• 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


    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    Mary Scene Analysis

    Having reviewed Abel Ferrara's Mary last month I'm now posting a scene analysis, of sorts. I say "of sorts", because, as I noted in my review the film does not really have much to do with the New Testament per se. as the fictional Jesus movie that the film is about seems to be as much derived from the non-canonical Gospel of Mary, as the New Testament. Instead of giving a list of biblical and extra-biblical scenes as normal, instead I'm going to describe various scenes, with particular emphasis on the scene's involving the actress who plays Mary Magdalene in the fictional movie Marie Palese (Juliette Binoche). Naturally this post contains spoilers galore.

    I should perhaps give a brief intro to the film (although read my review for more detail). Tony Childress (Matthew Modine) is a film producer who is making a controversial movie about Jesus, based in part on the Gospel of Mary. Mary is played by an actress called Marie Palese (Juliette Binoche) who has a religious experience as a result of filming the movie and moves to the Holy Land. But the film really revolves around Ted Younger, a TV presenter whose programme looks at various controversies surrounding the life of Christ.

    [0 mins] - Credits
    [3 mins] - Mary Sees the Risen Jesus - (John 20:1, 10-17)
      We see two women, two angels and the empty tomb. Jesus appears, but then this scene ends abruptly and cuts to Palese waking up in bed as if from a troubling dream, suggesting this was actually her dream
    [6 mins]- The movie wraps and we see Younger's show and meet his wife.
    [15 mins]- Press screening. Incorporates...
    [17 mins]- 1st excerpt from Gospel of Mary (paraphrased)
      They grieved and mourned greatly, saying,
      "How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If even he was not spared, how shall we be spared?"
      Then Mary stood up and greeted all of them and said to her brethren,
      "Do not mourn or grieve or be irresolute, for his grace will be with you all and will defend you. Let us rather praise his greatness, for he prepared us and made us into men." When Mary said this, their hearts changed for the better, and they began to discuss the words of the [Savior]. Peter said to Mary,
      "Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than other women [cf. John 11:5, Luke 10:38-42]. Tell us the words of the Savior which you have in mind since you know them; and we do not, nor have we heard of them."
      Mary answered and said,
      "What is hidden from you I will impart to you."
      And she began to say the following words to them.
      "I," she said, "I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to him,
           'Lord, I saw you today in a vision.'
           He answered and said to me,
           'Blessed are you, since you did not waver at the sight of me. For where the mind is, there is your countenance' [cf. Matt. 6:21].
           I said to him,
           'Lord, the mind which sees the vision, does it see it through the soul or through the spirit?'
           The Savior answered and said,
           'It sees neither through the soul nor through the spirit, but the mind, which is between the two, which sees the vision
      [cut to shot of Younger watching, also signifying a jump in the text]
      When Mary had said this, she was silent, since the Savior had spoken thus far with her. But Andrew answered and said to the brethren,
      "Say what you think concerning what she said. For I do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are of other ideas."
      Peter also opposed her in regard to these matters and asked them about the Savior.
      "Did he then speak secretly with a woman [cf. John 4:27], in preference to us, and not openly? Are we to turn back and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?"
      Then Mary grieved and said to Peter,
      "My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I thought this up myself in my heart or that I am lying concerning the Savior?"
      Levi answered and said to Peter,
      "Peter, you are always irate. Now I see that you are contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you to reject her?
    [20 mins]Younger arranges an interview with Childress.
    [28 mins] - 2nd excerpt from Gospel of Mary
      ...and Desire said,
      'I did not see you descend; but now I see you rising. Why do you speak falsely, when you belong to me?'
      The soul answered and said,
      'I saw you, but you did not see me or recognize me; I served you as a garment and you did not recognize me.'
      Followed by a behind the scenes shot of the movie. The whole sequence has a dreamy feel to it.
    [29 min]Younger and Gretchen in bed
      Not only does this scene reveal Younger is having an affair, but we also realise that she is Marie Palese's friend. She reveals Palese has been away for a year, after going to s deep place, living two lives for the sake of the film and that Childress never helped her come back from that place. Later we see Younger get Palese's number from Gretchen's mobile whilst she sleeps
    [34 mins]- 1st 'phone conversation between Younger and Palese
      MP:Do you believe in Jesus
      TY:I guess he existed yeah sure
      MP:What do you believe?
      TY:I don't know
      MP:It takes courage to walk in the truth, and it takes courage to become fully human. Jesus helped Mary Magdalene, and (s)he’s helping me now.

    [37 mins] - Elaine Pagels expounds her theories on the Gospel of Mary
    [39 mins] - Footage of Younger arguing with his wife, and conducting an interview
    [44 mins] - Shots of Palese in "biblical" dress (Magdalene?) sailing of on the sea (of Galilee?)
    [46 mins] - Younger discovers blood. His wife's prematurely in labour.
    [52 mins] - 2nd 'phone conversation between Younger and Palese
      TY:My baby’s so sick, so sick, can’t even breathe
      MP:Do you love your baby?
      MP:As his father would you do everything in your power for him?
      MP:If your baby asked you for something would you give it to him
      MP:Do you think the father, your father would do the same for you?
      TY:D’you know what, my Dad’s dead, but yeah
      MP:No I mean your father Ted, the father that’s always there. He loves us more than we humans can comprehend
      TY:Oh well if he loves me so much then why is he doing this to me?
      MP:Have you asked him? Have you spoken to him?
      TY:How can I ask him if I don’t even know if I believe in him? I want to go to him and fight I don’t want to speak to him. I don’t know how to do that
      MP:Well he sent us a messenger so we could understand, so go to him, pray, try
      TY:I can’t speak to God.
    [54 mins]- More modern footage,
      This includes footage of both Jews and Muslims worshipping in Jerusalem, and Marie lighting three candles (for Ted, Elizabeth and their baby?) in a church. She then attends what appears to be a Jewish Passover seder which is interrupted by an explosion. Footage of Ted in hospital, and Palese disappearing down a dark street. Directly cuts into...
    [59 mins] - Last Supper - (John 14:27-28, 16:32, 15:20,25, 16:1-4)
      Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives
      Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not let them be afraid. If you loved me you would rejoice...
      The hour has come when you’ll be scattered, each one to his own home. And I will be left alone
      Because they will persecute you as they have persecuted me.
      They do this to fulfil the word that is written in their law, they hated me …
      I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling
      The hour has come when you will be put out the synagogues, indeed, the hour has come when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.
      I’ve said these things before they occur, so when they do occur you may remember that I spoke of them and you may believe.
    [64 mins] - Younger interviews Childress and Palese
      Scene follows on directly form the last one so it is unclear whether or not the Last Supper scene is part of Mary's imagination/memory again, or as part of the TV programme. Clip is followed by Younger interviewing Childress, before a call from Palese is patched through...

      TY: What would make you leave behind being an actress
      MP: I had no other choice, I played the role of MM, and I became fascinated and inspired by her. I wondered if I could change. You know my heart was hardly able to contain anything else. That’s why I stayed...
      TC: What you doing now? Healing lepers?
      MP: I will say that we are all capable of becoming better people...people’s inner turmoil every day, one thing I’d like to say is that my wish is that all people in the world acquire peace within themselves, that’s all I want to say
    [67 mins] - Jesus washing the disciples’ feet - (John 13)[70 mins] - Younger's prayer.
    [73 mins] - Movie Premiere
      Protests outside premiere which is called off because of a bomb threat. Childress projects movie and we see a few broken up excerpts, interspersed with shots of Mary at sea

      "You are blessed when the sight of me does not disturb you. There lies the mind lies the treasure."
      "Where do you come from, murderer, and where are you going, wanderer?...My craving has faded, and I am freed from my ignorance...I left the world with the help of another world...The design was erased by virtue of a higher design. Henceforth I travel toward repose(?)"
    [78 mins] - Younger and his wife re-united
    [79 mins] - Palese returns to shore still in biblical dress.
    [80 mins] - End Credits

    A Few Notes
    Further to my post questioning the relationship between Marie Palese and Mary Magdalene I noticed in fast forwarding through recently the parenthesis provided by the two scenes of Mary by the shore of the sea (presumably of Galilee. In the first shot her companions are going out to sea, in the final one, they are returning from their voyage. (I also noticed a couple of fleeting shots of her in a storm at sea when Childress is projecting the movie after the aborted premiere. It's unclear here whether this is footage of the film, or, again, in his head. Certainly the way Palese directly addresses the camera would be unlikely for such a movie). Given that the first and last shots surround the scenes where Ted prays for forgiveness and the healing of his family, ultimately leading to his confession to his wife and their reconciliation, (not to mention an epiphany of sorts for Childress) it would appear that there is something of a "fishers of men" motif being indicated here.

    Some people have noted that the extant text of the Gospel of Mary never actually stipulates that the Mary it refers to is Mary Magdalene. There are of course up to six different Mary's mentioned in the New Testament, and this could possibly refer to any of them. That said it seems hard to imagine that many of them would have such prominence other than Mary Magdalene, and Mary Jesus's mother. In any case this argument mainly seems to be employed to permit people to ignore the text without taking it seriously.

    I'm still unclear what this film is saying about Mel Gibson and The Passion of the Christ. On the one hand it would appear to side with the maker of a controversial Jesus film and support Gibson's right to free speech, but on the other Childress is so arrogant and unsympathetic that one can't help but wonder if that is intended as a reflection on Gibson too. Furthermore the film seems to have strong sympathies regarding the Gospel of Mary, not only bringing it to greater prominence, but also giving a platform to one of its most vociferous champion, Elaine Pagels, and indicating the faith that the work might inspire. But it does so, by showing how the established church has suppressed the work, another thing that appears contrary to Gibson. Perhaps Ferrara is simply taking the line of disagreeing with what Gibson does, but defending his right to do it.

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    • At 1:33 am, December 17, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Thanks for your interesting review and synopsis. I am currently preparing a review of the film for publishing on my new blog.

      I hope you don't mind me questioning one obsevance here and in your review.

      You say: "this scene ends abruptly and cuts to Palese waking up in bed as if from a troubling dream, suggesting this was actually her dream"

      I think this is a very important point and something you should revisit. I would strongly argue that Palesi is not waking from a dream. We never see her asleep or actually waking up. Admittedly she is in the halflight, wearing what appears to be night clothes (under the jacket in the next scene), but may also be costume from the film.

      The significance of this is very important as I believe it permeates the entire film. If Palesi is awake she is having a "vision" of some description. This is an interuption of her consiousness. We all dream while we are asleep - sometimes vividly, but we do not all experience interuptions of our concious stream.

      This then opens Palesi's actions in the film to more interpretation- her rejection of her career and her work for a spiritual quest. It may be based on divine intervention of some sort, or it may be the actions of a psycholgically disturbed individual (schizophrenia). Certainly she is disturbed as she wanders around the set in the next film.

      Another important point is that her vision is of herself and her film - ie her personification of Magdalene and not a vision of the "real" Mary. This would seem to add muster to the perception that she is disturbed.

      After Marie leaves for Jerusalem we do not see her again until well into the film (when she is walking in the desert) - we see scenes of her haunting performance in "This is My Blood", but none of herself. What state is she in? Interestingly her "nervous breakdown" has led to finding peace and spiritual fulfillment and no indication that her concious stream is still being interupted.


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