The film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) is set in the 28th Century. The International Space Station (ISS) has grown into a space travelling city called Alpha where species from different planets live together exchanging their knowledge and culture. Peace is guaranteed by a special police force, that employs Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne).
In one of the key scenes in the film, Valerian and Laureline are at Alpha. An alien race, called the Pearls, have abducted Commander Arun Filitt in order to retrieve a valuable instrument they call “the converter”. As they face off with the Pearls we discover that the Pearls are a victim of genocife inflicted by the human federation.
The Pearls' leader, Emperor Haban Limaï, explains that they lived peacefully on Mül until a battle occurred between the Federation and another faction. Commander Filitt attacked the enemy mothership knowing that it would crash on Mül and annihilate life on the planet. The Pearls managed to survive the attack using one of the downed spacecrafts. They eventually came to Alpha, where they assimilated more knowledge and built a ship of their own. They needed the converter and pearl in order to launch their ship and find a planet to recreate their homeworld.
Commander Filitt admits his role in the genocide, but argues it was necessary to end the war—as was the coverup, to prevent humans from losing their credibility and influence in Alpha. Valerian and Laureline disagree, arguing that the commander is trying to avoid the consequences of his actions. When Filitt becomes belligerent, Valerian knocks him out. Then to our surprise Valerian refuses to handover the converter to the Pearls. That’s when we have following exchange between Valerian and Laureline:
Valerian: That convertor is government property. And most likely the last one left in the universe.
Laureline: So you buy into the Commander's "what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine philosophy"?
Valerian: No, I buy into my Oath of Allegiance. We have no authority to hand it over.
Laureline: We must make amends.
Valerian: Yeah, I agree, but it's not for us to decide. Leave it to the courts.
Laureline: They're 18 million years away, Valerian! Only we can make this right.
Valerian: Laureline, I'm a soldier. I play by the rules. It's what makes me who I am.
Laureline: You see? That's why I don't wanna marry you. Because you don't know what love is.
Valerian: Oh, come on, this has nothing to do with love.
Laureline: That's where you're wrong. Love is more powerful than anything else, Valerian. It breaks all rules, all laws, and overpowers any army or government. Just look at her. For one second, put yourself in her position. She lost all of her people and her child, and she's willing to forgive. That's real love. It's the trust you place in someone else. I thought I could be that someone else for you. But clearly...
Valerian: You can! You are. I'd die for you.
Laureline: I'm not asking you to die for me. I'm asking you to trust me.
The exchange between Valerian and Laureline is trying to answer a very important question: what does true love look like in practice? The answer the film gives us, through Laureline, is that love follows the heart. It attaches itself to something, and then lives for that thing without any respect for moral constraints. It breaks all the rules. The love of Laureline is what is called “love is love”. It is about doing what you want as long as your heart agrees with it.
Now there is some truth that if we are going to truly love others it must involve our hearts. That is to say both head and our affections must agree . There are some people who think love is simply doing positive stuff to people. That it is merely a mental decision we take to do good to others. People even claim that we don't have to “like” people to “love” them. We just make a "decision" to love them and then do stuff that treats them consistent with our decision to love. They seem to suggest that we can “love” others through gritted teeth.
The truth is that deep down we all know that it does no good at all to “love” people without liking them. If my wife told me that I love you but I don't like you, I would be deeply hurt. If we told people that we can't stand them but love them they would not accept it. Such a position in fact demeans them as creatures and therefore not love at all. Such a love is pure hypocrisy. We are supposed to love without hypocrisy. This means having real affection for others. To love them from the heart. So seen from that vantage point Laurenline is right that love involves the heart being deep affected by the other.
The problem is that Laureline’s love suffers from two issues. First, it seems to be heart only, and without any reference to what is right and wrong. She says “love breaks all the rules”. It does not take long to see that this is in fact not love at all. It is love for “self”. It is living in a way that panders to ourselves rather than sacrificing ourselves for others. Laureline’s love is the so-called “love is love” variety, which basically says, I can love whoever I want and how I want. I don’t need to follow any rules or respect God’s moral standards. It is love without boundaries. It is no surprise that this is a big moral theme of the film. The Pearls seem to be a unisex race, where you cannot figure out who is a man or woman. And yet they free “identify” as they please.
The other problem with Laureline’s idea of love is that it seems to be love for those who deserve it. Laureline makes this point when she says, ‘For one second, put yourself in her position. She lost all of her people and her child, and she's willing to forgive. That's real love. It's the trust you place in someone else’.
The Bible in 1 John 3:16-18 says if we want to know what true love looks like, there is only one place we need to look. At the cross of Christ: By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
When a child is learning how to draw, they often use a stencil or template to help them trace on a piece of paper, the image they want to draw. The Bible is saying that the death of our Lord Jesus on the Cross is our stencil that helps us to draw true love on the human pages of our lives. When we look at God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, hanging there on the Cross, bleeding and dying, what do we learn about His love for us?
First, we see that true love is practical. Christ is not just talking about His love for us. Here is God the Son wearing the rags of our human flesh. He has cried our tears in Gethsemane. He has been judged by sinners, spat on, mocked and flogged. He has walked with open wounds to Golgotha. Here is God the Son, nailed to the Cross of wood in weakness and shame. He is on the cross to suffer the wrath and punishment from God for our sin. True love for one another is like that of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is giving ourselves in body, mind, and soul.
Secondly, death of Christ teaches us that true love is sacrificial. Christ on the cross literally gave up His lifeblood for us. True love is self-crucifixion for the other person. Love calls us to die to self by putting the other person first. It calls us to humble ourselves. To becoming nothing before each other in order to serve them. True love embraces death of self in loving service to another. The world does not agree with these words. But there is only one answer to the world and its folly: “By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers”. The sacrifice of Christ is our stencil of love!
Finally, in the death of Christ we see that true love is one-way. Christ, God the Son died for us, rebellious, ungodly, sinful creatures! We deserve only Hell from God. We had nothing to attract Christ to our love. But Christ is so full of love and tenderness. He willingly died for us. As the hymn writer says:
He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered, and died alone.
This is one-way love. Whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us! The one-way love of Christ is love for those those who don’t deserve it. Worldly love seeks out love for those we can trust. True love that comes from God is love for the other person no matter how much you are sinned against. This true one-way love is patient and kind. It is not rude. It is not bent-in on itself. It doesn’t keep record of wrongs. It does not sulk! It is not manipulative! It is always bearing others up. It is always looking for a window to serve.
Now this love is humanly impossible! And that is is the point. We cannot love one another like Christ by our power. And God has never asked us to rely on ourselves to love. True love is not a human thing. It is love that comes down from Heaven to us in the person of Christ. God has loved us in Christ, and it is through His love for us displayed on that Cross that we receive a new heart filled this the powerful love of Christ. A love that can truly love others.
In other words, the key to loving others is to receive a new heart from God. A person who does not have a new heart from God cannot truly love others. To love others we first need to be born of God. Now, to some of you reading, it sounds offensive. You are not yet a follower of
Christ and you are wondering: are you really saying I don’t have any love?
I am saying that if you are not a true follower of Christ you cannot love with the true and pure love that only comes from God. Just as you can’t expect apples to produce oranges, you cannot expect a person not born of God to show the true love that only comes from God. If you are not a true Christian, your love is a shadow of true love. It is a lifeless copy of the real thing.
For you to truly love you must first be born of God. You need to acknowledge your sin and ask God to forgive your sins based on the death of Christ on the cross for you. You must surrender yourself to Him. If you do that God will forgive your sin and give you a brand new heart. He will then pour His true love in it, which will enable you to truly love others.
If are already a follower of Christ, you need to grow in love by keeping the heart focused on what God has already done for you through the Cross of Christ. Keep your focus on the love of God by studying the Cross. Sit under cross centred preaching. Keep praying the cross and take part in the Lord Supper. Commit to spend time learning and re-learning the the wonders of the cross. Do your life at the foot of the Cross.
As you do that, your love for others grow by increasingly taking the shape of the Cross. It become practical, sacrificial and one-way like the love of Christ. It grows into True Love.