• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    SBL Paper - Jesus Beyond His Genre: The Non-Canonical Jesus Films

    My friend Michael Leary has just started a new NT blog called Ekthesis, "because the New Testament is becoming cool again". He's actually a fair way into his Ph.D. on "Canon, Convention, and Context: A Literary Historical Reading of John 21". He's also an excellent film critic, and whilst it's been a while since he posted at his Image Facts blog, he's clearly been keeping up to date with his film interests (see below). There's already lots of interesting content, including one post detailing his paper for this year's SBL Annual Meeting.

    I was pleased when I heard that SBL (The Society of Biblical Literature) had put out a call for papers on "The Bible in Ancient and Modern Media" for this year's meeting, and I hoped it might come up with some interesting papers. Mike, it seems, will be presenting one of them called Jesus Beyond His Genre: The Non-Canonical Jesus Films. The abstract is as follows:
    There is an interesting sub-genre of "Jesus films" that relates well to the "treatment of biblical themes in films that are not expressly biblical." This genre is distinct both from films that attempt to directly adapt the canonical gospels to the screen, and from films that simply feature a discernable Christ figure as a central theme. The films that populate this sub-genre rest somewhere in between, being filmed narratives that have nothing else to do with Jesus other than the suggestion of a title, a set of visual themes, or an abstract yet fully intentional nod to the nature of Jesus. This paper will outline the contours of this interesting genre by looking at three of its most effective examples, and attempt to identify the hermeneutics at play in such profoundly inter-textual works of art.

    At first glimpse, Bruno Dumont's controversial realist masterpiece La vie de Jesus is only related to Jesus by title. But beneath the surface of the film lies commentary about mortality and materiality that expands to fill the Christological brackets set by Dumont in the title. Gus van Sant's recent film Last Days narrates the last few days of Kurt Cobain’s life in the context of a loosely fictional stand-in that becomes increasingly cloaked in Jesus imagery until a final resurrection scene. And finally, Bresson’s Au hazard Balthazar quite boldly turns a dilapidated donkey into a provocative metaphor for the odd presence of Christ in contemporary culture. All three of these films are intentional and provocative allusions to Jesus in decidedly non-biblical narrative worlds. This paper will track the reflective strategies of this "non-canonical" genre through these three close readings in their appropriate film theoretical context, and articulate the rich potential for re-narrating Jesus by means of the startling generic conflict embodied by these films.
    This sounds fascinating. I've only seen one of the three films he mentions, Au hazard Balthazar, but it is an incredibly rich film, even though it takes some work on behalf of the viewer. Sadly I won't be able to be there, but I'd encourage anyone who is to watch the films before hand and hear what Mike has to say.


    • At 9:10 pm, April 12, 2006, Blogger crystal said…

      An interesting post. There are probably a number of Jesus-like characters in books as well as in movies ... the Heinlein novel, Stranger in a Strange Land comes to mind.


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