What ‘Hercules’ Tells Us About The Flimsy Relationship Between Religious Mythology and Reality

1. This ain’t no one-man show

Hercules isn’t just about Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules character. Surrounding the mythical figure is an entourage of fellow besandaled warriors including the feral Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), super rogue knife-thrower Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), and hack psychic Amphiarus (Ian McShane). It’s one of the happy discoveries of the movie that so many characters get their chance to showcase their talents, when, on the surface, Hercules looks like it’s just a vehicle for The Rock’s biceps. Even more impressively, these aren’t just bit characters tossed in to avoid oversaturating Hercules’ screen time. The group is made up of supporting actors who imbue their characters with enough charm to pass scene-stealing duties around like a hot potato.

 

2. It will distract me if your title credits look like they a Sega Dreamcast cutscene

 

3. It’s spectacular without being “spectacular”

I’m so very reluctant to describe Hercules as “spectacular.” It is, very much a spectacle, with its rich scenery, ambitious battles, and “oh my god, did you see that!?” violence. That being said, “spectacular” also implies a remarkable level of greatness, which is why I am so reserved to use it. On a scale of perfection to toxic waste, Hercules comes in at “pleasant surprise.” “Spectacular” runs the risk of over-selling it and spoiling the fun with heightened expectations.

 

4. Everything you know is a lie / Religion is just a long game of telephone

Much of Hercules is spent discussing whether the character of Hercules is actually the supernatural demigod of legend or simply the base model from which the myth is sculpted. The answer is a bit of both: the stories are shown to be inflated but we also see Hercules perform some pretty awesome feats of strength, including single-handedly pushing over an enormous statue. Possible actual godliness aside, it’s notable how immediately Hercules’ story evolves from the truth.

Part of the reason for the mutation of events is Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Hercules’ tagalong nephew whose contribution to the group’s dynamic is his aptitude for storytelling. Iolaus sees it as his duty to spread the legend of Hercules, whether to strike fear into their enemies or to increase the value of the group on the mercenary job boards. He’s not just spreading these tales for the sake of telling a good story. He’s taking the truth and making sexy changes, molding it to match the dominant religious beliefs of the time, imbuing Hercules’ legend with mystical importance. The legend spreads, with the religious conversation forevermore including Hercules in its doctrine. It’s not hard to see how this manipulation of faith is problematic for religion in the movie’s world world, or the real world for that matter. If one (or four) charismatic hypeman and a reasonable real-life figure to base the story upon is all it takes to to convince the entire world that someone is a demigod, faith becomes little more than an apprenticeship in blindly accepting the unlikely.

Hercules’ posse recognize how polluted legacies become so they opt to just piggy back off of his. In all of the stories, Hercules goes off on his own to fight the Hydra or takes on the Nemean Lion mano-e-leo. In actuality, as evidenced in the closing credits posted above, the whole crew was along for the adventures. The mythical Hercules is actually the collective work of at least five other people but for the sake of building the legend, the others allow their contributions to be historically obliterated. Being remembered by others may be the closest thing to immortality, but Hercules’ entourage knows they won’t be remembered correctly anyway, so they might as well make a ton of money inflating their buddy rather than worrying about creating their own mutant legacies. The group only has one PR guy anyway and he’s already working overtime.


 

Dylan Clark-Moore is a podcast creator and blogger at NetFlakes. You can find him on Letterboxd and Twitter.

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Hercules is also available from Amazon.

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