X-Men: Peace with the Other
Throughout the X-Men movies as well as the preceding comic books, the primary theme is one of how we treat “the other.” While the mutants have incredible powers, they are still clearly human, even those who also have physical appearance differences. Yet those differences are more than enough to get many in each category uncomfortable with the other. For the sake of this post, I’ll focus my discussion primarily on the film First Class, where we see each character line up with one or the other of the opposing views.
On the side of mutants, Professor Charles Xavier clearly has a vision for the future in which humans (meaning: of the non-mutant variety) and mutants can get along peacefully. He happily teams up with the CIA. He constantly is trying to rein in Erik’s violence, whether against mutant or non-mutant. He even helps a Russian soldier – an enemy, as the film takes place during the Cold War – who probably would have died after Erik wrapped him up in barb wire.
Erik, who comes to be known as Magneto, has a different perspective. He is a survivor of the Holocaust, where he learned that being different than those who hold the power will result in elimination of those who are different. He concludes, therefore, that mutants must become the ones in power in order to protect themselves.
In the context when X-Men was originally developed, it is easy to see the parallels of Prof X and Erik to Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, respectively. Do we want peace with the other as both the means and the end, or do we protect our group by any means necessary?
Erik does clearly have a point. Most of history testifies to this. The contemporary world testifies to this. Even the church sometimes goes against the teachings of Jesus and testifies to this in how we often treat the other: other races, women, LGBTQ persons, the poor.
What I find fascinating is that Professor X and his philosophy are always seen to be good while Erik and his philosophy are seen as evil. Even in First Class where we develop a sympathy for Erik, we still watch the movie hoping that he doesn’t become what we know he will (unless you haven’t seen other movies or know the general story, in which case it could be a surprise). We are at best uncomfortable with people who are different than us and at worst feel threatened to the point of desiring to hurt them in the name of protecting ourselves. In other words, even though Erik is right about how the world usually works and we often feel the same way, we usually also intuitively think that Charles’ way is better. It is much like how we respond to Jesus’ teachings like “love your enemy”: it sounds great in theory but really we’re going to stick with the other option.
The prophetic voice of X-Men shows us an unashamed proponent of the approach to the world driven by obtaining more power. We see somebody who embodies the ways of the world, peace through victory, and we see that this doesn’t work. We also see somebody who wants a radically different approach, an approach of peace through restorative and equalizing justice, which does work – it usually takes some significant sacrificing and it is never easy but it does ultimately work.
We are left with the clear choice: do we want to live in the way of Professor X (and Jesus) or of Magneto? Do we see those who differ from us as sub-human and a threat to be eliminated, or as image-bearers of God to be loved even when the world tells us we should be enemies? How you answer that question changes everything.