The Great Wall – Movie Discussion
I wasn’t expecting much from The Great Wall so maybe that’s the reason why I enjoyed the ride well enough. It might be forgettable in the end, but I actually came away with a whole list of great ways that the movie connected with things in my Christian faith (13, actually). When that happens, the movie becomes for me much better than it would be otherwise and much more memorable.
William and Tovar are two mercenary/thieves who end up captured in China at the great wall. While the Chinese are trying to decide their fate, they are attacked by tao tei (a dinosaur-ish monster that is kind of a hybrid of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park and the zombie from World War Z). William and Tovar prove themselves in battle and find themselves enmeshed in the Chinese battle with the tao tei (who return every 60 years to feast and destroy). Tovar only wants to steal some of the “black powder” from the Chinese and go make his fortune with it. William however, changes, as the lovely Chinese general Lin challenges him about what motivates him. He begins to realize there is more to life than personal greed and gain and stays to fight.
- Just because you’re left for dead, doesn’t mean it’s over. William talks about how he was left for dead twice, and it was bad luck… for the people who left him behind. It’s easy to look at our circumstances and feel like it’s over, but we serve a mighty God who has power over even life and death. Consider Lazarus—he, too, was left for dead. In fact, he was dead. But it still was not the end. *Are there any circumstances in your life that you feel are too far gone, but you want God to resurrect?
- “We’ve spent 60 years preparing for this day.” The people knew the tao tei would return in 60 years, so they spent SIXTY YEARS preparing, to be ready. That’s faithfulness right there. It’s a lifetime. The Bible tells countless stories and admonitions about being prepared for what is to come. However, although we need to be watchful and on guard for attacks of the enemy (see 1 Peter 5:6-10), it is the return of the Lord we are told to prepare for (reference the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25). Be on guard for the one, be in preparation for the other. Our enemy has already been defeated, so in the end, there is no “return of the enemy” to fear. He can’t destroy us, but we can really destroy ourselves if we are unprepared and left behind when the Lord returns. Even more than that, however, we aren’t only to prepare ourselves out of fear of being left behind, but out of love and desire for the Bridegroom to find his bride beautiful. We are like a bride who spends time before the wedding losing a few pounds and growing out her hair—she wants to be at her best for big day! We prepare ourselves from a heart of love. *What have you prepared for in life? *How can you prepare for the coming of the Lord?
- William and Tovar were looking at the army and their uniforms and saw that the black were foot soldiers, the red were archers. The blue, however, were all women, and they wondered what in the world they women did in the army. In this case, the women were a gymnastic branch, who dove off the wall with spears and were reeled back up on a bungee type system. Women can be warriors, too, but what we see here is that they fight differently. They are best when they fight, not as a man, but as a woman. In the Bible, in the story of Esther, we see the same thing. Esther fought a battle for her people, but she did so very distinctly as a woman. She was able to get before the King in a way that no man could have. In this world of feminist rights, where women want to claim equality, maybe we are missing the point a little. We are equal because we are distinctive and different. We misunderstand equality and replace it with sameness, but we lose our value when we try to become alike. Our equality is in the way we are different. *In what ways are equal and same not always the same thing? *How might women lose value by trying to be the same as men? *How might women increase their value by recognizing that their equality comes in their uniqueness?
- William and Tovar saved the West turret and Ballard accused them of being diplomatic. They weren’t being diplomatic; they were trying to stay alive. This is the thing though, people will often misunderstand our good works. They will even accuse of us being manipulative and having ulterior motives. That’s OK. Do what’s right anyway. Sometimes understanding only comes with time. Jesus was also misunderstood. He did what the Father wanted, regardless, and much later many people did begin to understand. *Have you ever been misunderstood? How did you respond?
- William’s motives throughout the movie changed because people grow. He started out as a thief and a liar and a mercenary. He ended up a loyal friend who was fighting for a cause and for what was right. *Have you ever started something with bad motives (or just lesser motives) and then by the time you ended it, your motives were different and even better than you when you began?
- Tovar had a hard time believing it when William said he wanted to stay and fight—because he knew who William had been. William didn’t worry about Tovar—sometimes we have to do what’s right no matter what it costs us. William invited Tovar to stay and fight with him, invited him to change and give his life to something that mattered, but he also realized, Tovar’s journey was his own—he had to learn the hard way. He did learn…and he did it the hard way. That’s OK—the point was, he too grew and the two friends were reunited in friendship, the better friendship of two men who were better men than they had been. People's journey is their own and sometimes they have to learn the hard way. *When has doing the right thing cost you? *Have you ever had to let someone learn the hard way?
- Ballard warned that William should be cautious in his relationship with Lin because she was very powerful there. Tovar commented that it would be a “fair contest”—both were very powerful people. To change or inspire a powerful person, it often takes another person, an equal match. Lin had a profound impact on William not only because she was equal to him in many ways, but because she was different than him (reference again point #3). She fought for things she believed in, he fought for money. She was loyal, he was self-serving. She trusted others, he trusted no one. She helped save him, and he helped save the people. *Who has challenged you in your life?
- Along with Lin, there was another very different person who had an impact on William. He was not particularly strong or powerful. In fact, he was berated for being weak and cowardly. He and William had a special connection, however, and their fates were closely intertwined. William had the wisdom to see the good in this poor man and encourage it. In the end, that man saved William’s life more than once. God says he uses the foolish things and the weak things of this world to shame the wise and the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). He himself came as a baby, to die, not a warrior to conquer and reign. We need to see the value in all created beings, even and especially those who are “weaker” than we are. We never know how our fates might be tied to theirs, or how they just might save our lives. *Have you ever been impacted by someone who was “weaker” than you in some way? *Can you say you really see the value in all people?
- The tao tei were a ravenous creature that the Chinese felt “came to remind us of what happens when greed is unchecked.” It’s a pretty fierce image of the horrific hunger of greed. “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). *How were the tao tei like the greed of man? *Have you ever felt that ravenous hunger for more?
- The Chinese army prepared for the tao tei to return as they had been (i.e. the thought they would fight the same fight they’d fought before). The problem was, they underestimated the intelligence of the tao tei. They were smarter and more evolved than the Chinese expected. As Christians, we are often in danger of making the same mistakes. We underestimate our enemy and we think that because we learned from last time we are prepared for the next time. We aren’t prepared, however, when the enemy uses a new approach or tactic. We are all fortified on one side, leaving the other side wide open. Paul says it this way, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). I dare say, we are most in danger in the very areas we think we are the most secure because it is in these areas where we trust in our own defenses and not in the Lord’s strength to defend us. It is in these areas where we are blindsided and never see the danger coming. *Have you ever felt you were prepared for something and found yourself completely blindsided? *Have you ever defeated a sin in your life, only to find yourself struggling with it again later?
- I mentioned the weak man, Peng Yong, whose fate was so closely intertwined with Williams—the Chinese army berated him for being weak. William told him, “You’re much braver than they think.” The interesting thing is, he lived up to both of their expectations of him. Until William came along, he was weak and fearful. After William began to speak life into him, however, he changed and grew. He became brave and even willingly gave his life in an act that not only saved the immediate lives of William and Lin, but also that was responsible for winning the entire war. Our tongues have the power of life and death in them. We bless and we curse people with them (see James 3). People live up (or down) to what we speak into them—so we need to be careful with our words. *In what ways do you live up (or down) to the expectations of people around you? *When you speak, do you speak life or death (encouragement or criticism) into people?
- The Chinese had been fighting the tao tei, but no matter how many they killed, they weren’t gaining ground, they were just spinning their wheels. The only hope was to kill the queen. Without the queen, all the tao tei would die. I think our sin is this way sometimes. Sometimes we are trying to manage all our struggles, trying to kill off all these ugly parts in us that bare their teeth, but we despair because we are fighting a losing battle, spinning our wheels. It’s like playing whack-a-mole, we knock one on the head but three more spring up. Sometimes we have the wrong approach—we don’t need to go after each of our sins, we need to go after the root—our heart. When a heart is in the right place, it doesn’t want to sin. Maybe there is a root of sin that gives the enemy a right to be in our life, wreaking havoc. We need to find out what the “queen” is, what the “root” is. When we deal with that queen, it can create a domino effect in our lives and we might just find ourselves free of all sorts of things at once. (Just think about the testimony of the person who comes to Christ and is at once delivered from drugs and alcohol and bad language—those things were symptoms of a heart problem. They hadn’t been able to get clean before, but the moment their heart found Jesus, those things had no hold on them anymore.) *In your life, do you feel more like you are fighting the endless barrage of tao tei or are you looking to kill the queen?
- The tao tei are a metaphor for the greed of man. William’s life had been one of greed until he met Lin. So in many ways, you could say William fights (and defeats) his demons literally and metaphorically in the movie. It was a battle he had to fight if it was to be won, but it was also a battle that he couldn’t fight alone. I think it’s safe to say that any time we have to fight our demons, it’s a battle we have to fight personally (no one can do it for us) but also one we cannot fight alone. *Most people either don’t want to fight, or they want to fight alone—which is more like you? How can you both show up to fight your own battle and let others join you and support you in the fight? *How can you help support others as they fight their own demons?