The Landlord in Knock Knock is holding onto false hope-this false hope tells him that if he just sacrifices six people every 20 or so years, then Eliza-the person he loves-will never die. He transfers this false hope to her and he disguises the false hope in lies. For 70 years he told Eliza that she was his daughter and that she had to trust him. He knew what was best-he stated that the lives lost-were necessary. In one striking scene, the Landlord stops the record that had been playing on loop-the record that was keeping Bill’s housemate Pavel trapped- he not yet part of the house but also not fully human. He claims:
But I would argue that hope itself isn’t a distraction or cruel-but false hope is the type of cruel hope that the Landlord describes. This is a hope based on lies and it leaves destruction in its wake. It can be difficult to separate false hope from true hope. Is it false hope to believe that, for example, you and your family might be spared in a war zone? It is false hope to believe that your friend, who is desperately sick may survive a life-threatening cancer? Does hope need to have a strong possibility of succeeding in order to be “real?” If so, then what is the point of hope? I don’t think there is a neat and tidy answer to that. Hope tends to verge on the impossible. But for me one of the key markers of false hope is the devastation it leaves in its wake and the belief that preserving this hope is all that matters-even at the cost of other lives.
DOCTOR: What do you remember of the past, Eliza?
ELIZA: My father, he knows what’s best.
DOCTOR: Yes, the lice preserve the appearance and the voice, but not so much the memories. He’s not your father, am I right?
LANDLORD: No! Stop talking!
If you are Christian, regardless of where you fall on the conservative-progressive spectrum, hope plays a central role in your theology. Especially important is the hope that God stands with you and others who are suffering and that all the pain and suffering in this world does not have the last say. God’s love is bigger than all the destruction and suffering in this world. How Christians express this hope can differ depending on whether one identifies as fundamentalist, conservative, progressive, Evangelical, Protestant, Catholic etc. But hope itself is a key part of Christianity. Unfortunately, the hope that Christianity presents-particularly to those who are marginalized has become warped over the centuries. This hope which pushes back against oppressive societal and religious structures, which attempts to destroy the inequalities between the haves or the have nots, has been co-opted by those in power to create anguish and distress. The hope of a God that cares for all and stands against injustice has instead become a hope where violence is king, where the “other” aka anyone who is different from you gets thrown into hellfire, and where the rich are seemingly much more important than the poor. Jesus-the one who eschewed most earthly forms of power and prestige is instead transformed into a modern-day Herod or Tiberius Caesar. The heart of Christianity is transformed from a focus on a radical, redemptive God, to a power-hungry God, bent on protecting the status quo. Some Christians seek to hide the gospel in a bunch of bullshit lies and when someone dares to counter their lies-they become angry and desperate, like the landlord in Knock Knock they demand silence.
ELIZA: Father, what’s the matter? I don’t understand.
DOCTOR: Your father would have had better things to do than playing with insects in the garden. But he isn’t your father. When you were ill, he was sent out of the house by the doctors who are failing to save his mother!
ELIZA: His mother?
DOCTOR: Eliza, he’s your son. Your loving son.
ELIZA: My son?
LANDLORD: (crying) Forgive me. Forgive me
The lies that the Landlord told Eliza came crumbling down within one night. The life that he had managed to build over 70 years disintegrated because Bill and the Doctor were able to recognize the truth and speak it. The Doctor tears apart the lies and false hope that the Landlord used to keep his mother, Eliza alive. The amazing thing is that even after the truth has been brought to light, the Landlord continues to pine for the lies and false hope. He rejects the possibility of a new life and instead wants to hold on desperately to the normal life that ended when he was a kid.
Over the centuries Christianity has become the servant imperial power. Even with the end of “classical” colonialism Christianity is used to justify wars that kill hundreds of thousands of people, that force the poor to struggle to survive, and that okays horrific abuse-if done in the name of Christ. And the crazy thing is that so many Christians prefer this false and warped Christianity. This form of Christianity pretends to offer freedom but in reality, it traps people in their own selfishness and it punishes those unlucky enough to have dark skin or to be on the receiving end of western bombs. This form of Christianity says death-particularly the physical death of the “other” is a necessity. And while I think some Christians know that this Christianity is false and yet they choose to hold onto it anyway, many others genuinely believe the lies they have been told. So when others present a different version-one that calls out blind nationalism and militarism, one that claims that Christ is not synonymous with state power-they become angry.
LANDLORD: Eliza, finish them now. Take them, or you’ll die! They’ll destroy you!
DOCTOR: What’s the point in surviving if you never see anyone, if you hide yourself away from the world? When did you last open the shutters?
The false hope this form of Christianity espouses is one that results in the division of humanity based on shallow differences and it breeds contempt, violence, and hatred. What is the point in believing in a God that is just as bad or worse, then some of humanity’s worse dictators? What is the point in believing in a God that has no qualms about “blessing” some individuals, while allowing others to die horrific deaths or experience intense suffering? But letting go of this god can be difficult. It can be scary to open up the window and see that there is something different out there. Likewise, it can be scary to let go of a hope we have held onto for so long that it becomes a core part of our identity. Even if we find out that this hope was nothing but a bunch of lies. This form of Christianity-based on imperialism, power, greed, and violence will never completely vanish. Humans will always choose to hold onto lies that provide them short term benefit but that are harmful and that ultimately result in the destruction of themselves and others. But there is a different way of seeing the world. There is a different way of viewing God and faith. The God I turn to is one who loves all-but stands with the marginalized. This God isn’t obsessed with nationalism or military might. There is no set script-some forms of Christianity say-if you believe this, pray this, or do this-then life will be good. But that’s not how life works.
Knock Knock ends with all of Bill’s housemates surviving-but of course the ones who had become part of the house decades ago-were lost. That’s the danger of false hope-once you refuse to hold onto it, you can move forward, but it can be difficult to repair the damage that has already been done. But in letting go of the lies-you just might help bring about a better future. At least, that’s my hope.