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Shannon

Episode 69 - The Christs

Battle of The Christs  

92 members have voted

  1. 1. Which 'Christ' belongs in The Canon?

    • Last Temptation of Christ
      84
    • The Passion of the Christ
      8


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Chaplin, that would be an interesting Versus. Apocalypto is the better movie, but is in the grander scheme Mel Gibson's post-Passion non-English historical epic. Passion & Braveheart (the proto-Game of Thrones "violent & gritty" medieval film) are lesser films, but more canonical. The success of the former (and the way it was marketed/distributed to churches) may even be responsible for all the "God's Not Dead" mini-industry of crappy Christian films which so irk Tyler Smith.

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I've been listening to this podcast from the start, and I think this is the best episode y'all have ever done. Really, really great discussion, and I would have been happy to listen to you go on for another hour about these movies.

 

Anyway, easy vote for Last Temptation, one of the few movies out there that makes Christianity appealing and understandable to this orthodox agnostic.

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Just wanted to chime in as a practicing Catholic, and more generally, as a person of faith. I definitely have to go with The Last Temptation (gasp, blasphemy!). The dual nature of Christ is one of the most important aspects of Christianity, and for me, it is one of the most difficult aspects, and one that I have struggled to fully grasp as I've gotten older. I've never seen it dealt with like Temptation does, and I like to think that any religious person would be better for seeing this movie and coming away with deep questions about their faith. Much deeper questions (I think) than are raised by Passion.

I completely agree with my co-religionist here. I actually teach religious studies at a very traditional Catholic university, and I recently had the pleasure of introducing undergrads to this film in a course we're doing on the life of Christ. (Not a single student had heard of it beforehand. The movie intrigued them—though like with Amy, the music kind of ruined bits of it for them.)

 

The film/book's attempt to portray the fully human nature of Jesus is a fascinating one. I think it ultimately fails, and I find its ideas less enlightening than Amy and Devin do. Like most works of art about Jesus, it tells us waaaaay more about the spiritual lives of the artists behind it than it does provide a convincing portrayal of Jesus. (Jesus is pretty opaque figure in the Gospels, after all). That said, the movie puts so much intelligence and creativity into the investigation, I really admire it.

 

ETA: Devin, maybe this was addressed somewhere else, but there's no canonical teaching on the eternal damnation of any individual person, Judas included. There are canonized saints in Catholicism, obvs, which involves the Church's official recognition that all signs indicate a person is among the blessed. But no canonized sinners, happily.

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I always thought the Passion felt like a college student's experimental film. There is so little actual dialogue! I mean that the most derogatory way possible. Not that college student experimental films can't be successful, the Passion seems to be attempting one thing and achieves torture porn instead. And not even very good torture porn at that in comparison to Hostel, Saw, or the much earlier Audition. Not ineptly made, it just does not make the cut as a great "canonic" film. Especially when stacked against one of the greatest directors ever.

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I'm not sure that I would really have considered either of these movies for the canon on their own. Sure, they both have interesting historical impact on audiences, but I don't think of Temptation as one of Scorsese's best and I think Passion is straight up bad.

 

However, listening to this episode made me reflect on Temptation and what it had to say about Christ and his sacrifice. Temptation shines a new light on the Christ myth and approaches it from an angle hadn't been examined before. Passion is just a gory retelling of the story that everyone knows without bringing anything new to the table.

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I voted for Last Temptation because it's clearly great.

 

And while Passion is an absolute disaster and a bad film, it's still super duper fascinating to me in perhaps all the wrong ways. It's a superb document of an artist melting down at 24fps. If this was a solo and not a vs. ep, I could maybe see myself voting the Passion into the canon for similar reasons as Clerks.

 

Gibson's idea to shoot it in a dead language feels 1000% like any single dumb film that comes along where its director is all "I wanted to examine what XYZ would be like if it happened for real, right in front us and what that would be like to capture it on film" as if they're the first person to invent verisimilitude in cinema (and bootstrap it to the fantastic or popular myth and stories). This actually feels sort of Iñárritu-y to me*, where someone makes a decision and it's purely technical or a blanket method of execution and not something that's creatively driven/sound or conductive to theme and emotion. It's a sense of 'realism' that's very surface and not something the film applies to itself for thematic purposes. It's a layer of artifice, regardless of intent. It actually betrays the intent of aiming for verisimilitude.

 

*Speaking of artifice and audience barriers: I had huge flashbacks to Passion when watching The Revenant. Glass crawling to a creek, drinking water while having it spray out of neck, and the him stuffing gunpowder into his throat felt kinda like the moment where Christ gets his shoulder dislocated. At some point this goes from 'gruelling' to 'maybe this is sorta silly' and I can see some common DNA linking the two.

 

Also, in terms of who this is for, how it plays and the BTS narrative of its production, The Passion Of The Christ might be the ultimate fan film. From the narrative of "No one would let me make it my way, so I decided to make it on my own terms and with my own cash, baby!" to the feeling there's no sense of self-imposed boundaries/goals in play or the question of "what is this really about and who is it for?" that creatives should ask themselves occasionally. Gibson made a passion play, and a passion play it is for people *really* into passion plays, but it serves no function or idea beyond that. It's a framework that holds up very little beyond its own rather wobbly framework. Fans got what fans wanted from a very big fan because no one was there to activate the "audience want vs. need test." Very proto-kickstarter!

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I started Catholic high school the year that Passion came out in theaters. I was made to watch it, we all hopped on a school bus and went to a theater crowded with nuns, priests, and high school kids that would prefer to be anywhere other than a Jesus movie. Then we watched it.

 

I've always been a horror fan but the violence in Passion of the Christ comes off as for violence's sake. I really don't enjoy much of the movie, however Gethsemane, to me, was pretty interesting visually (maybe I'm weird).

 

Last Temptation is an incredible take on Christ's story, and I recommend it highly, especially in comparison to the Jesus Torture Porn of Passion of the Christ.

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Definitely need to cast my vote for The Last Temptation of Christ. Only Savonarola or other kill joys could really appreciate The Passion of the Christ. And no doubt Katzantzakis's book along with the reel for this film would have ended up in his bonfire of the vanities. However, I'm glad you didn't give Gibson's film short shrift as I do think it has its merits and it is a totem of our divisive times. So I'm pleased you took me up on my Easter Special suggestion as the only thing better than a helping of lamb on Easter is a double serving of the lamb of god.

 

There is also a semi interesting back story to my request that I thought I would share since it seems to fit with some of the topics you mentioned in the show. In brief: I was reading a lot of Plato whilst working in the 900 year old Peterborough Cathedral fixing a 150 year old Victorian floor. To pass the time as we removed and replaced 40,000 marble tesserae I also listened to Audible stuff about Classical Greek society, culture and politics. After a while I began to feel guilty about this, after all I was an atheist working in a Norman cathedral, so I switched to something on St. Augustine. During all this David Bowie died. So I watched The Last Temptation of Christ. And then my missus got a trial Netflix subscription so she could watch some documentary for an accounting exam and I watched Passion of the Christ.

 

So what I'm getting at is that this excellent discussion on The Canon in a way has a thread tying it to the beginning of western civilization! It went like this- 1. Plato 2. Jesus 3. St Augustine 4. Peterborough Cathedral. 5. Victorian Mosaic Floor. 6. David Bowie. 7. The Last Temptation of Christ 8. Accounting Exam 9. Passion of the Christ 10. Superb Episode of the Canon

 

great stuff eh? The only thing that could have made it better would have been 10 times the amount of Christian puns

 

Oh yeah and people working in the cathedral were super nice. A great bunch. The Church of England is so liberal they have a gluten free wafer option.

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Lapsed Catholic here- wonderful discussion (I am a Catholic amateur compared to you guys).

Last Temptation is such a positive film- it's a wonder people were offended since it deals with its themes seriously and the faith on display is so real and quite inspiring.

 

Here's a question - does it have the best voiceover work in all of film? I love its use here.

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I'm not too interested in watching Passion so I will abstain this week.

 

I did want to point out re:Apocalypto that Mayan is not a dead language - 100,000s of living speakers.

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I'm an Atheist. While I appreaciate the filmmaking, both Scorsese's and Gibson's take on the subject are relatively hard to swallow to me. In my opinion, to not kill and torture people should be a point of human common sense, not religious morals. I appreciated the discussion, but I don't think I can really judge fairly between these two films. Therefore, I bstain.

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Even coming from a Christian perspective, Last Temptation is a better movie. While Passion focuses solely on Christ's death and completely ignores his life and teachings, such as love for one another, Last Temptation presents Christ as a man worth respecting. A man who knows that he could easily say "no" to everything that's expected of him and who could easily give in to temptation. The fact that he doesn't makes him the Jesus that I would want to worship.

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Very much enjoyed the show, but wanted to point out a small (but consequential) error - Last Temptation was supposed to be made, but did not get made in 1983 not due to lack of financing (Faraci's point), but due to the same heated controversy that dogged the final production. The financing was in place, the production had started, and then it was cancelled, because the studio didn't want to take the heat. Costumes and some sets were used in King David, with Richard Gere. This is consequential, because the abandonment of this dream project nearly killed off Scorsese's enthusiasm for movies, with him returning in After Hours. How did they have such great sets on such a small budget? They had old pro Boris Leven, who'd also done production design for West Side Story and Sound of Music, and would work on various Scorsese movies. Those interested in the film's take on Judas (he is fulfilling his destiny, just as Jesus is fulfilling his own) might enjoy reading the Borges essay "Three Versions of Judas"; an earlier film version that fans of Temptation might like would be Nicholas Ray's King of Kings, which, despite some broad maudlin aspects we associate with old Hollywood (and clearly being shot in the U.S.), has incredible moments, with a Judas who wants Jesus martyred in order to help stage a political revolt against the Romans. I'll end by saying that I love this movie whatever its shortcomings (Leo Marks, screenwriter of Peeping Tom, and who does the voice of the devil, thought the devil's dialogue was terrible), and I'm sorry that Scorsese never got the chance to make another religious movie he wanted to do set in this period, an account of the first few centuries of Christianity under the Romans, ending with Constantine's conversion.

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Temptation is obviously the superior movie. However, there is one scene in Passion that did grab me. When Jesus is being tortured, his mother has a flashback to him as a child. All of the other people were looking to Christ as a god or a devil, but to her, he was just her child. Her little boy. That really affected me.

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Hi Amy and Devin, absolutely love the show. I've been listening since the first episode but never got around to creating an account until now. This episode really got to do so, I think it's my favorite episode yet, loved the discussion. My vote is for Last Temptation of the Christ, it's just such an amazing film, and even as a non-believer it inspires me so much in my personal life. Anyways, thanks for the hours you put into this podcast and your other works, you're both fantastic at what you do. I don't know what's up next for a commentary track, but I hope for Last Temptation eventually.

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Wish there was a vote for "neither" - I'm not trolling. Love you both, love this show. However, Apocalypto is the Gibson film to put in. Temptation is hardly Scorsese's best. For watchability, I have to give it to to Passion. Temptation was so hard for me to get through, even watched it a second time which was two too many for me.

 

I don't see why we should limit it to one per director.

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For what it's worth, as an atheist watching The Last Temptation of Christ, it was the first time Jesus felt like a real presence, a man or a demigod or however he would be classified. The idea of his sacrifice meant nothing to me, and I still don't consider it relevant to my life, but Martin Scorsese adapting Kazantzakis's novel brought emotional weight to Christ and true gravity to his mission in a way that this godless heathen could understand.

 

I got none of that from The Passion of the Christ. Jesus seems like a nice enough guy. I hate to see him shredded to bloody pieces, but Mel Gibson doesn't imbue his suffering with any real meaning, except it's a shame the genius who invented chairs had to go through all that.

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I had different reactions to these movies, but if I'm being honest, I don't think either of them really work. I loathe Passion, and while I do think Last Temptation is interesting, I also find it unwieldy and unfocused and difficult to sit through. Passion of the Christ is just a repugnant film, and an almost inhumanly boring one. I was so bored by Gibson's depth-averse, pain-centric version of what Christianity is about, all I could think about were the various contradictions and reservations about Christian dogma that the very film brings up. Without going into any questions of faith or sacrifice or purpose, Jesus' sacrifice just comes across fatalistic, and cruel on God's part. I wasn't really any more convinced of the validity of Christianity by Last Temptation, but that movie wasn't trying to convince you of that, which Passion very much is. As for Last Temptation...as I said, lot of interesting stuff throughout, but this damned thing is almost three hours long. It has so much to say about the nature of faith and sacrifice and revolution, and says it all in such a muddled, haphazard way, that I'd much rather read a book examining Christ. I don't find Jesus very convincing as a character, ever, it's very hard to get a read on what his intentions are, why he's doing anything, whether he's even in control of his actions, if he's entirely sane, etc etc etc. I think this movie would have been much more effective through the lens of his followers; seeing it through his eyes, the messages come out a little mixed. And if it does have to be through his eyes, I think focusing on one aspect of his would have made for a better movie. Jesus the Revolutionary, or Jesus the Messiah, or Jesus the tortured soul, or Jesus the lunatic. The film juggles way too much and can't handle it all smoothly. And boy does it drag, a lot could have been cut. All this said, however, I do think it may just be worthy of The Canon. As a controversial film, as a decidedly unorthodox take on Christ in the decade Fundamentalism came roaring back to the center stage of American politics and culture, as a film that, whether it works or not, gives you a hell of a lot to chew on, it's pretty damn noteworthy, and unquestionably head and shoulders above Passion.

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I can tell you that I chose these two films not as a safety net but rather because I think their differing approaches make for an interesting discussion. I'm less concerned with what actually gets into the Canon and more concerned with what makes for a good discussion and sparks interesting debates in the forums.

 

That's a good point, but maybe Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth against Temptation would have been an intriguing discussion and maybe less of a clear cut routing by Temptation.

 

And I gotta say I'm a hundred percent with you on Jesus Christ Superstar. It's nice to hear someone else defend it for the same reasons I always have as well.

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