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Symbolic Baptism

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Character is immersed in water, signifying their spiritual rebirth

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
DrSleep on Jul 17th 2017 at 12:11:03 PM
Last Edited By:
DrSleep on Aug 9th 2017 at 8:09:02 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Baptism, either literally or figuratively.

A common sacrament among strains of Christianity is baptism, where a person is either immersed or washed in water as part of their initiation into the Church. The person is thus washed "clean" of their past sins, and is ready to begin a new life as a Christian.

In fiction, "symbolic" baptism can be a sign of Character Development, where swimming or watery immersion marks a major turning point in the characters' life. Most commonly, it marks the point where the character begins to let go of the past, or is initiated into a new phase of their life. Sometimes such scenes are a Near-Death Experience with the character almost drowning, reinforcing the notion of spiritual rebirth.

Sister Trope to Redemption in the Rain.


Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children ends with a heroic character creating a pool of water beyond the grave. This mysterious pool cures Geostigma, a disease born of the villain's hatred, of anyone who steps in the pool.

Comics

  • Book 5 Chapter 0 of Comic Book/Princeless features main character Adrienne and sidekick Bedelia having fun in a lake and swimming around. As they play, Adri talks about her experiences with her hair and how she was insecure about it and how it hindered her. She convinces herself to cut it all off and feels much better about herself and her journey.

Film - Live Action

  • Forrest Gump: Lt. Dan swimming in the ocean after a hurricane almost destroys his and Gump's shrimp boat, where he comes to terms with his PTSD. Forrest believes that's the moment where "he made his peace with God."
  • Gattaca: The protagonist competes routinely with his genetically superior younger brother in swimming races out to the furthest possible point. A pivotal moment in his childhood and resolving to lie about his genetic status comes when he finally wins a race against his brother, proving that he could do anything he set his mind too, genetics be damned. When the stunt is repeated late in life and he once again triumphs, he reveals his secrete to success with his brother He never planned to make the return trip and was determined to swim out as far as he could, return trip be damned. He was counting on his brother calculating for the return trip.
  • The Matrix: When Neo is first unplugged from the Matrix, he wakes up in womb-like a pod filled with a reddish liquid which drains and flushes him into the hands of his allies. This is his first experience in actual reality.
  • Moonlight: Juan taking Chiron into the ocean to teach him how to swim, marking the moment when Chiron learns how to become self-reliant. Director Barry Jenkins even described it as "a baptism"
  • Played for Laughs in O Brother, Where Art Thou? when the escaped convicts Pete and Delmar stumble onto a group baptism in a river and jump at the chance to start over with a clean slate... which mostly means doing exactly what they were before. They're also a bit confused to hear that it doesn't actually do anything for their criminal records.
    Delmar: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
    Everett: Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi's a little more hard-nosed.
  • Spider-Man 3: Cranked Up to Eleven. After freeing himself from the symbiote at the church, Peter takes a long hot shower, marking that he's let go of the symbiote and all the negativity it represented.
  • The Truman Show: Water plays a huge role in the film, marking Truman's conflicting fear of and desire for freedom. It's only by passing through the ocean and storm that he ultimately escapes the show.
  • Pentecostal preacher Sonny Dewey from The Apostle 1997 flees Texas after cracking the head of his wife's lover with a bat. While a fugitive in Louisiana, Dewey takes a new identity as "the Apostle E.F." during a self-baptism in a local river.
  • Gravity ends with Dr. Stone unsteadily walking out of a lake: a literal return to life on Earth after a grueling trial to escape death on a space mission gone wrong.

Literature

  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Theon's uncle Aerion goes from a hedonistic party animal to a grim priest after almost drowning.
  • The Trope Codifier is the baptism of Jesus in The Four Gospels, where the Messiah agrees to be submerged in water not to begin his own rebirth (he was cool with the whole perfect God thing), but to mark the redemption of all of mankind. This ritual would go on to mark the beginning of Christian life for converts mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles and others that appeared in the two millennia afters Acts was written.

Video Games

  • Bioshock Infinite: Zachary Comstock's baptism after partaking in the Wounded Knee Massacre marks his Start of Darkness as he reforms into a radical with murderous zeal. After The Reveal that protagonist Booker DeWitt is Comstock from an alternate universe who wasn't baptized, Elizabeth decides to prevent Comstock from being "born" and drown all possible versions of him at his baptism.
  • In The Stinger of Final Fantasy X Tidus, after fading away during the ending, is more or less literally reborn underwater.
  • Kingdom Hearts I begins with Sora falling deep into the ocean. While the ambiguously underwater setting is mainly a tutorial session, it also marks when Sora is first made aware of his destiny as a Keyblade master.

Western Animation

  • During the fifth season of Samurai Jack, Ashi, as part of her Heelface Turn, jumps into a lake to scrub the black ash covering her body and fashions a new outfit out of weeds.

Feedback: 23 replies

Jul 17th 2017 at 2:21:29 PM

Title makes me think of giving birth in a bathtub. Rename?

Jul 17th 2017 at 2:51:35 PM

Sister Trope to Redemption In The Rain?
Film

  • Played for laughs in O Brother Where Art Thou when the escaped convicts Pete and Delmar stumble onto a group baptism in a river and jump at the chance to start over with a clean slate... which mostly means doing exactly what they were before. They're also a bit confused to hear that it doesn't actually do anything for their criminal records.
    Delmar: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
    Everett: Even if it did put you square with the Lord, the state of Mississippi's a little more hard-nosed.
Webcomics
  • Avas Demon has a nightmarishly literal take on this with Gil: his planet was attacked while he was swimming in the ocean and died when a weapons discharge boiled the water around him. He was brought back to life by forming a pact with the spirit Nevy and became a faithful member of TITAN's Followers, who nursed him back to health.

Jul 17th 2017 at 7:12:34 PM

I also thought this meant babies being born in water. What about Rebirth By Bath?

Jul 17th 2017 at 10:30:45 PM

  • During the fifth season of Samurai Jack, Ashi, as part of her Heelface Turn, jumps into a lake to scrub the black ash covering her body and fashions a new outfit out of weeds.

Jul 18th 2017 at 1:26:45 AM

  • Examples section
    • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
    • Namespaced work names.
    • Italicized work names as per How To Write An Example - Emphasis For Work Names.
    • Added media section titles.
    • Alphabetized media sections.

Jul 18th 2017 at 2:43:50 AM

  • The Matrix: When Neo is first unplugged from the Matrix, he wakes up in womb-like a pod filled with a reddish liquid which drains and flushes him into the hands of his allies. This is his first experience in actual reality.

Does literal baptism apply for this trope?

  • Bioshock Infinite: Zachary Comstock's baptism after partaking in the Wounded Knee Massacre marks his Start Of Darkness as he reforms into a radical with murderous zeal. After The Reveal that protagonist Booker DeWitt is Comstock from an alternate universe who wasn't baptized, Elizabeth decides to prevent Comstock from being "born" and drown all possible versions of him at his baptism.

Jul 18th 2017 at 5:35:35 AM

The spiritual meaning may be communicated better if you just call this Birth By Baptism.

Jul 18th 2017 at 6:55:28 AM

Film/Gattaca: The protagonist competes routinely with his genetically superior younger brother in swimming races out to the furthest possible point. A pivotal moment in his childhood and resolving to lie about his genetic status comes when he finally wins a race against his brother, proving that he could do anything he set his mind too, genetics be damned. When the stunt is repeated late in life and he once again triumphs, he reveals his secrete to success with his brother He never planned to make the return trip and was determined to swim out as far as he could, return trip be damned. He was counting on his brother calculating for the return trip.

Jul 21st 2017 at 11:13:36 AM

Changed the title to "Symbolic Baptism", to be clearer. Also I think it can apply to both literal and figurative baptisms, the meaning is the same.

Jul 21st 2017 at 12:43:25 PM

Would things like the Lazarus Pit count (a small waterpool that can bring people back to life)?

Jul 23rd 2017 at 7:07:10 AM

  • Final Fantasy VII Advent Children ends with a heroic character creating a pool of water beyond the grave. This mysterious pool cures Geostigma, a disease born of the villain's hatred, of anyone who steps in the pool.

Jul 25th 2017 at 10:38:00 AM

@lakingsif: I'm not super familiar with the Lazarus Pit mythos but from what I understand of it, no. The trope is about symbolic rebirth, so just taking a physically rejuvenating bath isn't enough. The bath has to mark a significant change in the character's development as well.

Jul 30th 2017 at 11:22:49 AM

I think there's a missing supertrope here: Symbolic Rebirth. This would be a specific subtrope in which water is used as a medium.

Jul 30th 2017 at 6:47:17 PM

Film

  • Pentecostal preacher Sonny Dewey from The Apostle 1997 flees Texas after cracking the head of his wife's lover with a bat. While a fugitive in Louisiana, Dewey takes a new identity as "the Apostle E.F." during a self-baptism in a local river.

Jul 31st 2017 at 2:41:20 PM

^^ I support this.

  • Book 5 Chapter 0 of Comic Book/Princeless features main character Adrienne and sidekick Bedelia having fun in a lake and swimming around. As they play, Adri talks about her experiences with her hair and how she was insecure about it and how it hindered her. She convinces herself to cut it all off and feels much better about herself and her journey.

(You can decide whether this counts, I'm not %100 sure)

Aug 4th 2017 at 11:41:29 AM

@Generality: I second the notion of a Symbolic Rebirth supertrope

Aug 4th 2017 at 2:44:07 PM

  • The Trope Codifier is the baptism of Jesus in The Four Gospels, where the Messiah agrees to be submerged in water not to begin his own rebirth (he was cool with the whole perfect God thing), but to mark the redemption of all of mankind. This ritual would go on to mark the beginning of Christian life for converts mentioned in the Acts Of The Apostles and others that appeared in the two millennia afters Acts was written.

Aug 4th 2017 at 7:09:51 PM

  • Gravity ends with Dr. Stone unsteadily walking out of a lake: a literal return to life on Earth after a grueling trial to escape death on a space mission gone wrong.

Aug 4th 2017 at 8:56:42 PM

Why not use examples of baptisms as well; I'm sure there's a few in Christian films.

Aug 8th 2017 at 11:08:08 AM

@Skid Troper: This trope is meant to apply to both literal and metaphorical baptisms. Off the top of my head there's the baptism in Sling Blade, which I can add

Aug 9th 2017 at 8:11:51 AM

Film

  • Auteur director Ed Wood agrees to be baptized by the Pentecostal ministers that are funding Wood's latest project, believing that he's making a Christian persuasion film for them. When the ministers further stipulate that Wood's small retinue, namely the cast, cameraman, sound man, set dresser, et cetera, be baptized, Wood cajoles them into a mass baptism. Wood's associates get dunked, and Wood gets funding for Plan 9 From Outer Space. Hallelujah!

Aug 9th 2017 at 2:39:29 AM

iirc Ed is just doing it to make his movie, he doesn't care about their religion and it doesn't really change him or any of the others

Aug 9th 2017 at 8:09:02 AM

Ah, then that would make the Film.Ed Wood example an Aversion: the main character gets a proper baptism, but it's insincere and feckless.

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