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

One of the scariest and yet also funniest things thats happened to me in recent times is the utter lack of control I have on the day to day. Its scary in the sense that the thought of an omnipotent power throwing out challenges and reprieves haunts me because I know that its a power I will never understand, reconcile with. Funny 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 me and God with a capital G. I was raised Roman Catholic and at one point in my life the whole religion was my biggest enemy, especially being queer. God was the man of the house and being Catholic really means you have to fit your schedule around him. He dictates your Sundays and your mealtimes and the restrictions of the rules of Catholicism really make a queer kid afraid of what it means to grow up wrong.

Dont think I didnt realise that when I came out to my parents they quietly stopped going to church. Of course im grateful for their support especially when theres so many others who havent received the same, but now that im all grown up it upsets me that it was all or nothing for them.

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. Im no catholic, but.

Beyond all that, and getting darker and edgier, my apologies, I feel haunted by the type of 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 im not in the drivers seat of my own life then who is? I dont understand why certain things happen, or even why I do certain things, so that to me is the spectre of god, lowercase g. Hes a guiding force but in begetting a traditional faith Ive lost the ability to discern what the actual fuck is going on. Hope this helps.

Where I see this most represented in film is in kids movies where an unexplained power seeks to give moral guidance. This sounds stupid 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. A six year old is going to watch and think it would be the coolest thing ever for it to happen to them in real life, so I dont want to quirk that up, but at the same time I cant help but watch them and metaphorically quake in fear.

Heres a recent example- Disneys newest animated fare Encanto. With no restraint on giving away plot details, basically a woman and her husband, as well as their triplets and half a village, run to safety. Her husband sacrifices himself and in doing so a miracle is formed- a magic candle that provides a safe haven (an Encanto) for the refugees, as well as giving the womans triplets a magical gift (a superpower) each.

Through generations, the womans family, her grandchildren, are also each given a gift by the candle that helps their community thrive, until Mirabel, the protagonist of the film 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. The grandmother, the matriarch figure, was caught up in using the miracle to its fullest potential and forgot that it was originally meant to keep her family safe and happy, which they havent been because they have been seen by her only in terms of their gifts. It takes Mirabel, gift-less, for her to see this after the threat of the miracle dying, everyone losing their gift, is made clear.

A great moral, right? Yeah, I think it would be 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 in that it can see that in the future the grandmother will lose the love and faith in her family that was its purpose, because that is presented as the reason Mirabel was not given a gift- so she can remind her grandmother what was truly important.

What scares me is that Mirabel is used by an omnipotent force as a pawn to teach moral lessons, something beyond her understanding that causes her a lot of hardship throughout the films runtime. If I was her, Id be pissed to find that that was my designated role, especially considering the moral being that no one should be reduced to a role. A hypocritical higher power that will just fuck with you for no reason. I think Id be beyond pissed, actually, maybe borderline paranoid, looking for further answers and purpose, especially when everyone gets their gifts returned to them.

And of course the power is pretty much fucking with Mirabel, because if it can see the future of her grandmothers shortcomings, then why did it even give gifts in the first place? Why not just a safe haven to live 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 cant switch off the god-fearing even when watching an animated Disney musical.

I think it would be a tad less existential crisis if the magic/miracle elements were explained in full, but theyre not, leaving anyone to interpret anything out of them. Thats god, babe.

Unexplained Gods are a plot crutch in a lot of kids movies. Theyre 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. Theyre fine for me if explained in canon, but if not, I will always subscribe to an Unexplained God theory, that theres 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 Gods Plan comforting because it gives their life meaning and a purpose, but what if Gods Plan for you is to supplement someone elses life? What if you dont 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 up in service of a greater good, at a detriment to you.

That takes us vaguely into horror territory, but I dont think my dear 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 Lynchs body of work vaguely falls into this canon but because its a stylistic theme (and because I want to write about it in more detail and nuance), I will also omit it.

So heres 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.

The long and short of it is that 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 John Kramers infamous words, 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 (weve all been there), but then theres that suicide montage which has always struck me as the turning point from comedic movie to genuine horror. He 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 who you ask) 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 is doing this? Why is this happening? All good questions, some of which Phil even asks, to no avail. Its kind of somewhat, minutely, maybe 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, knowing that time-loops are possible, mentally I would still be there. 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 February 2nd.

Theres 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, which in any other genre of film would be horrifying, but since its a comedy, this is just a cheeky wink from god.

Every time Phil even gets the slightest feeling of deja vu, hes going to be scrambling to think of what hes done wrong, sent neurotically around town search 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, pardon my expression, kind of an asshole.

Where does this leave me? The way I see it is that the ghost of God leaves just enough room for imagination when things go wrong. I wonder if there is a plan, and if that is part of it. When things go continuously wrong I wonder why that plan is- what my purpose is, and if my life is my own. Theres no real way to escape this problem apart from to, uh, get better.

But getting better provides its own challenges, as ill 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 im 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 little letterboxd list of films I think could fit into an Unexplained Gods canon, which you can find here.