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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Judas Project (1990)

Written and Directed by James H. Barden

John O'Banion:  Jesse
Ramy Zada:  Jude
Richard Herd:  Cunningham

There's been a parallel Hollywood for a few decades--one that churns out product for the endless market of right-wing Christians who don't want to expose themselves to secular media. While it used to just be a Rapture panic movie or documentary about how society is deteriorating, there's a huge variety of Christianist media available for the undiscerning consumer now. Instead of just watching A Thief in the Night in a church basement there have been theatrical releases for the Nicolas Cage-starring Left Behind reboot as well as movies like God's Not Dead (which is more or less a feature-length adaptation of a chain letter email about secular book learnin' getting its comeuppance from a Christian college student) or Moms' Night Out--a comedy about a succession of crazy things that happen over a single night that apes the poster font of The Hangover but wants to leave all the sex, drugs and profanity out due to its target audience's lack of preference for That Kind Of Thing.

But today's film is one that I remember seeing a newspaper ad for back when I was in high school--I'd never heard of it but even when I was fifteen I realized that an ad with Jesus menaced by black helicopters was the promise of something truly special. I couldn't talk any friends with drivers' licenses into going to catch this on a whim for the one week it was playing at one theater, so I never had an informed opinion of the movie until now. I'm quite interested in seeing how it plays out, because it was made six years before Fox News started broadcasting, two years before Bill Clinton became President and twelve years before the cracker Taliban decided Islam is the biggest threat facing America. 1990 would have been a year when the far-right Christianists were trying to shut down abortion across America, but that started about ten minutes after Roe v. Wade was decided and it's continued to 2015 (and will keep going onward, I'm betting). It'll be a time capsule of not just right-wing social anxiety but also a look at what they expect out of God; it's supposed to be a retelling of the Gospels but in (then) contemporary times. It shouldn't be anything less than fascinating as a sociocultural text, whether or not the movie itself is worth a damn.

First element of note--this DVD print is absolutely horrible. It's full frame and grainy; it might even be a VHS transfer. Which doesn't help anything because the first images are car headlights and a searchlight from a traffic helicopter at night; streaky white blotches of light on a pitch black screen. This eventually resolves into a white dude holding his hands up on a beach as men with assault rifles surround him. Whoever they are, they're working plainclothes--dudes in JC Penney suits and one guy in a knockoff Members Only jacket. If they're supposed to be the forces of darkness, they need a better wardrobe. Everyone knows the devil wears Armani.

The guy in the Mimbers Enly jacket walks up to the surrounded dude, gazes longingly into his eyes and then does a full-on Mexican Soap Opera quality eye bug, screaming the question "WHYYYYY? <echo> <echo> <echo> <echo> <echo>" before we get a "Two Years Earlier.." title card.

So what happened two years earlier? Well, it starts with another poorly lit night scene. This time it's at a beach, with a coast guard boat and an ambulance looking for someone. A conveniently plot-relevant news reporter is doing a story on a fisherman swept out to sea three hours ago; as long as there's a vehicle to show on camera, the TV station will keep someone out there. You never know; they might get lucky and catch a shot of a corpse being hauled out of the water.

The search boat fires off a flare and people on the beach start running with semi-purposeful activity. The guy who got surrounded by gun-toting goons in the flash-forward walks towards the rescue crews as they pull the dead fisherman out of the surf and towards an ambulance that probably isn't going to be able to do anything for him but get him to the morgue on time. The ambulance attendants uncover the drowning victim's face so that his mother can experience the maximum emotional trauma (I imagined a young Lou Bloom standing off to the side with his 80 pound camcorder and a sickening grin). Future Captured Fugitive Guy lays his hand on the body of the young fisherman, who spits up some of the ocean and comes back to life. And the news reporter just plain has to have visions of Emmy awards dancing in her head as she gives the miracle worker a name. It's "Jesse", which means we certainly have our Christ figure ready to go. Everyone in the crowd except for one guy in a fishing vest and baseball cap is stunned and happy; that guy looks suspicious and conflicted, so I'm betting we have our Judas also as well.

After the opening title we get Jesse healing an old blind man on a beach (with a POV shot of the man's sight returning, which is a totally boss effect that does not require a budget in order to work, just a little planning and forethought from the filmmakers). Jesse also takes the crutches away from a maimed veteran, who can now walk without pain. Jude, the Conflicted Looking Stalker Guy observes from a distance. Jesse tells his (lily white) crowd of followers that God finds value in everyone's life; he's just making sure everyone he can reach has a chance to experience the full quality of their life. John O'Banion makes an interesting choice--he's underplaying Jesus here. Instead of being full of sound and fury he's just quietly confident about himself and his message. He's also one of the only people in the scene not using an umbrella, but the rain didn't show up on the film (or at least it got lost in the transfer to VHS-quality DVD). Jesse talks to the stalker guy, but the boom mike guy didn't pick up whatever he was saying. Whatever it was, it makes the other man run away like a total goofball, flailing and spazzing his way over the dunes to a waiting conversion van with a fishing platform attached to the front grill. He drives slowly off as I start doing an a capella version of the Truth or Dare driving theme. Hey, you gotta make your own entertainment with these movies some times.

After a jump cut, we meet Jesse and the other guy at a bar; the new face is still not convinced that a dead person can get up and walk off just because someone places a hand on his torso. The obvious answer is that Jesse is a 17th level cleric, or the divine will incarnate (which the new guy actually says as a theory which he immediately discards; this isn't going to be like zombie movies where nobody's ever heard of zombie movies before--it would appear that Jesse is living and working in a world that has heard of Christ and is waiting for His return). Jesse's "Why do you choose to disbelieve what you already believe in your heart is true?" is a clunky line, delivered poorly, but it's also quite a good question.

Jude doesn't answer this question directly, but he does say that everybody has a price and wants to know what Jesse's is. Jesse says he's not charging for his healings--they are gifts and people are free to freely take them. New Guy doesn't understand why Jesse just walked away after pulling off a genuine according-to-Hoyle miracle--he can't wrap his mind around Jesse's motivation. I mean, I know I'd at least want lunch and a tank of gas for restoring life to a drowning victim. I'm not greedy but even resurrectionists have to eat. Jude asks Jesse why he doesn't go on television with his abilities, and Jesse asks "To do what?", which is actually another really good question. Jude jokes that Jesse could take over the world, but Jesse doesn't really think that's a good plan and wonders what the step after that would involve.

We get into Blazingly Obvious Metaphor territory during this conversation; Jude says he's never known the pure and unconditional love from God, or any other type of love while he's been alive. He's got plenty of experience with hatred and fear, though, and learned to respect power and money rather than anything positive. Jesse just looks kind of sad during the monologue, since he isn't able to reach Jude. Jude doesn't understand where Jesse is coming from, and can't believe in anything he doesn't understand. I like that the whole conversation is taking place at a slightly run-down bar and grill; Christ, in the Gospels, was someone who spent time with the rejected and the lost--when he talked to the rich, it was to tell them that they'd never get into heaven unless they helped the poor (the verse about a camel going through the eye of a needle is the one time that "Biblical literalists" discover the need for nuance in Bible reading; it doesn't mean what it says, you understand, it's a metaphor for something that is tough but can eventually be done. Sure thing, dude.)

Speaking of the rich and powerful, there's two of them conspiring in a mansion. They've got surveillance photos of people that wield some power in the world; apparently the doughy white middle-aged businessman snapping his fingers to signal the guy with the slide projector to go hit the "forward" button is keeping tabs on anyone that might threaten his spot at the top of the social pyramid. After a judge, a general and a woman politician he comes to Jesse at the diner. His Smithers says they've been keeping tabs on Jesse for two years or so; the guy in charge says to start a file on Jesse in case they need to destroy him if he tries to become a world power. I would guess that there's already a file if they've been monitoring Jesse for two years, but what do I know?

Mr. Cunningham the businessman, looks a little bit like Ted Kennedy and a little bit like Donald Trump. I'm not sure if he's supposed to be a representation of either of them or if he's just the white dude in a power suit they happened to cast. It also turns out that for all his authority and the ease with which Cunningham gives orders, he takes them as well. Mr. Poneras, a name that cries out for an online anagram generator, scoots past the secretary to bust Cunningham's chops about leaving him out of the meeting that just concluded. Poneras declares himself to be "the voice of the Church", which leads to all kinds of unsavory implications because the actor (Jeff Corey, who has the longest IMDB listing out of anyone in the film) looks exceptionally Jewish. Is the film hinting at a Jewish conspiracy to control Christianity, or was Corey just the best person who auditioned for the part? Too bad there's no commentary track.

Poneras is fed up with Jesse's "healings and resurrections" bullshit, and demands that Cunningham stops whatever Jesse is up to. The main reason Poneras wants Jesse stopped is that whatever church he represents didn't say it was all right to go around healing people. Perhaps if Jesse just filled out his permits correctly he'd be all right, but I doubt it. Cunningham doesn't think there's much to this Jesse issue while Poneras is openly worried that every person listening to or following Jesse is one that will no longer listen to him or his superiors. The church official says Cunningham's going to be destroyed when Jesse really starts flexing his influence; Cunninghas says Poneras is much more likely to get the chop than he is--Cunningham has power and influence that Jesse can use, while Poneras doesn't.

Meanwhile, on a camping trip, Jude is telling a friend that he thinks he's got Jesse figured out--by getting people to believe in him and follow him, Jesse will be able to exercise an unprecedented amount of power and influence over the world. And if Jude is the one telling Jesse what to do, he'll have the world comfortably under his control. Jesse walks up behind him with a trio of followers and asks Jude the natural question:  "And then what?"; Jude walks off rather than giving an answer. Jesse tells his companions that power in and of itself isn't bad, it's just the way people use it that can be beneficial or not. Judging from the look on Jude's face as he thinks about everything he can do with Jesse's influence, he's not going to be one of the ones you can trust with any significant level of power.

Jesse asks one of his followers (named John, and this is the first scene he's had any dialogue) to walk with him to the top of a nearby summit so he can explain why Jesse's on Earth and what he plans to do. John, two other followers, and Jesse go off for a nature hike reminiscent of the underwhelming boar hunt from the first season of Game of Thrones. The top of the mountain is lovely, though, and Jesse climbs to the absolute peak of stone before summoning a massive storm cloud (and the score goes all Raiders of the Lost Ark on us). Lightning coils around like Space Godzilla's beam weapon and the Voiceover of God declares that Jesse is His son, and that he is well pleased with him. Balls of light fly down from the center of the black cloud, incarnate briefly as angelic figures made of light, and fly away (making me wonder if Mr. Boogalow and Mr. Topps are due to put in an appearance). Once the special effects taper off Jesse tells his friends there's nothing to be afraid of; John faints anyway.

Jesse gives his three followers the authority to do works on Earth and Heaven, and also tells them that he knows he's going to have to give up his life to redeem the poor sinners on Earth. His friends don't want to hear that, but Jesse says it's his task to die and theirs to tell the world about him. The scenes where Jesse is talking with his friends have a low-key, natural vibe to them that jar horribly with the second-tier special effects from the storm sequence.

The next lessons Jesse tries to teach people (a crowd of a couple dozen extras listening to him with expressions ranging from rapt absorption to dull surprise) involve forgiving your enemies and living as a reflection of God's love; one of his main followers mention that everyone's cold and hungry after his speech. Jude says that there's barely enough food to make lunch for one of his followers, but Jesse just smiles tolerantly while a Ron Silver looking dude spies on him with binoculars from an indeterminate distance away. Jude gets pressed into service handing out bread and cheese to everyone (and gets his picture taken by the Ron Silver impersonator, who's keeping tabs on Jesse and his merry men). Everyone gets fed (and the filmmakers wisely don't try for anything big in this sequence--it's just five people feeding several dozen with an impossibly long-lasting baguette and wedge of cheddar cheese). Even Jude gets into the swing of things, laughing out loud at the impossibility of what he's doing while he's doing it. I'm so impressed by the low-key sincerity of the film that I'm not going to gripe about the weaksauce folk song on the soundtrack during this section. Ron Silver stalks off while Jesse and his pals share a group hug.

Some time after that (it's night, Jesse's walking by himself and by the Dixieland jazz on the soundtrack my assumption is that he's supposed to be in New Orleans). A heavily accented woman named Asa walks up and informs Jesse that Mr. Cunningham is going to hold a private meeting with him the next evening. Jesse agrees and the pair go their separate ways. Ron Silver's clone turns out to be Asa's driver.

Later that night, I think, a trio of ladies of the evening walk past Jesse in a blurry shot. He converts one to the path of righteousness by whispering a command ("Find Christ in your heart") before walking off into the blurry, low-definition distance and sleeping on the streets with the wretched and forgotten. It's another low-key moment in a movie I was expecting to be histrionic and to the right of Lyndon Larouche.

The next day, at Cunningham's mansion, Jesse gets guided by the big man himself into a room full of people; his host essays the priceless line "I'm sure you recognize some of our more renowned world leaders" to the Son of God. Cunningham also provides seats for the four apostles that have come along with Jesse to the meeting. Turns out that Cunningham wants Jesse there because the world is tipping into chaos (he mentions unrest in the Communist world; in a blow to "Bible prophecy" enthusiasts who kept predicting Armageddon as a showdown with the USSR, there wouldn't be a Soviet Union by 1992). He's gearing up to make a sales pitch to Jesse--he thinks the world needs a single leader that can keep everyone in line and obedient. Jesse asks if that's what Cunningham and the others really think of him; Cunningham says yes, it is. He doesn't believe in or like the idea of divine authority, but he's willing to work with it (or, if he has to, under it) to bring order.

Poneras, also at this meeting, tells Jesse that he needs to adjust his attitude and become a team player--for the first time, we see Jesse really, really angry as he shouts at the religious figure that he came to help the world, not control it. Jesse also calls Poneras out for lying to the world and for his "religiosity", which is like being religious except without all the parts about helping other people and loving your enemies. I'm a little bit ticked that they didn't cast an actor who looked more like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson to play Poneras, but perhaps that was something the filmmakers didn't think they could get away with two years after Robertson ran for President. It's also very telling that the actor playing Poneras looks quite Jewish; the only person in the film that you can say that about. More than a decade before Mel Gibson's Jesus snuff film, this movie featured a white dude as Christ. And the possibilities the filmmakers squandered by making Jesse black are pretty much endless, though I'm certain an American fundamentalist audience wouldn't have accepted that in 1990. They probably wouldn't accept it now, for that matter.

Jesse tells the assembled potentates and leaders all the different types of people and what they need out of life; he says only God can be all things that everyone needs at the same time. Poneras sneers at him, saying that God doesn't spend time with whores and beggars, and shouts at Jesse to say that the assembled world leaders in that room could make him into something beautiful. Jesse asks Poneras how rotting flesh would have any concept of beauty, which has to really sting coming from the Son of God. Jesse also tells Poneras that he's the light that Poneras and his fellow religious authorities want to destroy (which I actually agree with). He tells off the assembled one percenters and leaves with his apostles--although notably, Jude stays behind with the rich and connected. After he leaves, Poneras idly muses that one person's death could potentially save a nation. But he's not talking about anyone in specific, so don't worry about it.

Later on, Jesse and his disciples are at a boat dock, apparently ready to go out on a fishing trip. Ron Silver's lookalike is there, with another man that's drawing a bead on Jesse with a rifle--instead of seeing the camera's POV from the earlier shots as Faux Ron Silver was spying on him, now it's a telescopic scope, putting the viewer in the place of a man who wants to try and assassinate the Messiah. Jesse looks directly into the scope and the hitman silently refuses to take the shot, jacking the shell out of his gun and walking off as Ron Silver's duplicate berates him. Rather than put up with any more abuse, the hitman clocks his handler with the rifle butt and knocks him down a flight of stairs, then tells him to tell Poneras that if he wants Jesse dead he'll have to pull the trigger himself.

At a small-time carnival, Jude and Asa are wandering around the midway. I don't actually know all of what Asa was telling Jude because her accent is indecipherable. But plans are changing, and if Jude sees the hitman he's supposed to call Asa and let her know. After he gets his instructions, Jude walks off to get a funnel cake and Asa stands there looking ominous. The scene shifts to a campfire where Jesse tells his followers that he knows they don't fully believe in him, even after everything they've seen. He's not just moping, though--he says tonight even his most faithful and devoted friends are going to forsake him. He says he's not going to use strength against his enemies and that none of his followers will be able to understand why he makes that choice. He also says that Satan will test his followers, and that they will deny knowing him three times before the night is over. Heavy stuff. And again, John O'Banion chooses to play the Messiah as completely human among his friends. He might be speaking parables and using King James Version language, but he's not trying for awe and bombast in his performance. It's a much more human Jesus than I was expecting. He tells Peter that if he has faith, it'll all work out in the end and that after the events of that night, it'll be up to the followers rather than the leader. And then the helicopter and cop cars swarm in, which means the first hour or so of the movie was a flashback explaining how we got to the beach with Jesse getting surrounded by gun-toting authority figures. Jude shows up for his histrionic "WHYYYY?" again, which is even more jarring and out-of-place after the restrained and naturalistic performances from the entire cast. He also gives Jesse a kiss on the cheek, betraying him in front of the police and playing out his part in the drama.

When Jude gets back to his apartment, he finds Jackson the hired killer going through his payoff (thirty pieces of silver, of course; that's the going price for a betrayal). Jackson says he doesn't deal in deception, just death. But he's not there to take Jude out; instead Jackson says that he's convinced Jesse is the actual son of God and that he's powerless to help Him now that he knows what's going on. Jude, for his part, says he was hoping to push Jesse into taking over rather than submitting to his death--hoping that this time things would play out differently. Nice job, Jude. There's also more than a little denial at work; Jude tells Jackson (and what the heck is with all the J names in this movie?) that Cunningham needs Jesse too much to just get him killed. Jackson counters by saying that Cunningham still thinks there's a chance that Jesse will join his group while Poneras just wants the son of God out of the way so he can keep running the religion the way he likes it. But Jackson really just wants to know why Jude was able to follow Jesse and still betray him; Jude doesn't have any answer for that, let alone a good one.

Jude returns to Cunningham's mansion while another limp folk song (which bogarts some of "Goodbye Stranger" for its lyrics) plaps down onto the soundtrack. He throws the suitcase full of silver pieces over the fence and peels out in his custom van (the song becomes slightly more rockin' at this point), passing everyone in front of him on a two-lane road until he pulls over on a beach; this scene doesn't really do anything other than eat up screen time and possibly apply leveraged synergy for the soundtrack.

Elsewhere, in a falling-down barn, Jesse is being punched in the face repeatedly while his apostles look on helplessly. Cunningham orders an end to the torture, at least for the time being, and tells Jesse that he figured it out--the Son of God wants to destroy him. Jesse replies saying that everyone can choose what they want to do. When asked why Poneras wants him dead, Jesse says it's because he wants to redeem the world, and Poneras can't stand the idea of that happening when it's some nobody from nowhere without political and economic power--Poneras would rather destroy the new Christ than stand by the sidelines as a witness to power he can't have.

Cunningham, shaken by Jesse's refusal to bow down to the man who can have him killed, backs away and tells Poneras that if he wants Jesse dead he'll have to do it himself. So it's Poneras' turn to step up and tell Jesse that he's going to lose, since none of the people beating on the Son of God have been hit by lightning or stricken mute. He calls Peter (the largest and most physically imposing of the disciples) forward and it's time for Peter to deny that he knows Jesse three times. I'm not certain in the world of the film how much of this is just the prophecy of Christ's incarnation, death and return playing itself out again and how much of it is the characters realizing which parts they're being called upon to play. The various characters in the film all know about Christianity and should know at least the broad outlines of the story they're in. But they continue to work against Jesse even though they know the ending and Poneras, especially, should be aware that he's not the good guy--and what his eventual fate is likely to be for torturing and killing the Messiah.

But whether or not he realizes what part he's playing, Poneras gives the kill order to a half dozen of his security goons (who look more like mall cops than Special Forces soldiers); his personal killers are also wearing some kind of badge on their left breast pockets. I would have expected the U.N. logo because the lunatic Christianist right wing has been promising a United Nations takeover for decades but I didn't get a good enough look at the badge to tell what the logo actually was. Jesse and his disciples get shoved over to the execution plot where Poneras himself puts the crown of thorns on Jesse's head (how he kept from destroying his hands, I do not know).

Interestingly enough, when Poneras refers to Jesse as a king who needs a crown, there is no reference made to Jesse being the king of the Jews. He's just the king of everyone in the late 20th century retelling. A gigantic dark cloud fills the sky as Jesse's body is hauled up to a barn beam; God might be showing his displeasure but it doesn't stop Poneras' goons from climbing ladders with mallets and nine inch nails. They hammer the spikes into Jesse's palms, not his wrists (as was the practice in actual crucifixions) and Jesse asks his Father to forgive his tormenters, since they don't know what they're doing. Which, in the retelling where everyone knows about Christianity, cannot be the case.

Jackson, the killer, is also strung up on a barn beam but didn't rate the full spikes-through-the-appendages treatment; he asks to accompany Jesse on his journey so that the crucified man can say "Today shalt thou dwell with me in paradise". The audience knows the dialogue just as much as the characters do at this point, but the lightning storm that allows Jesse's followers to get away was not something I was expecting. While Poneras chases down the disciples personally, Jesse breathes his last and his spirit leaves his body (by means of a cartoon effect that rather cheapens the whole scene). After Jesse's soul escapes, one of the security goons stabs his body with a convenient spear and gets struck by cartoon lightning--looks like he missed his cue earlier, but Jesse's going to need a wound in his side in order to play his part after he gets resurrected.

Poneras flees arthritically through a matte painting of a graveyard before stumbling into an open-roofed mausoleum and falling into a small pit. The Voice of God intones "You never knew Me" before the burial vaults explode and the spirits of the dead ascend into the sky. In a product placement meant to resonate with complete assholes, one of the Raptured souls is a Confederate officer in his dress uniform. Played by the film's director, no less. After some more Raiders of the Lost Ark motifs on the score, a massive gout of fire falls out of the storm cloud to immolate Poneras. Less than half a mile away, Jude goes into the barn and looks up at Jesse's body, catches a drop of blood on his hand and ties a noose for himself in a fit of despair. And I find myself wondering just how much free will any of the characters would have had. If you knew you were playing out the New Testament and realized you were going to be Judas, wouldn't you try to do things differently--if for no other reason than you knew the ending and didn't want to be the bad guy?

Later there's a funeral procession for Jesse attended by hundreds of people; Peter is waiting for the horse-drawn wagon carrying the coffin as it passes by Cunningham's mansion. When he calls out for his friend and reaches for the coffin, a horse-mounted cop shows off a slow-motion closeup of his sweaty armpit while raising his truncheon. Peter gets beaten to the ground while all the mourners pass him by. The other disciples show up and take Peter to safety while not one but two tepid folk songs swell on the soundtrack and the followers all reminisce about Jesse through flashbacks to scenes that never happened in the movie. This manages to utterly destroy the momentum of the narrative before Jesse appears in an aura of white light to Peter on a beach where the disciple was wandering and the two men embrace. The frame freezes and the image pulls back; I was hoping for a THE BEGINNING title card and was ultimately disappointed.

I was disappointed twice by this movie--the first time because it's actually a lot better made than I was expecting. There's not a lot of flair in the camerawork but it's solidly framed and blocked; the performances are uniformly adequate with nobody particularly hamming anything up or being distractingly awful. There are lots of different locations (the mansion looks like a mansion instead of a soundstage or a Best Western conference room), and things keep moving along for the 97 minutes of run time. I was hoping for a histrionic fiasco and got what amounts to a well made TV movie.

The second way the film disappointed me was much worse to the story and the subtext, because the filmmakers had a series of extremely muddled views about what they were doing and what kind of Christ they wanted to depict. The Jesus of the Bible was a revolutionary who was executed as a terrorist by the state; if there was really going to be an American version of the Gospel set in 1990 then Jesse should have been sent to the electric chair by the power of the secular government, not killed in a barn by the goon squad for a religious leader. For that matter, characters just keep saying Poneras is a "religious" leader without ever mentioning which religion it is. He wears business suits rather than, say, a cardinal's robes, papal vestments, Hasidic garb or an imam's robes. The possibility of looking at American Christianity and the ways it rejects Jesus' actual teachings would have made for an endlessly fascinating movie but James H. Barden obviously wasn't going to do anything in that direction.

I've often said that religion in America is experiencing a decline because the people who speak for Christianity in the public sphere might as well have been hand-picked by Satan to turn people away from it. This movie isn't going to be winning any converts back, but at least it won't drive them from the church any faster than any of the people stepping in front of an open mike to rant about their own moral bona fides before declaring that same-sex marriage is a sign of the End Times (just like every other sociopolitical event since 1843 has also been seen). I've been an atheist since I was thirteen years old and this hasn't done anything to change my opinion on anything about Christianity.

But I'm even madder at poster designers who come up with something awesome for a movie that can't even begin to live up to it.


  1. I have a sneaking suspicion as to why the filmmakers left off the title "King of the Jews", but I'm probably being uncharitable.

    Whatever the reason, it does highlight the absurdity of trying to translate the Gospels into a different setting. The Gospels aren't Shakespeare, the story they tell is deeply rooted in a specific time and place. Change the setting, and you're no longer talking about Jesus, but about some other resurrected god figure--of which there have been dozens over the millennia.

    The cover IS cool, though, and makes me wish for an X-files / Jesus crossover. (Or maybe they did that? It's been a long time...)

    1. The more I've thought about it, the more I think the politics of the film really were racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic and otherwise reprehensible; it's just that the objectionable content was presented pretty subtly. It's really that "released six years before Fox News started broadcasting" effect. What is considered part of the general political discourse now would have been absolutely beyond the pale when the film originally came out.

      Also upsetting: At no point in the entire running time is there anything called a Judas Project.

  2. Oh, I forgot to say, nice D&D reference. I was going to object that a cleric could "raise dead" at lvl 9, but then I remembered that raise dead has a recovery period for the person being raised, so they wouldn't just be able to get up and walk. THAT requires a resurrection spell, which is higher level.

    I tip my geek hat to you, sir.

    1. I enjoyed the irony of throwing a D&D reference into this movie, because in 1989 the only thing the right wing Christianists knew about that hobby was that it was evil and Satanic.

  3. I wonder if the nonspecific church/religion that takes Jesse down is supposed to represent the Pharisees, but as a power-hunbry pre-eminent religious authority and not as a (despised) ethnic group. A condemnation of man-made power structures--even religious ones--without the distracting Antisemitism.

    I kept thinking Poneras (Son-reap? I got nothin.) must be standing in for Pontius Pilate. But I think Pilate was some kind of regional governor, who didn't even particularly want Jesus dead. That was just him caving to pressure (washing his hands). How was Poneras pronounced in the movie?

    How do you know the Confederate soldier is played by the director? That is profoundly disturbing.

    1. I'm starting to think that most of the stuff in that movie zipped over my head because I wasn't in the John Birch Society. Most of the dog-whistle content didn't register (unlike, say, a Republican candidate for President in 2012 saying Barack Obama was a lazy, unqualified, affirmative-action candidate who played lots of basketball). Because there's no way Poneras (Puh-NAIR-uss) was supposed to be anything but a Jewish guy bent on killing the Messiah. I wonder if there's anything on the cutting room floor explaining his goon squad with their UN-type badges. But there's no reason to cast the most Jewish-looking actor imaginable as the Christ-Killer if that's not your actual message.

      Oh, and another IMDB reviewer hipped me to the director playing the risen Confederate officer. It reminds me of the Jon McNaughton painting "One Nation Under God", where soldiers from all through American history are depicted at the returned Jesus' right hand. The one covering his face out of shame is the UNION soldier from the Civil War. You know, the one who restored America to one nation. to check out the painting; not safe for lunch.

    2. That painting is magnificent-- I had no idea Christ was the heir to Gondor.