• 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, August 04, 2010

    Visual Parallels in Barabbas

    I recently bought Barabbas (1961) on DVD. I was scanning through it to find a suitable screen grab to publicise the course I'm running - Rough Guide to the New Testament - and noticed a number of interesting visuals in the first few scenes alone. Some of these are obvious on a first watching - the eerie aura in the crucifixion scene due to it being filmed during an eclipse, the point of view shot as the squinting Barabbas emerges into the light, Barabbas coming face to face with Jesus in a wordless shot. But there were a number of subtler touches that I picked up this time around.

    The first is the way that when Barabbas first sees Jesus his head is almost 'eclipsing' the sun. This not only prefigures the celestial oddities that will occur during Jesus' crucifixion, but it also gives Jesus a halo of sorts.
    Then there's the way the film pairs its eponymous anti-hero, first with Pilate and then with Jesus. The relationship between Barabbas and Jesus, particularly the concept of Jesus dying in Barabbas' place is on of the film's major themes. It's emphasised in two different visual ways in the first 12 minutes. Initially the film intercuts between Barabbas' pardon and Jesus being scourged and taken to be crucified. But then, as Barabbas returns to his friends, they act out a mock coronation (top picture). This obviously corresponds to the shots of Jesus being mocked with the crown of thorns such as these:But the film also pairs Barabbas off with Pilate: The shot of Pilate washing his hands (below)of the charge against Jesus is immediately followed by one of Barabbas washing his own hands (further below). Barabbas may be about to be substituted for Jesus, but he has as much in common with Pilate, the common soldier who takes other people's death's trivially, than he does with Jesus.
    As an aside, the opening shot of this film (below) is a great one, positioning the viewer as if they are in the crowd (which is routing for Barabbas), thus enabling us to associate with Barabbas, and reminding us that we too are complicit in his death.

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    • At 1:52 pm, September 03, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Barabbas name means son, and Jesus is son of God, this way people choose between two sons, they are identifying on which side they are, Gods or on the other evil one.
      Barabbas is a combination of two Aramaic words, bar, which means son, and abba, which means father

    • At 10:43 am, September 06, 2010, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for that. One of the film's major themes is exploring this parallel FWIW.


    • At 7:34 pm, May 01, 2012, Blogger ercole l'invincibile said…

      It's one of the better films of this type: jack palance was alot of fun...and it has an existential, cinecitta ambience

      purely as a bit of trivia for those of us who watch too many movies, but Coffin Joe stole the whipping soundtrack from this film for his movies

      this movie had an unusually experimental score

    • At 1:51 pm, November 21, 2016, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      ...Isn't by Jesus standing before the sun anyone reminded on the Ecce Homo in Zeffirelli's „Jesus of Nazareth“? Despite this, in the 3d edition of Tatum's „Jesus at the Movies“, one can read that Zeffirelli is particularly fond of Duvivier's „Golgotha“ (p. 62).

      Philip Rasmus.


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