The seven deadly sins have captured the imagination of generations from the time they first appeared as eight “thoughts” by a fourth century Egyptian monk named Evagrius Ponticus.[1] Since their redaction and codification by Gregory, they have not only been treated theologically, but also artistically by Dante and others. Modern popular media is no exception. The 1995 crime thriller Seven (Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Morgan Freeman) is about a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins, though getting them wrong as is often the case with artistic license in modern media.[2]Hollywood’s most recent treatment of the Seven Deadly Sins can be found in Shazam! (Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou), the 2019 movie hit that cost $100 million but made $366 million in the box office.[3] How does Hollywood portray these “Sins” in Shazam!? Do they get them right?

Plot

In the movie, Shazam is an ancient wizard from another dimension, the last surviving of the Council of Wizards. For centuries, he has been searching for someone who is “pure of heart” upon whom he can cast his powers, making him a “champion” who will contain the destructive power of the “Sins.” The aging wizard wants to appoint this champion before he dies. The Seven Deadly Sins killed the rest of the council of wizards. He was the final wizard, keeping the Sins in check. 

Enter the villain, Thaddeus Sivana, who is tempted by sensuously glowing, blue Eye of Sin, through which the Seven Deadly Sins speak, promising him power if he will unleash them. The Eye of Sin enters Sivana, who then is possessed by it and the Seven Sins.

The wizard turns to 14-year-old foster child Billy Batson as his last hope and chooses him to be the champion. He bestows on him superpowers that Billy must learn how to use if he is to prevail over Sivana and the Seven Deadly Sins. Billy is tempted by greed (at first using his powers to make money), then pride (looking for accolades). He decides he doesn’t need his foster family who don’t seem like a “real” family to him. 

Sivana clearly more powerful, after a series of twists and turns, unleashes the Seven Deadly Sins on a winter carnival. Spoiler alert: The power of the Sins overwhelms Billy who ultimately turns to his family for help. In the end Billy and his siblings prevail over the Seven Deadly Sins and, after luring out Envy, Billy is able to remove the Eye of Sin from Sivana and capture the Seven Deadly Sins, holding them at bay. Billy decides his family is truly his family. 

Does Hollywood Get Wrong Right?

Hollywood often gets the Seven Deadly Sins wrong, but Shazam! gets them right, for the most part. In the movie, the Sins are named Lust, Sloth, Pride, Wrath, Gluttony, Greed and Envy. One of the interesting features of this fantasy is how grotesque the Sins are depicted. They are demonic monster-apparitions from another dimension that exert destructive power in the real world. 

Wrath is depicted as the largest of the monsters. He gets summoned frequently by Sivana.

Pride has fabulous horns and wings. One writer suggested this is because pride goes before the fall.[4]

Gluttony is fat, with a huge mouth which he uses to devour his victims. 

Sloth is the slowest monster. He has tentacles to keep his victims from moving. 

Lust moves animalistically on all fours with his huge insatiable tongue. 

Greed has four arms to grab at whatever he wants. He can take over our lives.

Envy is the smallest monster. He plays a special role. Jealous of the other Sins, he hides and resents them. He must be drawn out for the Sins to be defeated and for the plot to reach its climax. Does not envy fester within us at times?

The “Sins” as Demons

The Sins are portrayed as demonic and destructive, which would be consistent with Evagrius’ thinking. Evagrius understood these thoughts as demonic forces to be resisted, even calling them demons instead of thoughts at some points.[5] This video clip from the movie represents their personified, destructive power in a graphic way.[6]

Pure in Heart

Billy is chosen as a champion because he is “pure in heart.” This calls to mind Evagrius’ comment that with wisdom and purity of heart, one learns to “make out the designs of the enemy.”[7] John Cassian also focuses on purity of heart in Conference 1, drawing upon the Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart.”[8]

Sinful Acts or Sinful Inclinations?

For Evagrius, the eight thoughts that became the Seven Deadly Sins were not sinful acts as much as temptations, or evil thoughts that one must overcome. “It is not in our power to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions.”[9]

Lust could lead one to commit adultery. Certainly Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, speaks of lust as committing adultery in the heart, but it is not a sinful action. It’s a thought that could lead to a sinful act. Likely greed could lead to cheating. Envy can lead to theft. Anger could lead to murder. In Shazam!, the Sins are most often inclinations inside you that can lead to sin. At times they seem to be representing sinful acts. This is understandable, as the Seven Deadly Sins tended to morph into more concrete sinful acts in the Medieval Period. From the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 on, clergy were required to preach on the Seven Deadly Sins once a year, in Lent.[10]

Conquering the “Sins”

One area where there is the most obvious departure from the tradition of Evagrius’ eight thoughts and Gregory’s Seven Deadly Sins is the means to conquering those thoughts. Shazam! is a DC Comics superhero movie. The sins are ultimately defeated by Billy’s superpowers, given to him by the dying wizard. It does, however, require that Billy learn a little humility. He ultimately refocuses his priorities to defeat the Sins.

For Evagrius, the path is much more ascetically focused. These eight thoughts/demons are ultimately defeated by faith practices. Readings, vigils, and prayers keep the mind from wandering into dangerous territory, not magical powers. Hunger, hard work, and solitude extinguish the flames of passion. Singin the Psalms, patience, and generosity calm the destructive powers of anger (“Wrath” in the movie).[11]

Conclusion

Shazam! doesn’t get the Seven Deadly Sins or Evagrius’ eight thoughts exactly right, but who does? It certainly does a better job than Seven, and much of the media’s other hype. Shazam! portrays the utter destructiveness of greed, lust, the other “vices” and especially that insidious demon of envy, what Harmless calls the “alphabet of the human heart.”[12] These thoughts, inclinations, or demons can destroy lives. The Seven Deadly Sins have certainly been recognized by the popular media, which has shown interest in this ancient list for centuries as so many others have noted.[13]


[1] Praktikos 5-14, in Evagrius, John Eudes Bamberger, and Evagrius, The Praktikos ; Chapters on Prayer (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1981), https://archive.org/details/praktikoschapter00evag.

[2] Wikipedia Contributors. 2019. “Seven (1995 Film).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. December 12, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_(1995_film).

[3] “Shazam.” 2021. Wikipedia. August 18, 2021. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shazam.

[4] “Which Deadly Sin Corresponds to Each ‘Sin’ in the Movie Shazam? They All Look so Similar.” n.d. Quora. Accessed March 21, 2022. https://www.quora.com/Which-deadly-sin-corresponds-to-each-sin-in-the-movie-Shazam-They-all-look-so-similar.

[5] Praktikos, 8 in Evagrius, Bamberger, and Evagrius, The Praktikos ; Chapters on Prayer, 17.

[6] “Sivana Industries (Seven Deadly Sins) | Shazam! [4k, HDR].” n.d. http://Www.youtube.com. Accessed March 21, 2022. https://youtu.be/YwJA04-zpvQ.

[7] Praktikos 83 in Evagrius, Bamberger, and Evagrius, The Praktikos ; Chapters on Prayer, 37.

[8] Matthew 5:8

[9] Praktikos, 6 in Evagrius, Bamberger, and Evagrius, The Praktikos ; Chapters on Prayer, 16-17.

[10] Newhauser, Richard, and Pontifical Institute Of Mediaeval Studies. 2005. In the Garden of Evil : The Vices and Culture in the Middle Ages. Toronto: Pontifical Institute Of Mediaeval Studies, 163.

[11] Praktikos, 15 in Evagrius, Bamberger, and Evagrius, The Praktikos ; Chapters on Prayer, 20.

[12] William Harmless, Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 312.

[13] Wilkinson, Alissa. 2019. “The 7 Deadly Sins, Explained by Shazam.” Vox. April 9, 2019. https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/4/9/18281369/seven-deadly-sins-shazam-se7en.