[Caleb] – Halloween (2018): On Inexplicable Evil

And the LORD said to Job: “Shall A faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” –  Job 40:1, ESV
“Evil is real.”  –  Laurie Strode, Halloween (2018)

In a movie chock-filled with tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and dramatic irony, no line got a bigger laugh from our audience than when Karen Nelson (Judy Greer) naïvely claims that the world isn’t a scary place—it’s actually filled with love and goodness. Upon reflection, I think our packed theater laughed for two main reasons: one, because we’d already seen Michael Myers kill—and so brutally, at that. Fans of the Halloween films have witnessed how “the Shape” that haunts the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois has projected a mythically large shadow across our collective consciousness for 40 long years. Nothing about Haddonfield is loving or good. It’s filled with chaos, fear, and pure metaphysical Evil. But the second and even sadder reason why our audience laughed is that we knew in our own tragically experiential ways that our world is no different than this cinematic one. Sure, we get flashes of “love and goodness,” but all of us have been racked by the reality of guilt and grief—tormented by the sorrow over who we’ve lost and who we might’ve been.

As a new pastor of a small congregation, I’ve already seen this reality in a stark, new way: everyone is hurting, and nobody is without their wounds. But even before stepping into this role, I’ve known and experienced this to be true. The Christian life, after all, is one that orients itself towards the suffering of the neighbor. But even if you’re totally outside a religious framework, you know this to be the case. The entire world is languishing under inexplicable Evil. 

Enter Michael Myers, the Shape. 

The Halloween mythos has haunted the Western imagination for 40 years now. And of course all of us are terrified by this towering and murderous monster in a formless jumpsuit with an expressionless mask, wielding something so mundane as a kitchen knife. But we’ve witnessed (and in several cases, endured) 10 of these Michael Myers stories now because, ultimately, the scariest thing about him is that we don’t know why he kills. The brilliance of the original Halloween (1978) that distinguished it from typical B-movie filler was just that—we don’t know why he does what he does, either as a speechless child in a clown costume or as an escaped psych ward patient in a dark jumpsuit. Dr. Andrew Loomis (Donald Pleasence) simply concluded it was because Michael was evil. It’s a line that may have seemed laughable in its original context, but it’s one that seems significantly more plausible today.

I don’t have to recount the last 40 years of American history for anyone to know that we have witnessed some truly diabolical events in human history. The age of information, in addition to allowing us to read these words right now, has also exposed us to the countless horrors of the world, both ancient and modern. Every day we wake up exhausted knowing that we’ll doubtless see some spine-chilling report on cable news, read some terror-inducing new study shared on social media, or hear a gruesome account of overwhelming human exploitation on a podcast.

The world is against us, and the Shape is everywhere—from drone strikes to hurricanes, lung cancer to climate change, & from political corruption to inevitable death. Even this past week, we as a nation looked on in helpless horror as a senseless mass shooting unfolded in what was supposed to be a safe haven: a house of worship. Whether inane and accidental or malicious and calculated, Evil is driving its blade into our hearts.

And yet we voluntarily go see movies like Halloween (2018). We are equally tantalized and repulsed by the unexplainable malevolence of Michael Myers—the human name of the ontological Shape. We want to witness his exploits for some reason, perhaps so that we can finally understand them. Maybe in seeing them, we’ll be able to debunk our deep-seated fears and soothe our aching hearts.

The Shape

This October, I’ve been making my way through all the Halloween films, having seen several of them, but either long ago, out of order, or not in their entirety. I noticed that as the films go on (in addition to being more shoddily made), they become increasingly complex. What once was a simple story of a conscience-less monster murdering just to murder became an elaborate web of psychic links, mystery cults, and ancient Celtic demons. The more that Michael’s violent nature was explained, the less convincing it became. Paradoxically, as we were given answers to our questions about Michael, we saw just how dissatisfying those answers were. After a disastrous Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers the continuity was reset by Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, then shortly again with Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, and now with David Gordon Green’s only canonical Halloween sequel. All of these threads were attempts to give meaning to our ultimate question of why. (A line of dialogue in the 2018 film slyly explains that various plot lines of previous films exist as a kind of folklore in Haddonfield, all trying to explain Michael Myers—an interesting meta-commentary on the history of theodicy [an explanation for evil] in the world of this film franchise). This movie picks up as the sequel to the original movie, now desperately trying to make sense of our own world through Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) encounter with Evil.

Early in this film, Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is walking the same neighborhood streets as her grandmother 40 years prior. She is talking to her high school peers about their Halloween party plans and nervously chatting about that Halloween night that forever scarred their hometown’s collective memory. Finally, one friend, Dave (Miles Robbins), pipes up asking what’s the big deal. Sure, a few people getting murdered by a knife-wielding killer is bad, but aren’t there worse things to be afraid of in 2018?

We sit with his question for a minute. Is he right? Is he onto something? We all can see the utter chaos of our national political moment & our global ecological crises. Between this question and Karen’s (Laurie’s daughter and Allyson’s mother) hapless optimism, I couldn’t help but be reminded by similar questions & answers in the Bible, particularly from the elusive wisdom literature of the book of Job.

Broadly speaking, Job’s eponymous book is the final entry into what is known as “the Wisdom literature” of the Old Testament. This book is an ancient document that functions as a sort of religious and philosophical work that seeks to describe and reckon with the good and bad of the human experience. In the first wisdom book, Proverbs, we see an ordered world of justice and fairness in which good work is rewarded while bad work is condemned. The middle book, Ecclesiastes, dialectically challenges the easy assumptions we could make about Proverbs: what happens when the good suffer and the wicked prosper? Finally, Job, the pinnacle of divine wisdom literature, responds. But it does so not with answers, as we’d hoped…

Job is the story of a morally righteous man with great wealth and status who loses it all as “the Adversary” (akin to Halloween’s “the Shape”) asks God if he can destroy the man’s life. Why? Just because… God allows this cosmic enemy to ravage Job’s life— taking his family, wealth, and eventually his health. It’s not something we can easily understand. Chapters 1 and 2 of Job remind me of the first Halloween film: a story of a decent person being viciously assaulted by a voiceless and external Evil. In both cases, our immediate response is to demand answers to why this has happened.

In Laurie’s case, we get Halloween II (1981) occurring within the same night as the original film. It offers us a subplot of Laurie being Michael’s long lost sister; therefore, an object for his homicidal compulsion. Here, as with Halloween IV-VI, we begin to get filmmakers’ explanations as to what drives him. It’s not actually senseless: it’s genetic; it’s psychological; it’s cultic, etc. All these answers ring hollow and strip the power of the meaningless violence of our world. In Job’s life (instead of sequels), he has friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who enter into his misery with platitudinous explanations and empty philosophizing about the nature of God, the world, and suffering. None of it’s meaningful, because none of it’s true. This is also why I think the Halloween sequels (some of which are fairly interesting—including Green’s 2018 entry) feel kind of…empty. They’re trying to do the impossible: to offer explanation of something that’s utterly unexplainable—the victimizing nature of Evil.

I’m not sure it’s possible to make a Halloween film to make the original problem palatable. Michael Myers isn’t just a psychologically ravaged child as Rob Zombie would have us believe. He isn’t a territorial recluse as Rick Rosenthal posits. He is what Loomis told us all along: substance-less and chaotic Evil—the Shape. In the world of Halloween, this Shape is a god—not because he’s supernatural, but because there’s no higher reality that the Death he deals out without rhyme or reason.

So do we watch these movies as catharsis? Is this how we reckon with the fact that we have no control over our own life’s continuing? I suspect that’s partially true. It gives us the illusion of containment: Evil is captured and imprisoned in celluloid. But we all know better. We are all being stalked by the non-fictional Shape: Death.

It’s fascinating to me then that the book of Job doesn’t seek to do what the Halloween sequels do—give answers. Because in Job we have something we can’t have in Halloween—an external revelation. We see divine Wisdom, the mind and heart of the Triune God, who shuts the doors of the primordial seas, who traces out the course of the spinning planets and blazing stars, who unleashes the frosts and the winds from their heavenly stores, who gives voice to bellowing lions, who gives footing to climbing goats, who crafts the titanic behemoth as lord of the lands, and who unleashes the colossal leviathan as the fire-breathing god of the oceans. This God who claims the name YHWH, the I AM WHO I AM and the I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE, is the one who forges the chaos of evil on his providential anvil. Evil exists, but not outside of the sound of his reply. Still, no answer (even cosmic and eternal truth) could ever placate our desperately finite minds.

The God of Job does not give us an answer to why we suffer. Instead, he gives us himself. He is born into our midst, into our humiliation, shame, and despair. He comes as a peasant into the squalor of ancient history to love and transfigure; to forgive and resurrect. And this God who claims the name of Jesus, the ONE WHO SAVES HIS PEOPLE FROM SIN, goes to a pagan cross—a torture and execution device, submitting himself to the Shape; to the domain of Death. As he succumbs to the hand of Evil, he gives to us his universal & redemptive righteousness. This God-Man goes into the tomb, but rises and ascends again to life everlasting, undoing the curse of Michael Myers once and for all. 

Job’s God does not give us an explanation to inexplicable Evil, just as he does not yet deliver us from all its effects. But Job’s God makes himself a victim of this Evil; of the Shape, in order to shatter the Adversarial blade that slashes away at our humanity. The answer to why Michael Myers kills and why The Adversary decimates is the same: we don’t know. But this is not the end of the story. The Wisdom of God cannot be captured in the most profound cinematic experience or even in the most haunting course of ancient literature. Job’s fall and restoration (also not explained in the pages of his story) finds no resolution until Christ absorbs its sting in his own life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventually, final advent. The event of Christ in human history subsumes  every horrific newspaper headline we see dramatized in horror cinema. Jesus defeats the power of the Shape by being murdered by it. Because a kitchen knife and a vinyl mask is no match for a bloody tree and an unoccupied grave.

Recommended Reading:

Our colleague, Blake Collier, has a terrific essay in this book from Mockingbird: Mockingbird at the Movies – The Shape of Revelation & Evil: Halloween

Blake also has a great review of the film over at Reel World Theology: The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game: Halloween (2018)

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