Higher Movies: Beowulf

By Nathan Fischer

When I first heard that the movie Beowulf was coming out (and in 3D, no less), I was absolutely thrilled. The poem is a classic, one of my favorites, and I just couldn’t wait to see how it turned out on the big screen. I must say, I was not disappointed. Though adhering more loosely to the poem than many might like, the movie still has much going for it: some incredibly awesome action scenes, the best CGI animation to date, and the acting wasn’t half bad, either. It also had a great story, a very human story, which I will get to in just a minute.

One thing I should say up front is that I’m not sure how Beowulf got away with a PG-13 rating, so don’t let that fool you. I think it should be rated R. It has more gross violence and bloodshed than my Mature rated video games, not to mention some backend nudity and a CGI copy of Angelina Jolie with some very… strategically placed gold markings. This movie’s probably not one for the younger kiddos to enjoy.

Another disappointing thing to note about the movie is that the writers and directors included some snide remarks about Christianity in it, and our Lord Christ most specifically. The comments were completely unnecessary, and they certainly were not in the poem. I’m sure such remarks were probably made around that time period by the local heathens as the Church was pushing further to the north, but regardless of historical accuracy or not, it is something to be aware of (especially considering that in every other respect, this movie is as far from historically accurate as one can get).

All of that said, there is much that is excellent about Beowulf, and despite its little jabs at Christianity here and there, it contains some very Biblical themes. The biggest theme I saw in the film was Beowulf’s move from seeking glorification to seeking sacrifice.

Beowulf himself begins as a young hero, capable of extra-human feats of strength. He is very sure of himself, cocky and arrogant. He also seeks nothing but self-glorification. To quote him: “I am the ripper, the terror, the slasher. I am the teeth in the darkness! The talons in the night! My name is strength! And lust! And power! I am Beowulf!”

In the end, though, it is this self-glorification that is his downfall. When the demon who was Grendel’s mother offers Beowulf even more power, more glory, more fame, he succumbs to the temptation. At this point, he becomes a liar and a thief. He gives the demon a son, and this forever haunts him.

The movie would be a tragedy, except that Beowulf “finds redemption” (if I may use that phrase) in sacrifice. When his kingdom is threatened by the very son that he had with the demon, he knows that he cannot think about himself any longer. He must ride out and face the dragon himself. He does not do it for glory or fame. He does it for his people. He knows that he most likely will not survive, but that is okay. He will perform a very Christian act, to sacrifice himself so that his people may live.

I won’t tell you how it all turns out, but the theme is there, and it stands in stark contrast to his younger self. What he is known most for is the sacrifice he gave for the people – not his other deeds that meant so much to himself. He is transformed from hero to savior.

Now, I’m not comparing Beowulf to Christ, I’m not saying Beowulf is a Christian. He certainly wasn’t. More than that, though, I think Beowulf is a very real person, and he exemplifies the way in which God works in our own lives. When we hold ourselves up with pride and arrogance, it is quite likely that God may allow us to be knocked into the mud and dirtied up a bit. Our Father will use our own sin and our transgressions to break us, so that we might turn to His Son, the one who sacrificed Himself for us. It is for our own good that we feel this guilt and pain – even though we cannot see it at the time.

Of course, in Beowulf’s case, this meant not a turning to Christ’s sacrifice, but sacrificing himself and putting the neighbor first – which is a Christian theme, as it is something we, as Christians, are called to do each and every day. We are not to revel in our own self-glorification, but rather to lay down our lives in service for our neighbor.

So if you’re looking for a good, action packed movie with beautiful animation, I heartily suggest Beowulf for you older teenagers and adults out there. It may not be as thematically deep as the poem, but it certainly is worth seeing on the big screen – especially if you can get to a theater that has it in 3D.


Nathan Fischer is a graduate of Concordia University – Wisconsin and a first-year student at Concordia Theological Seminary – Fort Wayne.  Among other interests, he and his wife Katie enjoy watching movies, playing video games, and comparing and contrasting them with our faith.

Created: November 26th, 2007