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A little life in 'Babylon A.D.'

“It’s sometimes useful to be dead. It allows one a second chance.”

--Dr. Arthur Darquandier
Babylon A.D. is a pretty bad movie. Mind you, I really like Vin Diesel—particularly as anti-hero Riddick in the sci-fi Pitch Black and sequel Chronicles of Riddick. But Babylon A.D. is not one of the best projects he’s been a part of (perhaps the worst). The film got a dismal 7% at the critic-compiling and ranking site Rotten Tomatoes, and Christianity Today’s Josh Hurst gave it zero stars. Ouch.

I wouldn’t dream of arguing against the criticisms. If this interview with director Mathieu Kassovitz is any indication, Babylon A.D. never really had a chance, anyway. It does have some good special effects (loved the touch-screen folding map) and some interesting cinematographical shots (I liked the blue hues), but the story line was a complete mess. Really, it became almost incoherent—it was that bad.

But there was one aspect of the film that actually resonated with me: its thread that death brings life.

Babylon A.D. is set a few decades into a dystopian future and basically centers on a mercenary named Toorop (Vin Diesel), who sums up the philosophy he lives by in a voice over at the very beginning of the film:

Life is simple. Kill or be killed. Don’t get involved. Always finish the job. That’s survivor code. My code. And it all sounds great until the day you find yourself confronted by a choice: A choice to make a difference to help someone or to walk away and save yourself. I learned something that day. You can’t always walk away. Too bad that was the day I died.

Toorop takes on a job smuggling a mysterious and sheltered young woman named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her guardian (a pseudo-nun played by Michelle Yeoh) from Russia to New York. In exchange for his services, he’ll get not only money but also a new identity chip, which will free him from a life he’s growing weary of. In other words, he’ll get a new life.

(Warning: major spoilers ahead!) Along the way, Toorop begins to break his own rules as he finds himself caring about what happens to Aurora. Even though he gets his new identity and can walk away at any time, Toorop ends up dying while protecting her—but then is brought back to life by Dr. Darquandier, who is also trying to protect Aurora. Darquandier was thought to be dead, but he tells Toorop that “sometimes it’s useful to be dead” as it “allows one a second chance.” The doctor has used his supposed death to go underground in order to watch over and protect Aurora from afar. He’s given Toorop a second chance as well, not only by bringing him back to life but also by holding off the bad guys (and women) and giving Toorop the resources to find Aurora, whom Toorop rescues and takes to safety. Aurora, however, dies in childbirth (don’t ask) and leaves the children in Toorop’s care. Toorop does find a new and better life—just not the one he expected.

Even in the midst of its messy plot, I couldn’t help but notice this idea of death precipitating new life. Toorop thinks a new life will come through the new identity chip he’s been provided, but he’s still in the same life. It isn’t until he cares about someone else more than himself—and physically dies—that he’s ushered into a new and completely different life. He literally goes from a dark world to one of light, from bringing death as a mercenary to nurturing life as a father.

This idea of death bringing life is a familiar one in Scripture. Jesus incarnates this, and Paul tells us that we also died with Christ: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our nature was crucified with Him” (6:3-6a).

In The Rest of the Gospel, Dan Stone says, “So, when he died, we died. When he was raised, were raised with him. To emphasize the point, Paul said that we were buried with him. When you bury somebody, what does it mean? They are dead. The human life is over. Whatever they were is gone.”

Why did God do it this way? Because the nature we inherited in our spirits is one that as a fall back centers on our own desires, one (as Toorop puts it in the beginning of the film) that ultimately operates according to “the survivor code,” one that when we are completely given over to it, ends in destruction. Says Stone:

The source of that life had to die. You can’t put Band-Aids on it. It had to die. It had to be cut off. . . . God had to cut off the old man at the root or he would continue to produce his sinful fruit. So God crucified you with Christ.

The old man is the human spirit indwelt by and enslaved to sin. But God crucified the old man and gave us a new spirit, created “in righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Hundreds of years before Christ, Ezekiel prophesied that God would perform this heart transplant under the new covenant: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you . . .” (36:26-27a).. . .

. . . [A]t some point the Holy spirit pulls back the curtain and shows us that in the deepest part of us, our spirit—who we truly are—a death has occurred that has forever changed us. We’re going to look the same, feel the same, and think the same on many, many days. But we’re going to know something: we’re not the same.
We get a second chance. We are “raised into a light-filled world by our Father.” We get a new heart--and we find that God's Spirit is in us. And we are changed. We leave an old life behind and embrace a new one. One lived in light instead of darkness. One focused not on or living out of our own desires but one focused on and living out of God, which can’t help but flow out in love and care for others.

I couldn’t help but see this idea reflected in Toorop’s experience. It’s just too bad Babylon A.D. doesn’t have a more coherent story in which to explore this theme.

(Images and screencaptures: 20th Century Fox, Alliance Films)