• 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


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    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Bale in Mary the Mother of Jesus

    I've started re-watching the Jesus-as-a-grown-up section of Mary the Mother of Jesus and thought I'd write down a few notes.

    Locating the transition from Jesus' life as a child to adulthood turned out to be harder than you might expect. Sometimes DVD makers fail to do the most obvious things, and for some reason no-one seems to have thought that it might be a good idea to start a new DVD chapter when we jump from Jesus as a 12 year old to him as an adult.

    When we do encounter him as an adult he's 30 (as in Luke) and working as a carpenter. After a shot or two with him banging about bits of wood, there's a phony scene of him dealing with a customer who can't afford the service he has just provided. Jesus just smiles. "Pay me when you can". It's not that I struggle to accept that Jesus may have been compassionate with his customers, or even that he let some of them delay payment that gets me. No it's the sense that this customer's failure to mention his financial situation until after the work was done would be received in such a wet-blanket fashion. And the filmmakers deciding that of all his years working as a carpenter, this would be the moment to show as if to force the point "hey look Jesus is so compassionate".

    Like Jesus (1999) this initial focus on Jesus as a carpenter is quickly overshadowed by the death of Joseph. Before he dies Joseph croaks to Mary "Jesus: everything he is, you've made him". Whilst the Yoda-esque sentence construction, and Joseph giving Mary all the credit for how Jesus has shaped up are just about forgiveable, Mary's silence and refusal to share the credit is not. I imagine this dialogue was conceived to highlight May's all-round wonderfulness, but it just makes her appear arrogant and uncaring. Not only is Joseph's statement the rising of a last desperate cry of a man fearing his imminent death - which surely calls for reassurance - but it's utterly unrealistic to imagine that a parent could have been with his son for 30 years and had yet no influence whatsoever on his son (no matter who the son in question was).

    Both films also explore the idea that Joseph's death acts as a trigger for the start of Jesus' ministry. Further, both films contend that Mary's advice is pivotal in helping Jesus realise this. The films were released at more or less exactly the same time so it's unlikely this is the result of copying. That said, the way this film does this is particularly galling: Mary conveniently decides to let Jesus know that he actually has a cousin and fills Jesus in as to his behaviour at the River Jordan. Jesus replies that the reason he went to the temple aged 12 was because he heard God tell him to, and now, through Mary's words he has heard God speak again.

    So Jesus, along with Mary, goes in search of his cousin, and after hearing his message Jesus decided to take the plunge, but bizarrely Mary then wades into the water to share in the moment. It's a strange moment not because it could not have happened - mother and son being baptised together is eminently reasonable - but because, again, it rings false. The gospels bracket off Jesus' baptism as in some way exceptional. Here Mary is brought, unwarranted, into that bracket, and in a way that is laboured and awkward.

    Having only made it as far as 10 minutes through I'm going to have to stop, at least for now, partly because it's late and partly because it's already all got a bit too much. Jesus and Mary have just been discussing his plans for saving the world. "
    Those stories you used to tell" he says, as if incapable of original thought, "that's how I'll teach them..."

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