Film Review — Olympus Has Fallen
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the political-thriller Olympus Has Fallen has garnered mixed reactions from critics and the movie-going public. Despite having had several chances to replicate the success he originally achieved with the 2001 crime drama Training Day, Fuqua has once again managed only moderate success with his latest effort. But is there anything deeper that can be gleaned from Olympus Has Fallen?
The film plays on the present-day political fears of the United States, and in particular its precarious international relationship with North Korea, a country that today embodies a great "fear of the unknown" reservation.
The film begins with the death of fictional American First-Lady Margaret Asher (Ashley Judd), who dies in a tragic car accident on an icy bridge, leaving President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) as the sole caregiver of their only son, Connor (Finley Jacobsen). The main protagonist, Secret Service agent and personal friend of the President Asher Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is fated with the responsibility of having saved the president but being unable to rescue the first lady from falling into the icy waters below from the backseat of their crashed vehicle.
Fast-forward a few years later, and Banning finds himself taken off of the presidential convoy—not due to his inability to save Mrs. Asher, but because his presence would only serve as a reminder to the president of his tragic loss. Now working a desk job at the United States Treasury Department, Banning finds himself disillusioned and lamenting his estranged friendship with Mr. Asher.
During a meeting at the White House between President Asher and the prime minister of South Korea, a band of North-Korean paramilitary guerillas orchestrate a masterful attack on the presidential residence, killing all on-site Secret Service operatives, and isolating the president's cabinet in a bunker below the complex. It is at this point that Kang Yeonsak, the true mastermind behind the invasion, emerges as the villain, having acted as a member of the South Korean prime minister's security team. The president and his staff are taken hostage with Kang giving the acting president a series of tyrannical demands.
Banning, who rushes to the White House upon seeing the attack from his office window, manages to infiltrate the White House and secure a communication to Allan Trumbell (Morgan Freeman), Speaker of the House and acting President of the United States. From there, Banning battles to rescue the president in an "army-of-one"-type covert operation.
Oympus Has Fallen is extremely violent on a large scale, and features a script full of harsh language. As such, parents should be advised to reconsider taking their children to see it, or seeing it themselves.
In addition, the sheer thought of the White House being overtaken by a terrorist threat is positively terrifying, whether you're an American citizen or not. It's a scene you'd only expect to see in an end-of-the-world scenario. To see it played out onscreen, despite its fictional nature, is startling.
Deeper meanings and greater gleanings
It's on that note that Christian audiences should take note of how we live our lives—not only as individuals with a common goal, but as an entity possibly susceptible to having its own walls broken down.
If Olympus is remembered for nothing else, it will be for the frightening image of the captured and crumbling White House. As mentioned before, it's a scene you'd only expect in an apocalyptic setting. Despite the fact that neither we nor the president are defined by the houses we live in, we tend to wrap our identities dangerously close to the structures and establishments we build for ourselves—and for the Church, perhaps this is the real takeaway.
In the late 1st Century, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed for a second time, this time at the hands of the Roman Empire. It was something that would have been seen as devastating to Jewish believers at the time, especially after having rebuilt the Temple once already following the Babylonian siege in 586 BCE. Despite the Christian Church flourishing elsewhere, the Temple still embodied a common place to which all Hebrew believers would fall back upon. It was a place of safety; a home base for the nation of Israel, perhaps similar to how the White House is viewed by the western society. It was something that had fallen and been rebuilt once—no one ever thought it would happen again.
With the president being held hostage, Trumball and Banning are left to lead the nation, something that might be comparable to the works of Peter and Paul in the Book of Acts. With Jesus having left His mission in the hands of the disciples, the early Church found itself in a situation where there was a great work to be accomplished, but with no Messiah in bodily form to do it for them.
Obviously the analogy only works to a limited extent, but the core idea seems applicable.
For a film that was released only a week before Good Friday, perhaps we ought to consider how the sight of the White House burned and crumbling might startle us more than that of Jesus on the cross. Furthermore, we might be well served in thinking about how much of our conviction as believers is tied up to the establishment of the Church as a physical presence in the world.
Essentially, if the Church were to someday not exist as it exists today, how would we react? Would we still consider ourselves a part of it? Or has our identity as believers become too closely linked to the monuments built by those who've come before us?
Despite it being far from groundbreaking as an action-thriller, Olympus Has Fallen raises some important questions that we as Christians ought consider prayerfully. And even though there's no immediate need for panic, it's good food for thought.
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