By Dr. Charlie W. Starr
My expectations for a March movie are usually pretty low. All the really entertaining movies tend to come out in the summer or at Christmas. That’s a trend that may be changing, and a good example of it is last March’s Oz the Great and Powerful. The film was just about perfect. As a prequel to the classic Wizard of Oz, it acted like a prequel should—it fit in with the original film in perfect continuity. As a 3-D film, it did what it should: it gave the audience 3-D effects that were actually worth the extra money. And as a fairy tale, it did at least one of the things good fantasy stories can do: it gave us a parable that, in this case, teaches about the nature of temptation.
That Girl’s a Witch!
While the movie focuses on Oz and his own transformation from a selfish, conniving jerk into a hero who gives up his own safety and desires for the sake of others, the most interesting subplot in the film is the story of Theodora. She is a lovely young witch who uses her power to protect the people of the Emerald City. But she is also needy. When she finds Oz, she recognizes the one who will fulfill a prophecy that guarantees safety for her people. But she also believes Oz (who is supposed to be a great wizard destined to rule the Emerald City) will marry her and make her his queen. Oz doesn’t do anything to dissuade her of this opinion. In fact he leads her on.
Theodora has a beautiful sister named Evanora who is also a witch. But she is not a good witch at all and wants Oz for herself. She uses Oz to try to kill the one truly good witch in all the land, Glinda. When Oz learns of Evanora’s deceit, he runs away. But Evanora is not done yet. She convinces Theodora that Oz has abandoned her (which he probably would have done in his original moral state anyway). Theodora is so upset that she sheds tears that burn her face like acid. What a great metaphor for the reality of emotional pain. A broken heart can hurt as much (or more) as a broken leg.
Theodora’s pain is such that she wants it to end no matter what. Evanora is happy to oblige, giving Theodora a green apple that will harden her heart to the pain. Theodora bites the apple and undergoes a transformation—into the Wicked Witch of the West we know from the original film. She realizes at that moment that her sister (who will be the Wicked Witch of the East killed by Dorothy’s house) has both tricked her and given her what she wanted. Instead of taking revenge on Evanora, Theodora accepts her new wickedness, even refusing to take on an appearance of beauty (as her sister has). She embraces her transformation into evil and makes Oz her greatest enemy, revenge her greatest desire.
James 1:14, 15 says, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (New American Standard Bible). While first watching the new Oz movie, I thought Theodora would learn of her sister’s wicked ways and help Oz defeat her. Instead she allowed her own desires to carry her into evil.
This is often the way temptation works. Real needs (like our need to be loved), or strong but not sinful desires (like the desire to marry) can be corrupted into lust. C. S. Lewis made this point in his book The Four Loves. All earthly loves, which are not sinful in and of themselves, can quickly turn to sin. A mother’s love for her children can turn to selfish possessiveness. A husband’s love for his wife (or vice versa) can turn to idolatry—believing that only this most special person in my life can solve my problems and make me happy.
Friends, music, books, movies, shopping, sports—none of these are sinful, but we can make them sinful by lusting after them, replacing God with them. Even the elements of our faith can be used to tempt us into lustful selfishness. We make worship our god and hate Christians who do not love music as much as we do. We make knowledge of the Bible the most important part of our lives, more so than having a relationship with God.
Lewis said that until all our earthly loves are transformed by the heavenly agape love, they may be sinful loves—which is to say they may actually be lusts which, having the appearance of love, make us wicked and green on the inside.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.