Eternals and Embracing Our Vocation

Joe George

Druig has seen enough.

Watching from atop an ancient temple thousands of years in the past, the troubled Eternal, played by Barry Keoghan, observes a clash between indigenous warriors. Soldiers stab each other with spears, sparks from their primitive weapons illuminating the fallen bodies before them. Every death raises Druig’s consternation because he knows that he could make it stop. As one of the 10 nearly immortal protectors of the Earth, Druig has amazing abilities that he uses to aid humanity.

Finally, a golden glow grows in Druig’s angry eyes. The men below him suddenly cease fighting. They toss aside their weapons and walk away together, no longer gripped by anger. Using his mind-control powers, Druig has saved the warriors, prevented them from destroying each other in a war that they wanted so badly, but which, from his heightened perspective, seemed utterly ridiculous.

His fellow Eternals, however, are horrified. “We cannot intervene in their politics,” explains their leader, Ajak (Salma Hayek). “We must only guide them.”

Placed on Earth billions of years ago by the Celestial Arishem (voiced by David Kaye), one of the godlike beings who create and destroy planets, Druig and his teammates have a clear mandate: to help humans reach their full potential. Sometimes, this guidance involves destroying monsters called Deviants, disgusting creatures consisting of pulsating, purple-red tentacles. When Deviants attack, they’re driven off by Eternals with offensive capabilities, such as the strongman Gilgamesh (Don Lee), the high-flying Ikaris (Richard Madden), or the warrior queen Thena (Angelina Jolie).

Other Eternals serve humanity with powers that help people come together and better themselves. The inventor Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) inspires technological advancements, while the storyteller Sprite (Lia McHugh) spreads tales of adventure across the sky in glowing gold figures, spawning myths such as the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh or the tales of the Greek goddess Athena.

The 26th entry in the long-running Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals distinguishes itself from other tights-and-capes films. Director Chloé Zhao–working from a screenplay credited to Zhao and Patrick Burleigh, as well as Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo–focuses on a different type of superhero. As Druig was reminded, Eternals are not allowed to stop humans from fighting each other. Nor are they allowed to stop otherworldly threats, including big, bad MCU villain Thanos. Instead, they have the much harder job of bringing out the best in humanity–a task that rarely gets solved with fisticuffs.

In other words, the Eternals have a vocation. They’ve been given a purpose by a higher power and live their days on Earth fulfilling that purpose. That’s an idea that should resonate with Christians. As New Testament scholar N.T. Wright explains, the Bible describes a “covenant of vocation” given to all humans, charging us to be “image-bearers of God” who reflect “the Creator’s wise stewardship into the world” and “the praises of all creation back to its maker.” Citing passages such as Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:9-10, Wright argues that this vocation has been intensified by the fact that Christ, in conquering death on the cross, has established God’s kingdom here on Earth. From this vocation, we Christians enact “God’s wisdom and justice into the world.”

The Eternals have been given a purpose by a higher power and live their days on Earth fulfilling that purpose.

Wright’s powerful writing and Revelation’s apocalyptic imagination make the idea sound exciting. After reading these passages, we might feel like superheroes, sweeping in to save the day. But the reality is far more mundane.

To bear God's image, to enact God's wisdom and justice, we can't live for ourselves or out of our own judgment. We wish that we could smash the bad guys or manipulate the minds of any thoughtless people we encounter. But they too carry the image of God and thus deserve the same love and respect given to us. Trusting God’s wisdom means that we don’t get to force the world to change.

Sometimes, then, we get frustrated with our vocation. It doesn’t always feel like Christ has “overcome the world”–not when evils such as poverty, systemic racism, and pervasive injustice still exist. Sometimes, we fail because we see no evidence of God’s good work in the world. Our vocation seems ineffective at best and meaningless at worst.

In its best moments, Eternals captures this sense of malaise. In place of the poppy primary colors and athletic imagery in the original comics created by Jack Kirby, Zhao and cinematographer Ben Davis bathe the screen with quiet grays and blues. Instead of Kirby’s odd, angular designs, costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ dresses the Eternals in suits marked by subtle linework. Gone is the “Kirby crackle” that once accompanied the Eternals’ powers; instead, warm golden rays appear when their abilities manifest.

With this color palette, Zhao tells the story of superheroes whose true struggle is not against monstrous Deviants. Instead, it’s with their frustration over their mission.

When Ikaris, alongside fellow Eternals Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), call upon Druig later in the movie, they find him surrounded by people he’s reduced to mindless drones. The village they’ve constructed may seem like a utopia, a peaceful heaven on Earth, but it lacks real relationship. Druig has abandoned his vocation, choosing to control humans instead of care for them. It’s a dire and drab place, with the vibrant greens of the jungle flattened to a dull brown. But when Sersi convinces Druig to use his powers for the sake of humans, the scene transforms with vibrant gold.

This is a small moment, especially in a movie that eventually builds to a battle with cosmic stakes. But it reminds us why those stakes matter. For all their fantastic powers, the Eternals exist to bring out the best in humans. More importantly, the moment reminds us image bearers of our own mission: to serve God's creation, rather than subdue it.

Topics: Movies