Unexplained Gods ('Encanto' (2021) dir. Byron Howard, Jared Bush) ('Groundhog Day' (1993) dir. Harold Ramis)

One of the scariest things that's happened to me in recent times, yet also something I often find a lot of dry humour in, is the utter lack of percieved self-control I have on the day to day. The though of an omnipotent power throwing out challenges and reprieves haunts me because I know that it's a power I will never understand or reconcile with. Funny, however, in an incredulous way- in the sense that whenever anything goes wrong I can blame 'God' and his sick little sense of humour.

A quick bit of background on my relationship with capital G, God. I was raised Roman Catholic and at one point in my life the whole religion was my biggest enemy. God was the man of the house and being Catholic really means you have to curate your schedule around him. He dictates your Sundays and your mealtimes. Maybe most importantly, the dominant presence of the rules of rules Catholicism really make a queer kid afraid of what it means to grow up wrong.

Don't think I didn't realise that when I came out to my parents they quietly stopped going to church. Of course I'm grateful for their support, especially when there's so many others who havent received the same.As I said, the religion was my enemy- Me vs God. And though my parents chose me (thank you Mum and Dad), they huffed around their now empty sundays, gave me the little glances at mealtimes. I had obstructed their very way of life but they had no choice but to choose me. But now that I'm all grown up, it upsets me that it was all or nothing for them.

Anyway, after that, God just became god to me- I tell friends that ideologically I dont agree with Catholicism, but the art and history and certain ideas about faith run through me to this day. Basically: 'I'm no catholic, but...'

Beyond all that, and getting darker and edgier (sorry Mum and Dad), I feel haunted by the spectre of the controlling God that I left behind. My day-to-day is filled with the presence of god because I have no sense of autonomy. If I'm not in the driver's seat of my own life, then who is? I don't understand why certain things happen, or even why I do certain things- that to me is the afterimage of god, lowercase g. A guiding force, but with the absence of a traditional faith, the ability to discern what the guidance might mean is lost. Hope this helps.

Where I see this most represented in film is, suprisingly enough, in kids movies- unexplained powers seeking to give moral guidance.This sounds stupid, especially because I hate the type of adults and teens that read disturbing takes out of what is meant to be a magic-type chosen-one animated movie for, well, six year olds. It's not to say that children's entertainment cant touch on darker or contoversial issues, tell nuanced stories, but most often, those layered stories aren't the ones being warped by a dark-ironic-humour type adult. A child would not notice what you have corrupted this film with. You are not the target audience. A six year old is going to watch and think it would be the coolest thing ever to gain magic powers, or take an adventure, and I have no wish to say that they shouldn't. At the same time, I cant help but watch them and draw parallels between them and my own ordeals.

Here's a recent example: Disney's newest animated fare, 'Encanto'. With no restraint on giving away plot details, a couple, Pedro and Alma Madrigal, flee soldiers with their infant triplets and the rest of their townspeople. They are caught, and Pedro sacrifices himself; in doing so, a miracle is formed and left behind for his wife, children, and friends- a magic candle that provides a safe haven (an Encanto) for the refugees, as well as giving the triplets a magical gift (a superpower) each.

Through generations, Alma's family are also each given a gift by the candle that helps their community thrive. The raison d'etre being Mirabel, Alma's granddaughter, until Mirabel, the protagonist of the film and the only one who does not receive a gift.

By the end of the film, the moral lesson is that each member of the family is special beyond the parameters of their gift, including Mirabel- she is not useless for not receiving one. No one has a defined purpose. Alma, the matriarchal figure, was caught up in using the miracle to it's fullest potential, and lost sight of it's original purpose to keep her family safe and happy. Though her family have been safe, they have been unhappily battling with their expected potentials to live up to their gifts. It takes Mirabel, gift-less, for Alma to see this after the threat of the miracle dying, everyone losing their gift, is made clear.

The moral of the story would hold more water, in my opinion, if not for the fact that everyone gets their gifts returned to them at the end of the film, apart from Mirabel, who never had one to begin with. Obviously, this is a more satisfying ending for children than the magic dying and the protagonistic family becoming normal people, but I think the part of this that scares me is that the magic is never fully explained.

Whatever force that gives the miracle and seemingly takes it away at will is omnipotent; it can see the future possibility that Alma will lose the love and faith in her family that was it's purpose, because that is presented as the reason Mirabel was not given a gift. Mirabel's purpose, as designated by this miracle-giving power, is to remind her grandmother what was truly important.

What scares me is that Mirabel is used by an omnipotent force as a pawn in this moral lesson, the candle, the magic, all of it beyond her understanding and control. If I was her, I'd be pissed to find that that was my 'role' was necessary, in teaching the heart-warming lesson that no one should be reduced to a role. A hypocritical higher power that will use you for a greater purpose. I think I'd be beyond pissed, actually, maybe borderline paranoid, looking for further answers and purpose, especially when everyone gets their gifts returned to them.

Mirabel seems genuienly to be being toyed with, because if the power can see the future of her grandmother's shortcomings, then why did it even give gifts in the first place? Why not just a safe haven to live in, and leave it at that? Why give them back to perpetuate the same system? Who knows. Well, no one. And that scares me, because I seemingly can't switch off the god-fearing even when watching an animated Disney musical.

I think it would be a tad less catalystic for an existential crisis if the magic/miracle elements were explained in full, but theyre not, leaving anyone to interpret anything out of them. That's a lot like god, babe.

Unexplained Gods are a plot crutch in a lot of kids movies. They're the magical prophecies that designate one child a chosen one with a predetermined fate, they are destiny and the appearance of magical powers without explanation. They're fine for me if explained in canon, but if not, I will always subscribe to an Unexplained God theory, that there's a force beyond understanding, with absolute understanding, in the story-universe that controls the lives of the characters. Sometimes its almost fourth-wall breaking; these characters NEED to learn a moral lesson and by hell or high water we will get them there (says the god and/or the writers room).

Some people find the idea of God's Plan comforting because it gives their life meaning and a purpose, but what if God's Plan for you is to supplement someone else's life? What if you don't like Gods Plan for you? What if you cant escape it? Your life is not your own.

Graduating from your life being used in the service of others, to your life being warped in service of a greater good, at a detriment to you.

That takes us vaguely into horror territory, but I dont think my Unexplained Gods canon extends to films that can be explained via the supernatural- there has to be no explanation for whatever weird event or predetermination happens. David Lynch's body of work vaguely falls into this canon but because it's a stylistic theme (and because I want to write about it in more detail and nuance), I will also omit it.

So here's another more fully fledged example- screwball situational comedies that turn dickhead male protagonists into respectable gents. This next segment is brought to you by 1993s 'Groundhog Day', a movie which I love but now am somewhat scared by.

In short, misogynistic and self-centred weatherman Phil gets caught in a time-loop where he wakes up everyday reliving February 2nd in Punxsutawney, where he has been sent to cover the Groundhog Day ceremony. He can only escape the loop and advance to February 3rd when he, in the infamous words of the Jigsaw Killer John Kramer, learns to appreciate life (and also becomes a better person).

At first he abuses time loop mechanics to pick up women and rob banks, commit crimes and stuff (we've all been there), but then there's that suicide montage which has always struck me as the turning point from comedic movie to genuine horror. After trying every possible way to off himself, Phil eventually uses every repeated day to better himself and the lives of those closest to him, at which point he escapes, but only after spending (depending on different sources) either 10, 33, or 10,000 years in there.

Of course, Phil does become a better person in the story, but Jesus, at what cost? Time-loop movies are a sub-genre in and of themselves now, and most, like Groudhog Day, omit a reason for the loop other than 'this person sucks'. Who, or what, is doing this? Why is this happening? All good questions, some of which Phil even asks, but unfortunately to no avail. It's somwehat (minorly) implied that a hotel bartender is in control of, or at least knows about, the loop in Groundhog Day, but he never interacts directly with Phil, so I still chalk this one up to an omniscient unexplained force.

To me, the fear-factor from this comes in the idea that even after escaping the time-loop, I now know that time-loops are possible. Therefore, I could never rule out the possibility that I would never get stuck in another time-loop, or even back in February 2nd. The thought that I could wake up at any moment back where I started would never leave my mind, even years after, and for that reason, I would forever be stuck, while not physically, in my own personal purgatory of February 2nd.

There's also the idea that Phil has aged 10/33/10,000 years mentally, but not physically, retaining the memories of everything that happened, including all of his suicide attempts. In any other genre of film, this would be horrifying, but since it's a comedy, this is just a cheeky wink from god.

Every time Phil even gets the slightest feeling of deja vu, he's going to be scrambling to think of what he's done wrong, sent neurotically around town searching for children falling out of trees to catch and homeless men to resuscitate, and all because he was singled out by some cosmic force as, ok, kind of an asshole.

Where does this leave me? The way I see it, the ghost of God leaves just enough room for imagination when things go wrong. I wonder if there is a plan, and if the wrong is part of it. When things go continuously wrong I wonder why that specific plan is the one in effect. I wonder what my purpose is, and if my life is my own. There's no real answer, and as I give up in thinking about it, I'll start to wonder if my purpose has passed me by. What now? Would I be happy being happy, or would I crave darker times because at least they gave my life some semblance of meaning, to be a plan in progress.

They key is to believe that I am in control of my own life, which will take a while, and I'm currently left wondering if another Disney movie or Harold Ramis comedy may hold the answer.

Anyway, this little corner of bad writing and loose lore is probably not scary to anyone else, but I have compiled a handy Letterboxd list of films I think could fit into an Unexplained Gods canon, which you can find here.