False Messiahs, Birthright, and ANASTASIA (1997)
NOTE: Originally published in The Princess Gospels (2018). Photos added.
“I don't have time to play, I'm waiting for a sign!”
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Producers: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Directors: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Writers: Susan Gauthier, Bruce Graham, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White, and Carrie Fisher
Runtime: 94 minutes
Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-16
To be perfectly honest, I'd never seen today's film until writing The Princess Gospels. Mostly, it was because I was 16 when it came out, so my interest level wasn't too high, but also because (much like Pocahontas), I was uncomfortable with this animated, fantasy interpretation of real events. In the film, Rasputin is an evil wizard who curses the Romanov family of Imperial Russia. The Grand Duchess, Anastasia, is lost in the shuffle and loses her memory. After growing up in an orphanage under the name Anya, she looks for a man named Dimitri whom she has heard can get her passage to Paris, where she hopes to discover the truth about herself and her past.
Dimitri has been auditioning local actresses for the role of Anastasia – not for a play but for the biggest con of his life: convincing the Dowager Empress Marie that he has found the duchess so that he can claim the hefty reward of 10 million rubles for finding her. Complicating matters is the fact that Marie is so worn out over imposters trying to get the reward that she no longer wishes to see anyone who purports to be her long-lost granddaughter.
Jesus had to deal with a similar issue. Dozens of so-called 'messiahs' had popped up over time, each claiming to be the foretold King of the Jews. Some were con artists, others were insane. To naysayers, Jesus was just another mad man or charlatan, but what distinguished Him from other 'applicants' was His ability to fulfill prophecy. For example, being born in Bethlehem to a virgin of the House of David. That's just to name three prophecies; depending on how you count, there are anywhere from 44 to 300 prophecies in the Old Testament predicting the messiah, and Jesus fulfills each and every one.1 In the movie, Anya proves she is Anastasia, not by her knowledge of family lineage or royal decorum but by her personal relationship with the Dowager Empress. Likewise, a particularly cunning conman might be able to concoct a few 'miracles' to trick a crowd, and a crazy person might stumble through a few items on a checklist by chance, but only the one, true messiah could fulfill it all.
In his magnum opus, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”2 Tragically, just like many false messiahs came forward before Jesus, many false Jesuses have proceeded Him. Throughout history, cult leaders have risen to power by claiming to be Christ; others don't claim to be Jesus Himself but are false prophets just the same. One of those men was Rasputin.
Grigori Rasputin was already dead by the time of the events of this film. In the movie, the fall of the Romanovs is due to a curse he put on the family, but in real life they were killed as part of a coup by the Bolsheviks, which gave rise to the Soviet Union. Rasputin was a mystic brought in by the Tsar to cure his son of hemophilia, but he was crooked and used his favor with the royals as a pathway to high society, and was assassinated when his deceptions were exposed.
A lot of self-professed 'holy men' exploit the fear and vulnerability of the faithful, and use ministry as a means to gain power. Just as Jesus fulfilled prophecy to prove He was the messiah, we must test leaders and teachers to see if they are truly God-sent (1 John 4:1-3). Do they believe in a risen Christ? Do their teachings line up with scripture? Frauds can dazzle you with stirring speeches, but a true teacher inspires you to want to dig into the Word yourself. We also need to be prepared to account for ourselves, like Anastasia.
1 Peter 3:15-16 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.” The world is filled with phony people who hide behind religion. It's the difference between knowing the right things to say and actually being who you say you are. In doing so, we might even help others realize that they are long-lost members of our royal family, too.
- How comfortable are you talking about your faith?
- Do you have experience with false teachers? If so, what?
If you enjoyed this examination of Anastasia, you might like my book, The Princess Gospels, a devotional of spiritual lessons we can learn from 24 of the best princess movies ever made. Get your copy here.
A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.