It's probably a reflection of my nerdy Christian/English major tendencies that one of the things that I like to do for fun is look for Christian themes and symbols in the movies and TV I watch. The fun part for me is that I'm sure in almost every case, the symbols are not intentional, and yet they're there and it can be amazing how well they match up with Christian beliefs. Once I saw how often they show up, mostly in the presence of a Christ figure, I look at it like a puzzle, matching the characters in relation to one another to certain figures and ideas. And so, when I saw Marvel's latest installment, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I was bound to look for and maybe find something. After watching the movie with my family, I went to my cashier job, and during one of the more boring parts of my day when my mind was free to wander, I found some interesting things.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen the second Captain America and you don't want to know what happens, don't read anymore. Or go watch it, and then come and read.
First and foremost, one of the things I learned in a class I had in college is that if it's a superhero movie, that superhero is symbolically bound to be a Christ figure. And so right away, Captain America, Steve Rogers, is our Christ figure. What do I mean by Christ figure? A Christ figure, as far as my short definition goes, stands in for Christ because the character has qualities or does things that are like Christ in one or a combination of ways. Usually it involves a character's sacrifice of themselves, a character's superhuman qualities, or a character's destiny to save others from harm. Steve Rogers hits all these marks. And as he became the Christ figure in my mind, his relationship to Bucky Barnes, revealed to be the Winter Soldier, became symbolic of greater things. So if you're in for a ride, here's how I see it: Steve Rogers is Christ/God, and Bucky Barnes is us, and their realtionship to each other can represent humanity's fall into sin, and Christ's sacrifice in order to bring us back to having a relationship with him.
Steve and Bucky were best friends until Bucky fell off a train in the first Captain America installment and was believed to be dead. After this fall, the real villains of the movie, HYDRA, found him nearly dead and experimented on him turning him into their personal fighting machine and fried his brain to where he can't remember who he used to be. In a confrontation with the infamous Winter Soldier, Steve is shocked to see that it's Bucky and saddened by the fact that his closest friend is now one of his greatest enemies. He knows that it may come down to him needing to kill Bucky and he's not sure that he can do that. He does end up fighting him in order to get the targets off the 7 million people that HYDRA wants to sacrifice for the complete control it desires and he succeeds. In the process though, Steve does something that shakes Bucky to the core. As the Helicarrier is about to crash, Steve tells Bucky that he's not going to fight him, and tells him, as Bucky had told him years earlier, that he's with him 'til the end. Steve's actions stir Bucky so much so that while nothing is clear to him yet, he rescues Steve out of the Potomac River after they crash, and then disappears.
Maybe you can already see where I'm going with this, but to explain, just as Bucky had a close relationship with Steve, our Christ figure, before the fall off the train severed their friendship, humanity's fall into sin separated us from closeness with God, closeness that is seen in Adam's relationship with God in the Garden of Eden before sin entered the picture. And just as Bucky's mind was reprogrammed and corrupted to where he fought against everything he stood for before and forgot who he was, sin corrupts the design God had in mind for us and further separates us from him. Steve longs for Bucky to remember who he is even as Bucky fights against him as the Winter Soldier. Christ desires to have a relationship with us even as we work against him and what he stands for, and don't recognize or acknowledge him. What is it about Christ that surprises people and shows God's love for us? What is it that stirs us? Sacrifice. And it's Steve Rogers's sacrifice of himself, the shocking proposition that in the face of death, he's not going to fight Bucky in honor of their friendship that is unsettling to Bucky in the best way. Why would anyone do such a thing except for love? At the end of the film, Steve tells Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, that he's going after Bucky. He's determined for Bucky to remember who he used to be. To continue the symbolism, Christ not only sacrificed himself for us, he continues to pursue us. He doesn't expect the sacrifice in and of itself to restore the relationship. It opened the doors for the full restoration of the relationship and of ourselves that is to come.
I stayed though the credits figuring that like the other movies, this one would have one last scene. Indeed it did, and it was of a guy with the hood of his black sweatshirt up over his head looking at the Captain America exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum shown earlier in the film. From a new angle, we see that it's Bucky, trying to remember who he is as he puts the pieces of his old life back together. And so I was thinking about what the story arc of the three Captain America movies will be together as there is sure to be a third. We know that Steve is going to look for Bucky and that his sacrifice planted a seed in Bucky's mind that has made him curious about his past. While there are heros and villains, and Steve Rogers's adjustment to modernity, and the whole world in harm's way, the main arc of the story seems to be one that I believe is very much like each of our own stories, the fall and restoration of Bucky Barnes.