M: A Lesson in Idolatry

Posted: November 8, 2011 by jperritt in Drama, Thriller
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Raise your hand if you’ve seen the movie M. That’s what I thought. My wife and I stumbled upon this 1931 film through a Netflix recommendation. M is the first film in cinematic history to bring a serial killer to the silver screen. It is also a highly reviewed film. Rotten Tomatoes has given it a 100% rating from critics and a 94% rating from audiences. Needless to say, the consensus is clear that this film is a timeless masterpiece that should resonate with most audiences.

The content for this 1931 film is somewhat surprising. For starters, it follows the story of a child-murdering serial killer. That is shocking to depict on-screen today, but imagine how it was received 80 years ago. The language in the film was also surprising for that time. According to IMDb, Premier magazine voted this film as one of The 25 Most Dangerous Movies ever made. Peter Lorre, who was Jewish and played the killer Hans Beckert, fled Germany shortly after the release of the film from fear of Nazi persecution. The film premiered in 1931, but was banned in 1934 and wasn’t re-released until 1966. It was said that the iconic Peter Lorre loved and hated this character. He loved the attention it brought him from the critics, but hated that people always viewed him as the psychotic pedophile from the film.

One scene I want to focus on today is a scene that really captures the level of addiction the serial killer, Hans, is going through. Whenever Hans sees a child, his temptation rears its ugly head. One unique quirk that accompanies this addiction is the fact that he begins to whistle the classic tune, In the Hall of the Mountain King by: Edward Grieg.(click the link to listen: In the Hall of the Mountain King.mp3) An interesting fact from the film is that Lorre could not whistle, so the whistling you here on-screen is actually the director, Fritz Lang.

Back to the scene I want to discuss. Hans is looking in a store window and sees the reflection of a child appear behind him. This, of course, begins to feed the addiction to murder that his character is plagued with. As the child innocently walks down the sidewalk, she is followed by the whistling psychopath intent on feeding his addiction. To the relief of the audience, the girl’s mother shows up and the two walk off-screen. Although we are relieved, Hans is not! Hans has just experienced the arousal of a possible fix for his addiction dangled before him like a carrot, but then it was drastically jerked away. Therefore, he must have this craving filled in order for it to leave his body.

In Ed Welch’s book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, he explains that an addiction is ultimately a worship disorder. Every human being on the face of the earth has been designed to worship God, but our sin redirects our worship to everything else; i.e., money, sex, drugs, alcohol, pleasure, and anything the mind can think of – there’s no limit. Anything can ultimately become an idolized addiction in the human mind.

To Hans, his addiction was murdering children, he couldn’t control it. In that scene when the child is rescued, Hans must rescue the longing to fill his addiction by replacing it with another addiction. He immediately walks in to a restaurant and asks the waiter for a drink. After he downs the drink, he asks for another. The false god of Hans requires a sacrifice and when he cannot offer that sacrifice, he must require that by another means…alcohol.

What this illustrates to us is what Blaise Pascal referred to as the ‘God-shaped vacuum’ in the heart of every human. The human heart has been created with the Truth of God, but we all reject that from day-to-day. As Romans 1:16-32 illustrates, we suppress the Truth for a lie. Instead of God filling the void, we shove everything we can think of into that void.

Hans was shoving a sadistic addiction of serial murder into that void, and when that could not be attained he shoved alcohol there. The interesting reality was, he needed another drink after the first. That, in and of itself, shows that it could not fulfill. What Hans was proclaiming was ultimately the gospel. There’s only One thing, or Person, who can satisfy that longing we all have. Everyone of us are the horrifically corrupted Hans. Today you will attempt to shove something into the God-shaped vacuum in your heart. Success, money, sex, pleasure, family, leisure – name your addiction. If you don’t think you’re as bad as Hans, read Romans 1 and 3 and then come talk to me.

We all worship false saviors, promising false hope and comfort, but they all end up robbing us and demanding sacrifice. There is sacrifice required in the Christian life, but Jesus is the only One who is worth it and he is the only One who sacrifices all in order for our deliverance.

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