I’m going to start a series on Wreck-it Ralph and theological issues. Why? Because for some reason, this movie really resonates with me. I don’t know what it is about it, but it strikes a lot of chords about vocation, forgiveness, good and bad, and sacrifice. It has a lot of good uplifting themes. The theme I’m going to start with first is one I was planning on writing about in a different context. It also seems to be somewhat pertinent as people like to talk about good and evil and feel like they have a grasp on what it takes to identify evil. But a recent conversation with an old friend raised this subject again, and it’s been on my mind since. Wreck-It Ralph gives a nice segue into this subject and will for other posts coming up.
(Disclaimer: these posts will contain plot spoilers and assumes that you’ve seen the movie, so if you haven’t seen Wreck-It Ralph, go see it and then come back to read these)
The plot of Wreck-It Ralph revolves around the idea of what it means to be good and what it means to be bad. Ralph, feeling trapped by his role as a villain, no longer wants to be the “bad guy” and we enter his story with him at a “Bad Anonymous” meeting where he can share his feelings of being bad with other villains. As he discusses his feelings with the group, he talks of finding a way to change his reputation, even if it means leaving his game in order to find it. The terrified response is captured by M. Bison, who responds by saying “You’re not thinking of going Turbo, are you?” Later in the movie, it’s revealed that Turbo left his game because his fame was dwindling and he wanted to restore himself to his former glory and in the process he takes both his game and a rival game as a result.
We are later introduced to King Candy, a seemingly good leader looking out for his game by preventing a potential glitch from taking it down. He seems a little off, but most of his actions make sense in the context of a king trying to make sure he is doing the best for his subjects. But as we watch, we see that perhaps something else is off: he has access to the game code to change it, an ability it seems that he shouldn’t have. In a pivotal moment, Wreck-It Ralph is trying to help this glitch get into a race that can change her fate, and King Candy is trying to prevent Ralph and the glitch from doing so. Because of his persuasive words and the hero medal (Ralph’s ultimate prize) he offers, Candy convinces Ralph to turn against the glitch. Later, after Ralph discovers he’s been duped and that Candy is up to no good, he returns to help the glitch, enter her race, and try to restore her lost position. In that discovery, he learned that Candy has actually changed the entire foundation of the game, erasing the memories of the game and turning Vanellope into a glitch. In the climatic moment of the race, when Vanellope is fighting King Candy, it is revealed that Candy is actually Turbo, the disgraced former hero who hid in another game and took it over in order to continue to be the focus on gamers.
From the beginning, the movie makes an important distinction between what Ralph does and what Turbo/Candy does. Ralph is merely playing a role that doesn’t define his character. I might even characterize him as naughty. He does things that aren’t helpful but he doesn’t really do anything that is permanently damaging – ironic since his primary role is to wreck things so they can be rebuilt. Other game villains understand their role and embrace them, understanding that their jobs don’t define who they are. The other game villains also understand that what Turbo did was wrong, but they understand it in a shallow way. His actions were selfish, which made them wrong, and they were especially wrong because they hurt other people. It was certainly to be avoided, but to a certain extent, his actions were understandable. No one wants to lose attention, and his actions were misguided because of his selfishness, but in a subtle way, they are still reparable.
What the movie explains well is that there is a third level, one that the characters don’t understand until the showdown with Vanellope and Candy/Turbo. What becomes apparent is that Turbo has gone farther than anyone could have imagined. In his selfishness, he has not only affected other people; he has corrupted them. It started by corrupting the game itself, then corrupting the citizens, and corrupting one of the characters to the point of near destruction. Worst of all, he corrupts Ralph, using false pretenses to coerce Ralph to do something destructive. Even worse, what he ultimately corrupts is something good. Had Ralph been acting under good circumstances, what he would have been doing might actually have been good: saving someone from their own destruction. Candy takes something good and noble and uses it to destroy someone else. It is an awful act of evil, and that is what Wreck-It Ralph illustrates well.
We often think that evil is something easily identifiable, but it’s often confused for naughtiness or sinfulness. We point to naughtiness, we point to tragedy, we point to people who openly act wrong and claim these things are evil. And in some cases they may be, but sometimes we are confusing evil for naughtiness. Evil is not simply naughtiness, like using foul language or being promiscuous. I also believe it’s deeper than being sinful. It certainly starts with living in Sin, but evil even goes beyond that. I think this is why people get hung up on seeing “good” people in the world and not understanding how they can’t get into heaven. Sinfulness is still fairly easy to forgive. We can forgive selfishness and misguided principles, just like Turbo’s actions as originally understood by the other characters is forgivable even if it was clearly wrong, because the primary recipient of the action is the person itself. In worse cases, other people will be hurt as well, but it’s still fixable and forgivable.
Evil is insidious, subtle, and corrupting. True evil is hard to identify because it’s easily confused as being good. Sure, it may seem slightly off, but at first it seems to good to resist. That’s when evil starts to work. It takes things that are good and corrupts them, changes them in their very being so that they no longer resemble what they were. Its effect is far reaching, corrupting others, using good things and people for awful purposes. Evil is wholly destructive, but it does so slowly, quietly, and only reveals itself only when it has to and when its effect is complete.
There is only one person in my life that I’ve met that I would say is evil. I can identify more evil people, but in my experience, I can say I’ve been on the wrong end of interactions with someone who was evil or at least acted evil, which I think it a key difference. Someone can act in a way that is evil without that defining a person. I feel like that’s less common, but that’s what makes evil hard to define. I don’t want to get into details of my experience has it had a deep, lasting effect on me (and in some ways still does). I’m not sure that everyone experiences true evil, and for those that do, it’s not easily overcome or recovered from. It’s painful and deeply damaging but often in a way that isn’t easily recognizable. It took me five years before I realized what had really happened to me because I constantly blamed myself for things that I thought I should be able to easily move on from.
Why should we worry about what is evil and what is not? Because I think Christians sometimes get hung up on opposing and resisting the wrong things. We get so concerned with naughtiness that we lose sight of what is truly tragic and truly wrong. Sin and evil is not solely an action; it’s a lifestyle, a state of being that infects and destroys. It’s easy to point out naughtiness and focus on that as wrong, because we can easily identify it. But that also becomes a distraction from what is truly wrong and corrupt in the world. It’s why Christians are perceived as being so out of touch with the world. We are perceived as focusing on legalistic worries like not smoking or dancing or drinking alcohol while we ignore truly awful things like divorce or addiction or poverty. And while that’s not true across the board, it is the perception many people have of Christians.
So how do we handle evil? How is evil overcome? Well, I think Wreck-It Ralph has an answer to that too. Stick around for next time…