Personal Jesuses

Well, we managed to get through the whole of Easter without anyone shouting ‘No one fucks with the Jesus!’, but it’s Tuesday now. It’s all over. Wipe the chocolate off your face and point your eyes at this selection of idiosyncratic messiahs.

Aslan (The Chronicles of Narnia)
by Emma Street

Aslan isn't just Jesus. He is the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and big freaking Lion.

There have been three recent Narnia films: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008) and Voyage of The Dawn Treader (2010) leaving four remaining Narnia books to be filmed.  We’ve not yet seen Liam Neeson-voice CGI Aslan creating Narnia from scratch and appointing Adam and Eve as he does in The Magician’s Nephew. The final book, “The Last Battle” ends with Aslan basically saying “I am totally Jesus! And this is heaven! Lol!”

In the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, Aslan sacrifices himself so that Edmund will not be killed according to the rules of Deep Magic. Luckily it turns out there’s an even deeper magic which ensures that although Aslan dies horribly, he’s right as rain later on. Due to the sacrifice being for Love, forgiveness and traumatising children.

Aslan generally shows his godliness by being ineffable. Why has he been absent from Narnia for so long? Why is he back now? Why are puny human children being roped into battles? Why doesn’t he ever tell them what’s going on or give them a straight answer?

At the end of Dawn Treader, Edmund asks Aslan if he is also in our world. “I am. But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason you why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

Leaving aside the question of why no-one else gets this special treatment, I wonder how well this worked out for the Pevensie children.

Did they sit in church on Sundays relishing their closer connection with the almighty? Or were they thinking “You know compared to the massive magical talking lion who let us ride on his back and encouraged us to attack people with weapons, this Jesus is a bit rubbish.”

The Second Coming
by Spank The Monkey

Ooh, look, it's Doctor Who! Hello, Doctor Who!

When writer Russell T Davies and actor Christopher Eccleston invented Doctor Who back in 2005, the show seemed to have come fully-formed out of nowhere. Of course, that wasn’t true: they’d made this unofficial pilot for ITV two years earlier. Here, The Doctor’s called Steve Baxter, an apparently ordinary Mancunian who suddenly realises the extent of his powers. He assembles a small band of companions to save the Earth, not realising that otherworldly beings with weird contact lenses are plotting against him. As usual.

Over five years of showrunning Doctor Who, Davies proved that he could never resist the lure of a good Christ allegory. But The Second Coming has to deal with its characters knowing they’re in a Christ allegory, while at the same time not being so self-aware as to spot that one of Steve’s closest allies is called Judith. And although Eccleston’s trademark intensity allows us to see why people stick around once they’ve found him, it never really explains what draws them to him in the first place.

Still, it’s fun to spot the clichés that would subsequently cross over to Who. Steve’s belief that people are amazing: The Gays making a token appearance: Davies’ striving for global significance through the use of badly-faked foreign newscasts. But, thankfully, he avoids the traditional bombast of a Who finale, climaxing with two people sitting at a table quietly discussing one of the most radical ideas ever broadcast on primetime ITV. The regeneration’s a bit of a cop-out, though.

Jesus Quintana (The Big Lebowski)
by theTramp

“You said it man. Nobody fucks with the Jesus”

We meet Jesus at the bowling rink. To the guitar plucking of the Gypsy Kings he pulls up his lilac sock from his lilac bowling shoe, pulling his lilac trouser leg over them. There is a moment where his face is almost reflected in the chrome shine of the bowling machine. We see his hand, bedecked with rings and with one long red tipped sinister fingernail. His other hand has a finger shield, looking like a cross between a shoe horn and a gun holster. He tastes the ball with his tongue, lovingly caressing it to his body before sweeping forward to release it, the camera lingering on the name sewn in purple thread on his lilac jump suit “Jesus”.  The camera leaves him to follow the path of the ball, which knocks down the pins for a strike of perfection. Let there be no mistake, this is bowling porn, filmed with the same love, attention and slow motion giddiness that Top Gear reserves for its car of the week.

Now the tempo of the Gypsy Kings picks up and as they begin to sing and as they do the camera swings back to Jesus. Who, in his lilac jump suit, with his long crimped pony tail and hair net commences a victory dance which is at once poetic, petty, arrogant and ridiculous.  From the way it’s shot to the moves Jesus puts down, the eye can’t help but be drawn up from his crotch to his smug leer.

It is perhaps one of the greatest introductions to a character in any film. Turtorro clearly had a ball playing him. He refers to himself in the third person. He is a man in his thirties wearing a lilac jump suit and bowling at a local alley with all the swagger and confidence of a Hispanic gangster tooled up and driving a hydraulic adapted Caddy. He is ridiculous, and yet he commands the attention of everyone. From hairnet to socks every inch of Turturro’s Jesus is perfect. Never mind Brando with his cotton balls and mumbling in the Godfather, this is true character acting. And this is a Jesus that once seen can never be forgotten.

Crysta (Ferngully: The Last Rainforest)
by Jeremy Tiang

This.. uh... yeah, this is creepy.

Sure, the idea of a cartoon enviromental fable sounds quaint now, but FernGully: the Last Rainforest happened in 1992, midway through the record-breaking run of Captain Planet and the Planeteers. Remember? Meg Ryan as eco-villain Dr Blight? Back when we thought we’d save the world by recycling paper and learning to, you know, appreciate nature?

Wise Gaia-figure Magi Lune teaches magic to young fairy Crysta, who travels to the corrupt human world and falls in love with a lumberjack named Zak. Which, okay, is a bit weird, but in the slipstream of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, I can see how interspecies cartoon romance seemed like a hot property.

A gender-reversed Messiah, Crysta performs miracles: she gives sight to a blind bat (voiced by Robin Williams in what is clearly his audition for Aladdin)! She shrinks Zak to save him from a falling tree! Being fairy-sized gives Zak Stockholm syndrome and he goes from cutting down trees to hugging them. Not literally. His little arms wouldn’t fit round.

The rainforest is under threat from Hexxus (Tim Curry channeling Satan; I mean, more than usual), a black cloud that feeds on pollution. Magi (God) sends Crysta (Jesus) with Zak (Mary Magdalene) and their ragtag group of, well, let’s call them disciples. Okay, forest animals. They defeat Hexxus, of course. Crysta dies, but she’s resurrected! Inside a flower! And that’s what we call a Hollywood ending. At least until Avatar turns up two decades later to shoplift their plot wholesale.

Neo (The Matrix trilogy)
by Thomas Pratchett

Nothing cod-messianic here, move along.

The Matrix is saturated with religious imagery, references, pop-philosophical meanderings and whatnot, so is it any wonder that Neo can be seen as a Christ-alike? One of the first lines said to him is “You’re my saviour, man!” His real name is Thomas Anderson, named after the biblical Thomas who famously doubted the divinity. This gets paralleled in Neo’s lack of faith in himself as the One, a concept that Morpheus unloads onto poor Neo with such staggering unsubtlety, it’s a wonder he doesn’t just suffer a nervous breakdown there and then. There is palpable relief when the Oracle tells Neo he’s actually not, even though he does have One-ness, but it’s all in potential, and he needs to use it “maybe in the next life”. Oh, and the cheery news that either he and Morpheus will die in the not too distant future.

Like the berk he is, Morpheus gets captured,  and then tortured by Agent Smith for the codes to Zion’s mainframe, Zion being the last bastion of humanity. Neo decides to save Morpheus, knowing that he will die in the process, but that that sacrifice will ensure the lives of thousands of people in the process, which sounds rather a lot like a certain carpenter dying for the sins of everyone else, no?

Plus, to help the metaphor along, Neo does indeed die, and then comes back 3 minutes later, saved by the love of Trinity (yes, another reference), to reaffirm his One-ittude and his place as the saviour of all mankind.

Brian (The Life of Brian)
by Kiwizoidberg

'Song lyrics'

My first encounter with Monty Python’s Life of Brian was a news article on Irish TV news, telling me that it was banned for its blasphemy. So much for a secular state. The ban was lifted in 1987, one year later Scorcese’s Last Temptation would take its place. Down with that sort of thing.

Brian’s tale draws parallels with that of his contemporary Jesus. They are born on the same day, they die in the same way, and their paths cross throughout their lives. But Brian is not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy. Jesus is treated with a certain reverence and respect, it is the followers who are ridiculed for their fickle natures. The Judeans People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front – not-so-subtle mockery of the various versions of Christianity, united in their outrage at the release of this film.

It owes a considerable debt of gratitude to George Harrison (he has a brief cameo), the Beatle who funded the film when EMI pulled the plug. It is probably the only Jesus movie that involves a Star Wars inspired shoot-out in space (like SW, it was shot on location in Tunisia).

‘Brian’ is Monty Python at their peak. It takes a swipe at Hollywood biblical epics and the herd mentality while maintaining the Python humour, and has stood the test of time better than any of their other efforts (sorry, Holy Grail). It also teaches us a new parable: we are all individuals. Except you.

David (AI: Artificial Intelligence)
by Indy Datta

The bear is, uh, St Peter.

Okay, so it’s a given that, 2,000 years in the future, when the oceans have frozen over, and  humanity has been superseded by a race of sentient robots who strangely lack WiFi, people are still going to be misinterpreting the ending of Spielberg and Kubrick’s bastard masterpiece.

In other words, if the film had ended with Haley Joel Osment’s David submerged face to face with the Coney Island Blue Fairy, fruitlessly asking the same question until the end of time, it would only account for one of the three distinct perspectives on David’s metaphysical  quandary that the film contains – which is that David has foolishly taken the Pinocchio story at face value, that he’s  so blind or deluded that he is incapable of unpacking the metaphor from the myth, that the hard materialist facts of his true nature inherently make his yearning irrational and trivial, a cosmic sick joke.

That would be fine as far as it goes, although in context rather banal, but it’s not the film that Kubrick and Spielberg made – that film is richer and more contradictory. The point that’s glossed over in the analysis represented by Sam Bain’s piece is that the framing narrative of the film introduces another perspective: that of the sentient future mechas, who revere David as the only link between their civilization and the, to them (at the remove we find them) unknowable, human civilization that begat them. When they try to make him whole again, by temporarily resurrecting his mother from fragments of his memory, it’s more like a prayer than a gift – strangely futile and incomplete: what happens to David the next day? But leaving him under the sea would have been, to the mechas, like leaving Jesus on the cross for eternity, asking why his Father had forsaken him.

The third perspective is that of the humans, who created David, like Adam, in their image to love them, but cast him out of Eden when confronted with his imperfections.  To all the  other knotty thematic  polarities that make AI such a fascinating film yet also almost pull it apart at the seams you can add that one: vengeful Old Testament v. forgiving New. In the supplementary materials on the DVD and BluRay, Spielberg makes the case that AI is a cautionary tale about runaway technology, but the film he directed honours the irony – quintessentially Kubrick – that the virtues that make life tolerable, are practiced in this fictional world not by men but by machines, not by the creators but by the created.

David Banner (The Seventh Sign)
by Spank The Monkey

The first draft Gold Blend couple.

Caution: I’m about to spoil the middle of The Seventh Sign for you. A man calling himself David Banner is wandering the planet. (Unfortunately, this film’s tone is so uncertain that you can’t tell if it’s a deliberate Hulk reference or not.) As he moves from country to country, disasters happen in his wake which resemble the seven signs of the Apocalypse. When Demi Moore confronts Banner, he reveals his true identity with a cheesy action hero line: “I came as the Lamb… and I return as the LION!”

Suddenly, we realise that we’re in the Bizarro World version of The Omen.

It’s always amused me that in 1988, Christians were outraged by Willem Dafoe’s sympathetic and humanised portrayal of the Messiah in The Last Temptation Of Christ. In the same year, Jurgen Prochnow was playing him as Jesus, Destroyer Of Worlds, and nobody batted an eyelid. Maybe this was because it resonated with the Rapture-anticipating strain of American Christianity that was prevalent at the time. Or maybe it was because it wasn’t very good and hardly anyone saw it.

I remember being impressed by the film’s apocalyptic buildup when it first came out, but these days its few smart parallels with Biblical folklore are outweighed by far too much slapdash plotting. And Prochnow makes for a curiously uncharismatic Christ: not particularly committed one way or the other about the Apocalypse, he’s just following orders. No wonder they got the captain from Das Boot to play him.

4 thoughts on “Personal Jesuses

  1. An excellent article, but where oh where is Superman Returns? He takes on the sins of the world, dies for us and is resurrected on the third day. There’s even a discovery of an empty tomb scene. And as if all that weren’t enough, there’s this teaser trailer:

    None more Jebus.

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