Religion can be a beautiful thing.
It can also be very dangerous.
In The Student, we see how someone can misuse religion in destructive ways. It may be all the harder for some of us to watch because it is Christianity that is made into something ugly.
Venya, a Russian high school student, refuses to take part in a mixed swimming class. He tells his mother it is against his religion. His mother scoffs, but Venya has taken up his own form of Christianity—a very severe reading of scriptures which leads him to become very judgmental towards everyone else. He is becoming more and more disruptive at school. It is not limited to swimming, but also to science courses. His mother wants the school to straighten him out. The principal tries to mediate and compromise (although Venya is uncompromising). A teacher tries to take him on directly, challenging his take on Christianity. Venya even rejects ideas from the priest because he sees the church as hypocritical because of its wealth.
Venya befriends another outsider, not because of an affinity, but because the boy is crippled and fits into a scripture that Venya has read. The other boy has a bit of a crush on Venya and goes along. They plot the demise of the teacher that has tried to out argue Venya.
On the one hand, we can look at Venya and understand that his faith is an aberration. He seems to be self-taught concerning the scriptures. He reads them constantly, but seems to cherry pick the texts he pays attention to. He never seems to understand an overall message to be found in the scriptures. He never sees the love and compassion of God being revealed. But although many of us may see this as a wrong understanding of Christianity, it is by no means an unknown approach. Just as we may be appalled by some fundamentalist views of Islam that lead to terrorism, there are many of the same kinds of views within Christianity that can lead to the kind of behavior that Venya exhibits (which is really its own form of terrorism). Venya uses the Bible and Christianity as a weapon against everyone around him.
Viewers are free to consider the psychological issues at play in Venya that have led him to this point. To be sure, there is an issue for him in how to deal with his awakening sexuality, which is a key part in his refusal to take part in the swimming class. His religion serves as a shield that keeps away the feelings that he is unsure how to deal with. Still, the way he manifests his fears creates suffering in others. His religion is not about reaching out to others but rather he seeks to keep everyone at arm’s length, lest they bring to the surface that which he is burying.
Non-Christians watching this film might well find confirmation of all the things they find wrong with religion. Here is an example of how easy it is for Christianity be go overboard. For Christians, however, there is a challenge to understand how close we may all be to such excesses and to better understand how we need to better portray the side of Christianity that brings light rather than darkness.
Photos courtesy of Under the Milky Way