Midnight Mass’ Uncanny Reflection of the Prodigal Son

Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass has become a new staple of classical horror that defies the 80's style of pure gore. From the use of a classical vampire to the promotion of H.P. Lovecraft’s theme of belief made real, Flanagan has created a new masterpiece that follows from his previous shows. Yet, Flanagan not only pursues horror for a good scare, but much of the show also contains the ongoing discussions of religion and its place within society.

The religious overtones are never hinted at in the show. If you have seen it, then you know for certain that this is the case. It is the driving force of the whole story (it’s even in the title!). Christianity, Atheism, Agnosticism, Transcendentalism, and Islam are all contained on the small island of Crockett. Each religion has specific characters associated with their religion (or lackthereof). And for our purposes, it’s the overtones of Christianity. Specifically, the mini story between the sheriff and his son. A man showing love to a prodigal son.

Sheriff Hassan speaking to Joe Collie, the town’s drunk

Sheriff Hassan is a devout Muslim, but he wasn’t raised in that manner; he was converted because of his late wife. His son, Ali Hassan, is a typical teenage boy who’s trying to fit in on the island with the other teenage boys.

The Hassans practice their religious tenets. One night, as the two were finished with Isha (night prayer), Ali asks if he can go visit St. Patrick’s for a mass to see the miracles happening there. This is the beginning of the prodigal son. A young teenager who argues with his dad to take what he wants. Reinforcing this, Ali contemplates being a Muslim. He says it was “never really up to me” claiming “it’s always been up to you [dad].” Ali wants to make his own decisions and forget his dad.

Sheriff Hassan is simply trying to escape the past and create a new and better life for his family. Previously, Hassan struggled with the racial tensions and persecution he faced after 9/11. His decision after this was to leave the big city and join a small island where nothing was occurring. Yet, he still couldn’t fully escape the racial and religious persecutions, whether he heard them or not. And Sheriff Hassan does a good job at what he does, simply creating for him and his son a better place to live.

Ali Hassan preparing for the “miracle” mass.

Though, as much as Sheriff Hasan tries, his son begins to leave him. Ali attends mass regularly with everyone else. It isn’t until Ali’s decision to take part in the “miracle” that he truly abandons his dad. Of course, in that scene, everything goes wild. But the moment that Ali looks his dad in the face and chooses to drink the poison reflects his decision to leave his dad for his own desire.

It takes the whole night for Ali to realize what he has done. The “miracle” led Ali to attack and kill innocent people to drink their blood. After the whole town is confronted with the truth, he fully comes to his senses. And when his dad is shot right in front of him, he leaves behind the way of debauchery. His dad never abandoned him; he embraced him. And it’s when they partake in Fajr (morning prayer) that Ali is fully embraced by his dad. The very person that Ali abandoned, the father and the faith, embraces Ali and lets him pray with him to the end. Both die as the sun begins to rise.

Sheriff Hassan and his son Ali pray as the sun rises.

In the uncanniest way, this mini story reflects the parable of the prodigal son. Like the rest of the show, all the religions are portrayed uncannily. The principle of the love of a father resonates amongst people, even if they are of a different religion. This mini story mirrors the story of the prodigal son within the New Testament of the Bible.

The Sheriff’s son who wants nothing to do with his dad reflects the same son who wanted only his inheritance from his father. In the parable, the prodigal son takes his inheritance and goes to waste all of it on debauchery. In the same sense, Ali wanted what his friends had and abandoned his father to gain the “miracle.” Ali’s inheritance looks like what his father had built up for him on the island: a new life away from persecution.

As the prodigal son, Ali abandons his father in trade for the “miracle.” When Ali drinks the poison and dies, it represents his squandering of his father’s wealth of the island in trade for a cheap trick.

The prodigal son comes to his senses when he comes close to eating pig slop; Ali drank the blood of innocent people, realizing what he had done when his father was shot. Though the prodigal son never actually ate any pig slop, Ali’s indulgence gives more emphasis as to how far down the rabbit hole he went.

Even after betraying his father, the prodigal son was welcomed back by his father. Ali’s father welcomed his son back through both partaking in Fajr. Though his own son went against him, Sheriff Hassan embraced him through their practice of prayer.

The love of a father goes above and beyond for his son. Mike Flanagan communicates this wonderfully through this mini-story. He presents the best and worst of Christians acting in their faith throughout the show. At times, they are the worst. At other times, they are the best. But more importantly, it is outside of the faith that best portrays Christianity. There are some similarities outside the faith that help us to better relate with other religions. Not to our faith’s detriment or abandonment, but to its development and further spreading. I believe this story builds a connecting ground to better interact with other faiths in order for them to see who we really are and let them have a chance at seeing the love of the Father.

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Collyn Dixon

Collyn Dixon

Student at New Orleans Theological Seminary. Philosophy, Theology, Christianity, and Phenomenology.