Part of what makes a suspense movie great is not knowing the truth. It’s fearing that something is off, something is wrong, but not knowing for sure. It’s being unsure of what and/or who to believe…and knowing that a mistake, believing a lie, could be fatal. 10 Cloverfield Lane does a great job of tapping into this fear and while the premise of the movie (some of it, at least) is a bit far-fetched, the underlying truths are nearer to home than you might think and they have much to teach us.
Michelle is in a car accident. When she wakes up, she’s in a bunker, chained to a bed, with an older man named Howard who has fixed up her injuries, and a man about her age named Emmett. It’s Howard’s bunker and Michelle and Emmett are his guests (although Emmett is somewhat unwelcome). Michelle naturally assumes Howard is holding her captive, but his story is different. He tells her that there was an attack of some sort (probably alien, although they aren’t sure) on the world. “I found you and I saved your life by bringing you here.” “I save your life, Michelle. I couldn’t just leave you there. You can’t leave.”
It’s all very confusing. Did he really save her life? Is there really nowhere else for her to go? To further the confusion, she hears cars outside the bunker (making her think Howard is lying), but then sees a woman outside whose flesh is disintegrating. The woman is begging to get inside, but Howard says the air is contaminated, as is the woman, and there is nothing they can do to save her. Trying would only kill them all. It’s convincing. The woman was out of her mind and clearly something horrific and abnormal had happened to her. Cleary, she was desperate for the safety of that bunker which Michelle found herself in. But why didn’t Michelle feel safe in the bunker?
The best lies are the ones that are based in truth. Michelle seemed to understand this and continued to test things Howard said. She finally accepted that there had been an attack, and the air was contaminated, but that didn’t make everything Howard said true. Something was off. Yes, he rescued her from the car wreck, but he also caused the accident. Yes, he saved her from harm, but he also put her in danger. She was “saved” but there was no freedom. He saved her from an external harm, by putting her into an internal danger. And all the while, he told her she should be grateful for it. “You’re lucky to be here at all, but my generosity only extends so far.” He obligated her to respond to him, to be grateful to him, to be exactly what he wanted her to be, and he threatened her life if she didn’t. That’s no salvation, it’s just an exchange of slaveries.
In the end, Michelle discovered that Howard had held another girl captive before her. Yes, there was danger outside, but there was danger within as well. Howard was not a savior, but an opportunist…and worse, her captor and enslaver. He took advantage of the situation outside and used it to enslave her inside with him. (Emmett had actually asked to be in the shelter when the attack happened and was therefore slower to realize the danger he was in, slower to question the situation.) And the moment she and Emmett tried to escape, he showed his true, very sinister, colors. He had no intention of ever letting them go. Howard was no savior, no friend.
There were dangers outside, but with Harold, Michelle was isolated and cut off. Not only from those dangers but also from help. Harold said there wasn’t any help outside, but he was wrong. When Michelle did get free, she found that there were others. There were people fighting together against the aliens. There was danger, but there was also hope and community. Michelle preferred to face danger in freedom, would rather fight alongside others, than to be isolated, cut off and enslaved in a “safe” environment (safe as long as she complied).
Do you see how this parallels our lives? Jesus said that he came to set us free. What does that mean except that we are not free? We have an enemy who has enslaved us into a life of sin and isolation. Our enemy is like Howard, though. He tells us that he has saved us and we should be grateful. He tells us of the dangers in the world and he is telling us the truth in many ways. This is why he is so dangerous—it’s hard to know what’s really true. Maybe he saved us in a way, but what he forgets to mention is that HE is the one who hurt us in the first place. The salvation he offers is guilt ridden, controlling, and based in fear. It’s conditional. Our captivity will be friendly, so long as we go along with him in this. But, the moment we question, the moment we try to make connections with the outside world, (or even with those in captivity with us), he gets angry and violent—he shows his true colors. There is nothing friendly about this captivity.
How do we know though? Emmett though things were great and he was safe. Michelle sensed something was wrong from the start. How do we recognize when we are being lied to? How do we recognize when there is danger? Here are a few things we can do.
- Know that there is an enemy and a battle going on for our soul in the spiritual realm. Ephesians 6:12. Just knowing this is a reality will keep you on the lookout.
- God offers us freedom. Anytime we feel forced, feel that something has taken away our choices, that is a good clue that something is wrong. (Michelle woke up in chains. That was an immediate clue.)
- Isolation. Emmett was slower to realize the danger because he was never in chains. He came into the bunker of his own will (not like Michelle who was forced into it). But one of the things that showed them both that things weren’t right with their situation was the way Howard kept them isolated, not only from the outside world (there were some reasons for that which seemed to make sense) but also from each other. He didn’t want his captives to connect in any meaningful way. Our enemy is no different. He works in isolation. He keeps us from connecting with others in meaningful ways.
- The Bible tells us to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1. This is what Michelle did. She tested things that Harold said…and not just one thing, but all things, because some of what he said was true and some was false. We have to do the same. We have to test everything we hear and see against the word of God. God never lies. All of what He says is true. The enemy, however, will mix truth and lies, so we can’t only test one statement, we have to be vigilant, testing everything to discern any and all lies.
- Despair. Just as the enemy works in isolation, he also works in despair. We won’t try to get free if there is no point. Harold was constantly telling Michelle that there was no one out there, everyone had been killed, no one was looking for her. Not only was there no one out there, but she would die if she left—the air was contaminated and would kill her. He told her this so she wouldn’t even try to escape. What was the point? Better to stay, right? Anytime you have thoughts or hear others say things that are despairing, that take away your hope, make you feel there is no point in trying…that’s the enemy. That is not God. God has power over life itself. Even death is not beyond hope with God. He is a God of resurrection, of life, of HOPE itself. (See Ezekiel 37 for the crazy power of God to speak life into ANY lifeless situation.)
- Fear and confusion. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power and of love and of a sound mind” (emphasis added). Howard was scary, intimidating, unpredictable and the “truth” around him was very confusing. He used all of that to control his captives. Our enemy will try the same with us. This is a way we know he’s our enemy. Anytime we are being told we are weak, powerless, unloved or unwanted, that is the enemy. When we feel like the truth is really confusing…that is not God. God does not work in intimidation, and He doesn’t work in confusion, and He certainly doesn’t give those to us. They are in direct opposition to who He is and what He gives to us. We have His spirit. His spirit (which is given to us) is marked by power, love and a sound mind.
- Love. No matter what “good things” Howard might have done for Michelle, she knew he didn’t do them because of love, therefore she was afraid. Why was he doing these things? What was his ulterior motive? When our enemy does things for us, even “good” things, there is danger because we don’t trust his motives. This is in direct contrast to the Lord. Everything He does is out of love. We can trust Him in any and every situation because of His great and perfect love for us. 1 John 4:18 explains it this way: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” This perfectly sums up the reason for Michelle’s fear – she was afraid of punishment with Harold. If there had been love, she wouldn’t have feared being punished. When we fear punishment, it’s a good sign that we are dealing with an enemy rather than with God. God’s love erases our fear of punishment.
- Pay attention to those who have gone before you. The real kicker for Michelle, the moment when she knew for certain Howard was dangerous, was when she saw signs of someone who had been there before her. She saw that there had been another girl before her, in her same shoes, and that girl had been desperate for a rescue. She was a voice from the past, calling out to Michelle, telling her that, whether she realized it or not, she was in horrific danger. Michelle listened to that voice from the past. We would do well to pay attention to the lives of others who have been in our shoes. We need to listen to their messages, see the results of their lives. Did they live in freedom? Did they die in captivity? Are they saying that we are in danger? Are they saying that this “friend” and “savior” of ours is a liar?
Of course, there are other “signs” to look for, but really, it can all be thwarted with simply testing things against the Bible. Just as Michelle had to test Howard’s statements against reality, we have to test things against reality. And since the battle we are dealing with is a spiritual one, we have to test against the spiritual reality and our only reliable litmus test for that is the Bible. As we read the Bible, all these other signs to look before become clearer.
Let me just remind you though, that Michelle wasn’t the only one in captivity. Emmett was too. The difference was that Emmett put himself there and Michelle didn’t. Sometimes we sabotage ourselves without even knowing it. That may be the greater danger. It’s harder to see the signs of captivity when we volunteer for it. Don’t think that, just because you don’t wake up with chains on, you are safe. Your soul has an enemy and he is a liar and he is subtle…and he is good at it. His thoughts can sound a lot like your own, and they are laced with truth. Are you struggling with addictions? Are you struggling with self-loathing? Are you feeling weak? Are you feeling like life is pointless? Are you feeling like you’re all alone? Are you afraid? Are you struggling with guilt? These are all good indications that you are being held captive by your enemy. The good news is you don’t have to work your own rescue the way Michelle did. Jesus is ready to rescue you if you’ll only call out to Him for help. He came to set you free and it is His desire that none should perish.
Questions for Discussion:
- Why was it so hard to decide if Michelle was being saved or being trapped?
- Have you ever been in a similar situation to Michelle, metaphorically speaking…in your mind and/or soul?
- Do you believe that your soul has an enemy?
- Do you feel like you are living the freedom God intended for your life? Why or why not?
- The Bible says God gives us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline, not fear. Which of those most describes you?
- Some of the signs that you are actually being held captive in some way are: fear, isolation, guilt, addiction, powerlessness, pointlessness, self-loathing. Which of these do you struggle with most? How are they enslaving?
- How does perfect love cast out fear?
- Why is the fear of punishment an indicator of an absence of love?
- Why do you think the enemy tries to keep us isolated?
- How can you test the spirits in your own life?