Legend of Hercules – Movie Discussion

Greek Mythology never fails to provide a great springboard for discussion about faith, and this latest version of Hercules is no different.  One can hardly help but draw some comparisons between Hercules, the offspring of both god (Zeus) and man (a mortal woman), and Jesus (son of God, born of a virgin).  In fact, I found myself thinking about a quarter of the way into the movie, that, if the story of Christ were retold, not as the story of perfect love and sovereignty, but through the eyes of some deeply dysfunctional, jealous, arrogant, hateful family…Hercules would be that story.  And yet, there was much in it that reminded me of myself and my own struggles with God and identity…

The Dysfunction:

Zeus and God have very little in common, outside of power.  When power is given to someone without the wisdom and kindness and love of God, it’s a recipe for disaster, and Zeus is no exception.  He is married, but lusts after the king’s wife, a mortal nonetheless.  Then, all Indecent Proposal-like, he has his wife, Hera, make an offer to the king’s wife – if she’ll let him sleep with her, he’ll give her a son that will end the King’s tyranny and bring peace to the land.  No one likes this arrangement (except for Zeus, of course) but, for the sake of peace, they are all willing to let this happen.

This may sound a little similar to the Christian story: Mary was engaged to another man and she did bear the son of God.  However, God wasn’t lusting after Mary, nor did He have a wife (nonetheless offend and hurt her in the process).  Mary didn’t prostitute herself for peace, and God didn’t throw Jesus in as a payment for Mary’s sexual favors.  This was God’s sovereign plan to bring salvation to the world, not an after thought so that he could manipulate Mary into having sex with Him.

Hercules’ Complicated Daddy-Issues

Hercules had a lot of complicated daddy issues, both with his step father and his real father.  The King knew Hercules wasn’t his son, so he hated Hercules, but Hercules didn’t know why.  The truth had been hidden from him.  Once he found out, he then had to make sense of his absentee father-figure.  Why hadn’t Zeus, who was god, tried to get to know him?

He had two father-figures, and both were all-powerful (within their spheres, at least) wrathful, vengeful conquerors.  He isn’t proud of his earthly dad—he destroyed nations.  But he also wasn’t sure he wanted to be associated with his heavenly dad—he too was responsible for a lot of angry destruction.  Even Hera admitted as much, “Your father [Zeus] brought wrath upon many, but Argos was a man’s doing [i.e. the King’s].”

Jesus and Hercules may have similar paternity, but their fathers, and their relationships with their fathers, are night and day.  Jesus was loved and accepted by both his earthly father and his heavenly father.  His lineage was neither secret nor shame.  Jesus was so united with God, his heavenly father, that he repeatedly said things like, “I and the father are one” (John 10:30).  Jesus had absolutely no “daddy-issues”.

Hercules’ Identity Crisis

When you have complicated daddy-issues, you are going to face an identity crisis.  Hercules was no exception.  He was extraordinary.  As the son of god, he had unmatched strength and athleticism.  The villagers asked him, “Is it true?  You are Hercules the god?”  Hercules replied, “No.  I am just a man.”  Except, he wasn’t just a man—He was the son of Zeus, half god, half man.  Granted, he didn’t want to be a god.  He didn’t want the expectations, and he also wasn’t sure he wanted to be identified with Zeus.  Later, however, when he needed Zeus, in a moment very reminiscent of Samson, Hercules, chained to pillars, mocked and beaten, asked Zeus for strength.   “Father, I believe in you. Grant me strength.” He pleaded.  Zeus responded, and Hercules tore down the pillars and took out the enemy.

While Hercules struggled to grasp both his humanity and his deity, Jesus fully embraced both.  Hercules tried to figure out what it was to be half man, half God, whereas Jesus wasn’t half anything—He was (and is) fully God and fully man…and He’s fully comfortable with both.

Hercules is a lot like Jesus

There are numerous moments where Hercules’ life played out a lot like Jesus’:  He was sent to earth (by Zeus) with a purpose—to set man free.  A jealous king wanted to kill him, so he had to continually flee for his life.  He fought to set prisoners free and risked his life (even offered his life) in exchange for the lives of men.  He brought hope of freedom to the downtrodden, poor and oppressed.  The powers that be beat him and ridiculed him.  “He bleeds, and why?  Because he’s nothing more than a man.”  They denied his diety and showed his weakness to remove him as an icon of hope for the people.  “Is this a message of hope?” the king mocked.

Hercules is a lot like us

Hercules had some questions about Zeus.  “Where was this father when eighty men perished next to me?  Where was he when my mother died?”  He asks Hera, angry and confused.  This god you say is my father has the power to intervene, and yet I and those I love have suffered…the question is as much our own as it is Hercules’.  How do we reconcile an all-powerful God who we are told is loving, with the pain and suffering in our lives and in our world?

Hera answers Hercules with something that is actually a little helpful.  “He was always there.  You were not ready for him.”  Zeus isn’t all knowing, or all good, so that’s helpful, but Hercules would be right to still have some reservations.  How can you fully trust in a god who makes mistakes and acts in selfishness?  Fortunately for us, we don’t have to answer that question.  God never makes mistakes, and He always acts out of a place of perfect love, never selfishness.  He, the great I AM, IS always there, and He IS always ready for us.  We are not always ready for him.   It’s true.

But then, we, like Hercules, will get to a place of need.  We find ourselves in bondage, somewhere between a rock and a hard place, and we need help.  Finally we are desperate enough to put aside our questions and our issues, desperate enough to cry out, “Father, I believe in you.  Grant me strength.”   When we are ready for Him, we find that He was there all along, just waiting for us to be ready.  We find that His strength is made perfect in our weakness

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Questions for Discussion:

  • How did you feel about Hera asking the queen to have sex with Zeus in the name of peace?
  • Do you think the queen was right to accept Zeus’ “indecent proposal”?  Should she have had sex with him in exchange for a son who would bring peace?  Was Hera right to allow it?
  • What do you think the dysfunction and selfishness in the Hercules movie did to what was a much loved story, that of Jesus’ birth?
  • Can you relate to some of Hercules’ daddy issues (both his issues with an earthly and/or step-dad, and his real dad/ absentee father/ god)?  Explain.
  • How does it make you feel to know that Jesus didn’t have any daddy issues?
  • Hercules’ daddy-issues caused a significant identity crisis.  Have you struggled to understand who you are, whose you are, and what you’re here for?  How might a relationship with God in Heaven help you understand your identity?
  • How do you feel about Hercules in his more Christ-like moments?
  • Have you, like Hercules, asked, “Where was God when…x, y and z happened”?
  • Hercules finally came to a place where he was willing to put aside his issues with Zeus and ask Zeus for help.  Have you gotten to that point with God?
  • Do you agree with Hera, that God is always there, it’s just that sometimes we aren’t ready for Him?  How have you seen this in your life?

Click here to see a collection of quotes from Legend of Hercules.

by Stacey Tuttle