversive. Jake’s childlike faith interjected hope where others saw none. It changed the system of brokenness. Jake gained strength from his childlike faith. It empowered him to overcome. As we consider the systems of brokenness in our universe, perhaps we could use some childlike faith, too.
Ryan Dunn is the author. Ryan serves as the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church.