Saturday, April 11, 2009

why we sometimes seem strident, part one

The Last temptation of Brian

So I spent most of yesterday watching the Jesus marathon on the Documentary Channel and while in retrospect I should have turned it off after watching Rod Liddle dribble incoherently all over himself, I stayed on the couch for a documentary about the history of Jesus films. Now it might just be that I was already seethingly mad, or that 8 hours of Jesus creeps is just more than one can handle but by the time they got to the fire storm surrounding the Life of Brian and the Last Temptation of Christ, I was about ready to ascended to heaven, bitch slap the Virgin Marry, bugger the holy ghost and shoot my load all the baby Jesus’ face.

Now I must confess that angry and committed atheist though I am, Jesus is still my favorite character from all of fiction (with the possible exception of Sir Harry Flashman) but for all that, there are only two Jesus film worth watching, and not surprisingly they are the two that Christians object to.

While The Life of Brian is usually written off as a blasphemous piss take, it is indisputably the most historically accurate Jesus film ever made, and is as good a reflection of the reality of first century Palestine – complete with a passionate ambivalence about the Romans, the frothing, and self fulfilling expectation of the coming Messiah and the eternal truth that once you get enough people in a crowd they will believe just about anything – as well as any hundred history books.

 The Last Temptation on the other hand, while not nearly as trust worthy a guide to what happened, is still the most thoughtful, interesting and theologically literate reflection on what is remembered to be put on film. The truth is that Christians have never been comfortable with their own tradition, largely because it actually makes no sense. Christian doctrine since Constantine has insisted that Jesus was at once totally divine and wholly and entirely human - the so-called Hypostatic union. As such Jesus must, according to the tradition, have been beset by all the trials and travails and, temptations to which humans are subject.

 However, Christians, being heretical little pricks, who can’t or won’t read, and are woefully ignorant of the content of their own beliefs, prefer to think of the incarnation as more than just god wearing a man shaped suit, and as such, when Scorsese shows a Jesus who is neither meek and mild nor righteous and raging and in fact is so introspective and full of self loathing and sexual perplexity that he might as well be human, the bible believing blowhards start yelling various versions of,  ‘I don’t get it, it must be blasphemous.’

And this wasn’t just pious bitching, when last temptation was released some half crazed French loony actually firebombed a Paris movie theatre, seriously injuring fourteen, and even now it is regarded as one of the most controversial films ever made. But the problem is that all the bits that the backwoods, and backwards blood-baptized Bohemonds find offensive are, inevitable conclusions that you actually want to take the theology of the incarnation seriously.

 Even in the gospels it is clear that Jesus wasn’t all that thrilled about being the Messiah and would have, in fact, rather not have been horribly tortured to death.

As Luke put it: 

 ‘And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father if you be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.  And there appeared an angel to him from heaven, strengthening him.   And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.’

 So given that even the Bible has Jesus sweating blood at the thought of being crucified, and   praying in such utter torment that his father has to send  an angel to tell him not to pike now, it is probably not surprising that William Defoe wants to play him a little damaged and dark.

 And the same is true of the issue of the 30-second shot of Jesus fucking Mary Magdalene. While it might be confronting, the fact of the matter is that if Jesus really was entirely human, he must have had sexual thoughts, since people have sexual thoughts, all of them and all the time. As such to have Jesus haunting Magdalene like a fucking big puppy, hating her sin, but unable to get her out of his head, is to dramatize the conflict between Jesus’ divine self and his human self. However more to the point is the fact that the whole sequence is part of Jesus’ being tempted, as the devil shows Jesus the life he could have had if he gave up the cross.

 As such and given that in the end Jesus chooses the cross anyway, it seems self evident that the point of showing the temptation was to adumbrate the scope of Jesus’ sacrifice, and to show the massive conflict this would have caused. As such, it was more or less a clever, incisive and successful attempt to do what the Passion of the Christ tried and failed to do.

 But Christians, being members of a totalitarian death cult don’t like psychology, or cleverness, of conflict or any sacrifice that doesn’t involve death, and so the movie is still denounced as porn, by the porcine little cunts, who had to crush a hymnal to their crotches all through the fucking Passion, to hide the massive genital swelling that resulted from watching their lord and savior get tortured to death.

And they wonder why we sometimes seem strident. 


  1. Funny, both movies were staunchly defended by Anthony Burgess, an agnostic/borderline atheist/apostate Catholic writer, author of A Clockwork Orange and (incidentally) scriptwriter of Jesus of Nazareth. He even went as far as saying in his autobiography that he wished he had written the script of Life of Brian.

  2. As a nerd, I naturally watch a lot of animation from Japan and your comments on christianity reminded me of how the religion is portayed in the medium. Death cult pretty much sums it up. It was odd for me when I was a believer, and now hillarious now that I'm not, to see the Japanese culture's (mis?) understanding of Christianity. Basically a violent religion obsessed with death, torture of the god, the after life and into all sorts of weird piety yet corpsy stuff. The iconography of the cross in anime most often is used to portray something gothic or connected to death, rather than being seen as a default sign of morality like it is in the states/west. I think more theists should look at the non-abrahamic cultures' reaction to Christianity and the like to see how ...weird it really is. Lets face it...if *Japan* thinks you're weird and creepy it is time for an intervention.

  3. I have wondered at the possible connection between the torture-porn of Mel Gibson's Passion and the okay-ness of churchgoing Christians with torture.

    And they wonder why I am strident.

  4. There's a quite funny group of films which were made by some people called vintage 21, type in vintage 21 Jesus into youtube, i found it uplifting.