||Journal of Religion and Film
Holy Aliens to Cyborg Saviours:
in Four Science Fiction Films
Anton Karl Kozlovic
The Flinders University of South Australia
Vol. 5, No. 2
Holy Aliens to Cyborg Saviours:
Biblical Subtexts in Four Science Fiction Films
School of Humanities
The Flinders University of South Australia
SF films have frequently been the
vehicles for hidden biblical characters, particularly
Christ-figures. These subtexts can make the
difference between an ordinary film and an
exceptional one. The critical literature was reviewed
and four popular films were selected to illustrate
their religious dimensions, namely: (a) The Day the
Earth Stood Still (1951), (b) Blade Runner (1982),
(c) The Terminator (1984), and (d) Terminator 2:
Judgment Day (1991). It was concluded that the SF
cinema is a rich source of contemporary religiosity
that can be pedagogically employed in the RE
 The Science Fiction (SF) genre is replete with
hi-tech gadgetry, space ships, laser beams, angry
androids, crafty computers, rogue robots and alien beings
of every conceivable description. Less well know is its
capacity to harbour religious figures. Particularly
Christ-figures, that is, on-screen characters who in
significant ways represent the life, actions or attitudes
of Jesus Christ according to the Gospels. These religious
subtexts are frequently missed by the public, especially
those who consider 'science' and
'religion' to be mutually exclusive categories.
Yet, it is these powerful religious resonances that can
turn an ordinary film into an exceptional one. The
following four SF films were selected because of their
neo-classical status and inherent religious properties.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, dir.
 Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter (Michael Rennie) was an alien
emissary from an advanced intergalactic federation who
landed his flying saucer in America at a critical moment
in world affairs. Humankind was on the brink of
interplanetary travel and spreading its violence
throughout the universe, which required cosmic
intervention. Critics quickly saw him as a "highly
evolved powerful messiah figure who comes to Earth...with
a force that cannot be denied."1
"Klaatu has an unmistakable touch of divinity about
represents transcendent power and has come to offer
mankind salvation from holocaust,"3
via encouraged discipline from above, coupled with
"the overt Christian philosophy of this so-called
federation of advanced beings."4
 The film was a cautionary tale about human
aggression and a "modern retelling of the Christ
came from the starry heavens bearing wondrous gifts and
an opportunity for galactic redemption saying: "We
have come to visit you in peace and with good will."
Despite his human appearance and peaceful intensions, he
was feared, abused, incarcerated, forced to flee military
and political stupidity, and subsequently wandered
incognito amongst the people. As the disguised Mr.
Carpenter, just as Jesus was a carpenter, Klaatu became
distraught at the inhumanity of man to man, and man to
alien where bigotry "against aliens by extension
becomes the heathen denial of Christ."6
 He was also testily impatient with
humankind's petty political squabbles, of which he
would have no part. Regrettably:
... Klaatu's messianic mission is opposed
by stereotypical representations of a
war-mongering military, xenophobic citizens
(represented by the inhabitants of the boarding
house), and an amoralistic publicity seeker (Tom
Stevens [Hugh Marlowe]). Heroic Americans (Helen
Benson [Patricia Neal], Bobby Benson [Billy
Gray], and Dr. Barnhardt [Sam Jaffe]) who defy
prejudice and recognize a messiah when they see
one aid Klaatu.7
 Despite his Earthly disciples and his (literal)
universal message of peace, he was again denied,
rejected, pursued, cornered and then killed by human
intolerance. His Jesus status being visually confirmed
after being shot by the military and he falls onto the
ground in a cruciform pose (with appropriately bent
knee), the Christic identifier. This makes
"it easy to construe Klaatu as a Christ figure who
sacrifices his life in order to preserve
his Establishment-pierced body is retrieved by Gort (Lock
Martin), an imposing "god-like robot,"9 and taken Pieta-like to his
spaceship to be miraculously resurrected in "a
science fiction version of the Ascension."10
 Before returning home to his starry abode as the
risen Klaatu, he "emerges from his ship like Christ
from the tomb and delivers a sermon to the assembled
sermon turned into a terrifying ultimatum. Humanity is to
live in peace or else the Earth will face apocalyptic
obliteration on Judgment Day when it will be turned into
a burned-out cinder, Armageddon-style. Klaatu then
entered his flying saucer and ascended skywards, homeward
 In the meantime, the "god-like forces he
represents will be watching the people of Earth to see
that they uphold his teachings of peace and disarmament.
Like Jesus at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew
[28:20 KJV], Klaatu is with us "always, even unto
the end of the world"."12
Even his eventual "departure by spacecraft...has a
New Testament Ascension feel about it,"13
while the phenomenal powers he demonstrated "become
powers to be worshipped and adored"14
as a form of deified science.
 In fact, the film's screenwriter:
... Edmund H. North himself admitted that the
parallels between the story of Christ and Day
were intentional: from Klaatu's earthly name
of Carpenter, to the betrayal by Tom Stevens, and
finally to his resurrection and ascent into the
heavens at Day's end. "It was my
private little joke. I never discussed this angle
with [producer Julian] Blaustein or [director
Robert] Wise because I didn't want it
expressed. I had originally hoped that the Christ
comparison would be subliminal.15
 As North also confessed elsewhere: "I
didn't honestly expect audiences to pick up the
allusion...I never wanted it to be a conscious thing, but
I thought it had value being there."16
 Not only was the heaven-roaming Klaatu a
Christ-figure, but many of the surrounding characters
complemented his Christic role. As Billy Gray (who played
young Bobby Benson) reflected:
Just as Jesus Christ worked miracles yet
allowed himself to be vulnerable, Klaatu's
abilities do not prevent him from encountering
the same dangers humans must face in a world of
free will...You've got Christ, Mary
Magdalene (Pat Neal), Judas (Hugh Marlowe), the
death and resurrection. I guess I was one of the
disciples, but I'm not sure I fit well into
 One would argue that Bobby did not represent a
Disciple. Rather, he was symbolic of all the children
Jesus was so fond of (Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16 KJV), and
whose innocence gave him access to the gifts of the
Kingdom (Matt. 18:3, 19:4; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16 KJV),
in the form of privileged companionship, knowledge and
 Interestingly, there was also an Old Testament
resonance in the film. Dennis Saleh18
argued that "Klaatu comes on a mission from the
skies, in a great glowing wheel of a saucer." This
description, plus the flying saucer's glowing,
unearthly light fits the fiery, wheel within a wheel,
whirlwind of Ezekiel 1:4, 19-21 (KJV). Conversely, this
Scripture convinces many UFO buffs that the Prophet
Ezekiel had a close encounter with an alien.19
Diseased, Replicant and Cop Christs:
Blade Runner (1982, dir. Ridley Scott)
 One does not have to be an otherworldly alien to
qualify as a Christ-figure. The noir cop thriller Blade
Runner demonstrated that damaged, real and synthetic
human beings could adequately fill the role. For example,
the progeria suffering, replicant designer J. F.
Sebastian (William Sanderson) was seen as functioning:
... as a symbol of Christ in this film. First, he
is a composite of man and Replicant, just as Christ
is a composite of God and man. Second, just as Christ
lived among men, J.F. lived among the Replicants.
Third, Christ attempted to bring humanity to God, and
was killed by the very people he attempted to help.
J.F. Sebastian also attempted to bring a man (Batty)
to his maker (Tyrell) and was murdered for his
trouble. It seems significant that Sebastian and
Batty ascend (via elevator) to the presence of
 Both the replicant-hunting cop Deckard (Harrison
Ford) and his quarry, the synthetic renegade replicant
Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) were also viewed
Batty ... drives a nail through his own hand in
order to keep it functioning. Of course, Batty mimics
Christ in this action as well as in his salvation to
Deckard, accompanied symbolically by his release of a
dove at his death. Deckard, too, parallels Christ,
particularly in his words to Gaff after the
confrontation with Batty is over,
"Finished," echoing Jesus's last words
on the cross and announcing his retirement as a blade
runner. He follows up these actions by becoming a
savior to Rachel, another replicant condemned to
 For Ryan and Kellner, "Roy suddenly carries
a white dove that soon becomes a symbol of charity and
forgiveness. He himself in fact becomes a figure of
Christ as he lowers his head and dies."22
Peter Lev considered that Roy saved "Deckard's
life in a Christ-like gesture of compassion," 23 while Linda Badley argued
Baty saves Deckard's life. This act, together
with the nail he forces through his hand, a dove that
flies up to the heavens when his "life"
ceases, and even the incessantly turning windmills
(which echo James Whale's burning windmill/cross
[in Frankenstein (1931)], makes Baty a type of
 Indeed, numerous other biblical references were
discovered therein. For example:
The light which, however briefly, shines down upon
Roy Batty is a commonplace in tradition depictions of
Pentecost--the time when the Apostles were given the
gift of speaking in tongues--of communicating with
people they had been unable to communicate with
before. The dove, also, is a hoary Christian symbol,
and when Roy Batty holds one it confers its mana
upon him, and also (since he first holds it, then
releases it into the rain) suggests the story of
Noah, who sent out a dove to discover whether there
was any dry ground on which the Ark could land. So
continuous is the rain in Blade Runner that it
suggests the Biblical deluge.25
 Nor do the religious parallels stop there:
The nail through the palm is an obvious
crucifixion symbol, the more so since Roy Batty has
just killed his creator in a parody and inversion of
the crucifixion story: the Son killing the Father
instead of the Father killing the Son. When Batty
saves Deckard he enacts another Biblical inversion:
the creation saves the creator, not vice versa. And,
at the apex of it, there they are, the dark man and
the fair, the human and the alien (lo!)
communicating. It's typical of Blade Runner
that the "hero" - the character whose ego is
the focus of our attention - is dark and that his
antagonist is fair. Traditionally, it has been the
other way around. But then Blade Runner is
full of such inversions: the Son killing the Father,
the creation saving the creator, the Enemy who
 However, for Forest Pyle, Christologising the
rogue replicant leader was a mistake:
When the cyborg Roy Batty impales his hand with a
nail near the end of the film, the shot establishes a
visual symbolic association to Christ on the cross,
an association bolstered by other visual metaphors,
such as the dove released to a suddenly blue sky at
Roy's death. But though such imagery draw on
that symbolic repertoire, the association with the
Christian narrative inevitably conjured by the shots
is invalidated by the films' own narrative
logic: Roy inserts the nail into his palm solely in
order to prolong his life, to defer his 'time to
die'. Roy is in this and every regard far from
Christ-like: he has, of course, just murdered the
'father' (Tyrell) who played his god and
maker. What the film leaves us with are allegorical
shots severed from their mythological sources, empty
allegories that cannot be redeemed by the Christian
 It was a valid point, but Blade Runner
suffers more from being a disjointed pastiche with an
excess of religious infranarration (inverted or
otherwise). Indeed, biblical figure-hunting does not
necessarily have to limit itself to the biological
(whether alien, human, or hybrid), as ably demonstrated
in The Terminator series where even intelligent
machines can have the capacity for divine acts.
Cyborg Saviour and Other Religious Clusterings:
The Terminator (1984, dir. James
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991,
dir. James Cameron)
 The relentlessly efficient T-800 Terminator
(Arnold Schwarzenegger) was an 'evil' cyborg in
The Terminator (hereafter T1). He then became a
cyborg-Messiah protecting a human-Messiah, John Connor
(Edward Furlong), another J. C., in Terminator 2:
Judgment Day (hereafter T2). While Norman L. Friedman
noted that T1 was "a Christ and Mary story about the
savior of the human race,"28
Lance Good offered five similarities in T2 between the
T-800 cyborg and Jesus Christ, namely:
- Both sacrificed their lives, though innocent, for
the sake of humanity.
- When the naked T-800 first enters the bar, he is
stabbed in the chest. Look at any painting of
Christ on the cross and compare it to the T-800
as he enters the kitchen of the bar. The wound
Christ receives in John 19:34 looks remarkably
similar, in any painting, to the T-880's
wound. Note - the T-800's wound is in a
different place than where he was stabbed, watch
closely! It would seem the creators went out of
their way for this symbol.
- Thomas doubted that Christ had been resurrected.
He put his finger in the nail holes in
Christ's hands (John 20:24-27). Consider the
scene after Sarah [Linda Hamilton], John, and the
T-800 flee the mental institute. John puts his
finger in the bullet holes!
- As Sarah watches the T-800 slap fives with John
in the desert, she has a mental soliloquy about
the faithfulness of the T-800. She notes that the
T-800 is better than any earthly father. Now
check out Hebrews 3:6 (there are many others).
- A second coming is important for both.29
 For Roland Boer, another indicator of John
Connor's Messiahhood was the conversion of the
'evil' Terminator in T1 to the 'good'
Terminator in T2 which he considered was "the
greatest of miracles."30
Indeed, Mark Jancovich not only saw John Connor as Jesus
Christ, but he elevated Sarah Connor to Godhood:
Sarah is constantly referred to as "the
legend," and the film is full of biblical
allusions: John Connor shares the same initials as
Jesus Christ and his conception is an impossible,
almost immaculate, one. Sarah is, in a sense, the
myth which holds the resistance together and from
which John partly derives his authority. Nonetheless,
these mythic overtones do not include Sarah as a
virgin mother. Given what we see of her social world,
it seems highly unlikely that she is a virgin.
Instead, it is [Sergeant] Kyle [Reese (Michael
Biehn)], John's father, who is the virgin. This
is made very clear when Sarah asks him whether he has
ever had a girlfriend and he answers, "No.
Never!" As a result, the gender relations of the
Biblical immaculate conception are reversed so that
Sarah is not the Virgin Mary but possibly God. This
is probably stretching the limits of interpretation,
and certainly, if Sarah is God, it is not because she
as an individual becomes the source of all
history and all creation, but because the
"religious essence" has been identified as
the "human essence"--not the property of a
single individual but the necessity for human
 Other commentators have seen Sarah embodying a
variety of less omnipotent biblical characters. For
example, she was perceived as a modern version of the OT
Matriarch, Sarah, Abraham's wife. Just as the
Hebraic future was embodied in Isaac, Sarah's only
child, the world's future was embodied in John
Connor, Sarah Connor's only child. Just as the
Matriarchs were responsible for the formation and
safe-keeping of God's people, Sarah
Connor-as-the-latest-post-NT-Matriarch was responsible
for the future safe-keeping of all peoples.32
Alternatively, Sarah was viewed as "Virgin
one-night stand and subsequent pregnancy is the
"archetypal evocation of the Holy Birth."34 Thus, as "the mother of
the future earth-saviour, John Connor, she was a Madonna
figure (in the Biblical sense) to be protected at all
 Further variant biblical themes were also
perceived in T2. For example:
Critic Richard Corliss has ... pointed out that the
story parallels that of the New Testament, with a
soldier from another world (the archangel Gabriel)
visiting a woman (the Virgin Mary) to announce that
she is to be mother to a messiah (John Connor has the
same initials as Jesus Christ). She flees with him
into the desert, where an angel of death becomes a
protector/father. Here, this hypothetical allegory
begins to take on strange permutations, as it is the
Terminator who redeems humankind through its death
after a resurrection.36
 Of course, not everyone readily agrees with such
diverse interpretations. For example, David Jasper was
reluctant to accept religious references to films just
because of their tentative biblical parallels:
... I would hesitate a little before I give assent
to the claim that the issues raised by the Terminator
movies are the issues explored by Isaiah, Jeremiah
and Ezekiel. From the writings of the Hebrew prophets
arises an enduring tradition of theological
reflection which is intrinsic to the texts
themselves. These are books which burn with fire of
religious passion and the issues explored in them
cannot be disentangled from that passion. The same
cannot be said of James Cameron's movies ... 37
Unless of course one meets a Cameron-inspired,
religious SF fan!38
 Clearly, religion is alive, well and living in
popular films. The critics' impulse to see biblical
resonances in all manner of overtly secular films is very
strong indeed, even if it sometimes strains the limits of
(in)credulity. Because the cinema is such a rich source
of contemporary religiosity and a natural text for our
youth, it seems professionally prudent to harness these
subtexts and put them to work in the RE classroom.
Indeed, it could also be viewed as an important religious
duty to "discern the signs of the times" (Matt.
16:3 KJV) for the video generation.
1. Hendershot, 1999, p. 30.
2. Pettigrew, 1986, p. 71.
3. Saleh, 1979, p. 41.
4. Macek, 1981, p. 590.
5. von Gunden & Stock, 1982, p.
6. Biskind, 1983, p. 152.
7. Hendershot, 1999, p. 28.
8. Macek, 1981, p. 590.
9. Gianos, 1999, pp. 137-138.
10. Saleh, 1979, p. 41.
11. Gabbard, 1982, p. 152.
12. ibid., p. 152.
13. Pettigrew, 1986, p. 71.
14. Jancovich, 1996, p. 45.
15. von Gunden & Stock, 1982, p.
16. Warren & Thomas, 1982, p. 26.
17. Long, 1990, p. 27.
18. Saleh, 1979, pp. 39-40.
19. Vallee, 1988, pp. 4, 6.
20. Newland, 1991, p. 2.
21. Gravett, 1998, p. 40.
22. Ryan & Kellner, 1990, p. 64.
23. Lev, 2000, p. 73.
24. Badley, 1995, p. 88.
25. Warner, 1991, p. 182.
26. ibid., p. 182.
27. Pyle, 2000, p. 126.
28. Friedman, 1994, pp. 77-78.
29. Good, 1998, pp. 3-4.
30. Boer, 1995, p. 176.
31. Jancovich, 1992, p. 12.
32. Ortiz & Roux, 1997, p. 146.
33. Wright, 1994, p. 143.
34. Goscilo, 1987-88, p. 48.
35. Cranny-Francis, 1995, p. 108.
36. Mancini, 1992, p. 397.
37. Jasper, 1997, p. 238.
38. Lansingh, 1999.
- Badley, L. (1995). Film, horror, and the body
fantastic. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
- Biskind, P. (1983). Seeing is believing: How
Hollywood taught us to stop worrying and love the
fifties. New York: Pantheon Books.
- Boer, R. (1995). Christological slippage and
ideological structures in Schwarzenegger's
Terminator. Semeia, 69/70, 165-193.
- Cranny-Francis, A. (1995). The body in the
text. Carlton South: Melbourne University
- Friedman, N. L. (1994). The Terminator:
Changes in critical evaluations of cultural
productions. Journal of Popular Culture, 28(1),
- Gabbard, K. (1982). Religious and political
allegory in Robert Wise's The Day the Earth
Stood Still. Literature/Film Quarterly, 10(3),
- Gianos, P. L. (1999). Politics and politicians
in American film. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Good, L. (1998, March 2). Terminator
2: Judgment Day, pp. 1-5. (http://www.unc.edu/~sharma/engterm.html)
- Goscilo, M. (1987-88). Deconstructing The
Terminator. Film Criticism, 12(2),
- Gravett, S. L. (1998). The sacred and the
profane: Examining the religious subtext of
Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Literature/Film
Quarterly, 26(1), 38-45.
- Hendershot, C. (1999). Paranoia, the bomb, and
1950s science fiction films. Bowling Green,
OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.
- Jancovich, M. (1996). Rational fears: American
horror in the 1950s. Manchester: Manchester
- Jasper, D. (1997). On systematizing the
unsystematic: A response. In C. Marsh & G.
Ortiz (Eds.), Explorations in theology and
film: Movies and meaning (pp. 235-244).
- Lansingh, S. (1999) Christ figures are found
in the strangest places [A
study of James Cameron's sci-fi movies], pp. 1-8.
- Lev, P. (2000). American films of the 70s
conflicting visions. Austin: University of
- Long, L. (1990, February). Klaatu, Gort & I. Starlog,
- Macek, C. (1981). The Day the Earth Stood Still.
In F. N. Magill (Ed.), Magill's survey of
cinema. English language films (Vol.
2) (pp. 589-591). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem
- Mancini, M. (1992). Terminator II: Judgment Day.
In F. N. Magill (Ed.), Magill's cinema
annual 1992: A survey of the films of 1991
(pp. 395-398). Pasadena: Salem Press.
- Newland, D. L. (1991).
symbolism in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, pp. 1-3.
- Ortiz, G., & Roux, M. (1997). The Terminator
movies: Hi-Tech Holiness and the human condition.
In C. Marsh & G. Ortiz (Eds.), Explorations
in theology and film: Movies and meaning (pp.
141-154). Oxford: Blackwell.
- Pettigrew, T. (1986). Raising hell: The rebel
in the movies. Bromley: Columbus Books.
- Pyle, F. (2000) Making cyborgs, making humans: Of
terminators and blade runners. In D. Bell &
B. M. Kennedy (Eds.), The cybercultures reader
(pp. 124-137). London: Routledge.
- Ryan, M., & Kellner, D. (1990). Technophobia.
In A. Kuhn (Ed.), Alien zone: Cultural theory
an contemporary science fiction cinema (pp.
58-65). London: Verso.
- Saleh, D. (1979). Science fiction gold: Film
classics of the 50s. New York: Comma/
- Vallee, J. (1988). Dimensions: A casebook of
alien contact. London: Souvenir Press.
- von Gunden, K., & Stock, S. H. (1982). Twenty
all-time great science fiction films. New
York: Arlington House.
- Warner, R. (1991). A silver-paper unicorn. In J.
B. Kerman (Ed.), Retrofitting Blade Runner:
Issues in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and
Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep? (pp. 178-184). Bowling Green,
OH: Bowling Green State University Press.
- Warren, B., & Thomas, B. (1982). Keep
watching the skies!: American science fiction
movies of the fifties. Volume 1: 1950-1957.
- Wright, A. (1994). Arnold Schwarzenegger: A
life on film. London: Robert Hale.