The Postmodern Express

I recently watched The Polar Express with my kids. In case you haven’t seen it, the movie is a computer-animated, Christmas- (or holiday-) themed movie about a young boy’s crisis of faith. The quality of animation was excellent, it was reasonably entertaining (even for an adult), and its essential message would have made the devil smile.

When the movie starts, the unnamed boy hero is evidently trying to determine whether his parents have lied to him about the existence of the jolly old elf, when a locomotive shows up out of nowhere. The conductor invites him to come aboard for a trip “to the north pole, of course!”.

He boards the train, and has a series of movie-extending adventures in the process of getting to the important part, where he’s supposed to meet the big guy at the north pole. But when Santa is about to make his grand entrance, the hero comes to the disturbing realization that he can’t hear the bells on Santa’s sleigh. And as Santa emerges to greet his worshipful elf-slaves and a few select kids, the hero realizes that as hard as he tries, he can’t see the guy. Now at the height of his crisis, hero squints his eyes, flexes his psychological muscles, and forces out, “I believe!”. At which point the magical music of the sleigh bells becomes perfectly clear to him, and Santa himself approaches him in plain view.

To draw a conclusion at this point could be considered premature. To say that hero was creating a reality that was true for himself alone might legitimately be called conjecture. Except that I kept watching.

A few minutes later, when the priveleged kids are boarding the train for their trip home, the conductor punches each child’s ticket in such a way that the punch-pattern spells a particular word. One child’s ticket is punched with the word “learn”, to remind him not to be such a know-it-all; another’s is punched to read “lead”, as the conductor has seen in her certain leadership qualities that should be developed and used. When hero’s ticket is punched, the life-defining word given to him was “believe”. Then the conductor said this to him (this is the kicker): “Thing about trains is, it doesn’t matter where they’re going; what matters is deciding to get on.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you believe it sincerely. This was the primary message of the movie, and it was a strategically veiled promotion of the faith-component in the philosophy called postmodernism.

My concern with this movie is NOT that it promotes some sort of belief in Santa Claus. That’s a subject for another post, maybe. My concern is with what the movie says about faith. The kind of faith promoted in the Polar Express is decidedly postmodern, and is completely incompatible with the biblical concept of faith. Biblical faith has unseen reality as its object; postmodern faith alledgedly creates unseen (personal) reality by its own power. For all practical purposes, the movie doesn’t even promote the idea that Santa exists. But it does promote the idea that he, or anything else, can exist for you if you simply choose to get on the train.

Frankly, I’d rather throw myself in front of it.