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    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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    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    Visual Bible's Matthew:Ch.22-23

    (From a series of posts working through the Visual Bible's Matthew).
    Chapters 22 and 23 nominally take place in and around the temple. The section opens on a close up of a lion with red smoke pouring out from between its paws. I'm not entirely sure what this statue has to do with anything (I'm not aware of a lion statue known to have been present in the temple or even Jerusalem. There is a Lion's Gate, but the lion engraved on it is not like this as far as I am aware). It is however, reminiscent of Last Temptation of Christ where a statue of Caesar is surrounded by more copious amounts of smoke.

    These chapters are almost entirely Jesus speaking, aside from a few points of narration and the questions from his opponents. First up is the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. By the time Jesus reaches the end, where he describes the inappropriately dressed man as being bound and thrown outside to weep and gnash his teeth, actor Bruce Marchiano is fighting back the tears. It gives a more compassionate view of Jesus, but it does raise questions about his God and his relationship to him.

    At this point, Jesus encounters opposition from several different Jewish groups: Pharisees, Herodians, Saducees and perhaps the teachers of the law. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really distinguish between the different groups. They all look the same. There is one distinction, the Pharisee / Herodian who asks Jesus about paying taxes does so in a West Country accent (south-west England). This is very distracting, like listening to the video of Darth Vader in Star Wars before James Earl Jones re-did the voice. It's this man himself who gives Jesus the coin, and when he's done Jesus throws it back to him. It's not a big moment, but a nice touch nonetheless.

    Jesus then deals with the question about the resurrection from the Saducees. Then there's a cut, another shot of the lion statue, before we move to a scene on the steps of the temple. This will be the setting for the rest of this chapter and all of the next. Jesus answers the question about the greatest commandment, and then replies with a questions about David's "the LORD said to my Lord". Jesus ends the passage and kissing the grumpiest (and seemingly leader) of the Pharisees on the cheek. The Pharisee does not react at all, except perhaps to look even more put out than he did before.

    Then it's time for the seven woes. It's one of the harshest passages in Matthew's Gospel, and Marchiano really goes for it, yelling "You snakes. You Brood of Vipers", but with sadness and sorrow as much as with anger. If anything Marchiano is even madder here than Irazoqui is when he delivers this passage. Ultimately though it all ends in tears, as Jesus weeps over Jerusalem sat on the floor. Compositionally, whereas the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisee in chapter 21 saw them on higher ground and him lower down, this time Jesus is higher, stood a top the steps in what is presumably meant to be the temple whilst the Pharisees look on from below. They have already started storming off, but somehow stay to hear the end of Jesus' words. The grumpy Pharisee is getting madder and madder, but the reactions vary amongst his compatriots. One older Pharisee even cowers at one point, shielding his face as Jesus launches a fresh tirade. Strong stuff.

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    • At 11:47 am, September 24, 2010, Blogger Kevin C. Neece said…

      When people call Bruce's portrayal "the smiling Jesus," this scene springs boldly to mind. It'll rattle your teeth. I love me some Jesus teeth-rattling!

    • At 1:54 am, September 25, 2010, Blogger Patrick said…

      I'll just comment on the lion:
      It's not so much red smoke but fire burning between its paws (thus, the statue is actually a lamp or something?) Or at least, that's how it looked to me.

    • At 5:28 pm, September 27, 2010, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for your comments.

      Patrick, yes I wasn't quite sure what it was, but it did remind me very much of the scene from Last Temptation. Given it appears twice I can't help but wonder what the thinking was?


    • At 2:08 pm, September 29, 2010, Blogger Patrick said…

      Now that you mention it, yeah, it does kinda remind one of The Last Temptation's red smoke (for some reason, if I recall correctly, the fog also appeared in the Passover sequence in that film).

      That being said, that's actually one scene which left me thinking: huh? For one, why did the Jews allow a pagan idol to be erected within the Temple's precincts?
      Then again I wasn't really impressed with the film, not so much because of theological reasons, but also because it has become quite a different creature from the original novel (the purist in me is speaking here. It cuts out a lot of - admittedly minor - characters and reduces the role of many (Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, and Matthew are a few that come to my mind), alters some sequences (the trial scenes in the novel for one is much closer to the Gospels than the film's one-on-one between David Bowie and DeFoe! ;)), and introduces original stuff (i.e. the scene where Jesus rips his heart out). Not to mention that the film leaves the portrayal of the reality of the 'last temptation' itself as being ambiguous whereas Kazantzakis was clear overall that that was merely a vision.

      Just a final note. The film and the novel also diverge on the fact that while the film looks as if it tries to appear as historically accurate (i.e. the portrayal of the crucifixion), Kazantzakis actually makes quite a number of allusions to traditional iconography and Eastern Christian spirituality in his novel. All in all, the supernatural is more present in the novel than the film.

    • At 2:35 pm, September 29, 2010, Blogger Patrick said…

      And just to leave another comment: the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes all visually looking the same reminded me of the misconception that 'the Pharisees put Jesus to death' (they did plot to kill Him a number of times, yes, but a closer look at the Passion Narratives show that they, aside from a couple of mentions, are almost absent - instead 'the chief priests, the scribes and the elders' show up as the prime movers). I hope the film should've at least distinguished between Pharisees and Sadducees.

    • At 2:39 pm, September 29, 2010, Blogger Patrick said…

      BTW, the Caesar statue at the Temple in The Last Temptation film (if I recall there's no mention of it in the actual novel - but if it didn't it's not surprising, considering the film is quite a different creature than the original book) puzzled me. Why would a pagan idol be in the precincts of the Temple?

    • At 9:24 am, October 07, 2010, Blogger Patrick said…

      Now that you mention the Last Temptation, I can't help but wonder about that scene. Why would a pagan idol be in the precincts of the Jewish Temple? That's one addition that I don't really understand.

      And yes, after I had the chance to actually read the novel for myself (as part of research), I've found that it was quite different a creature from the film. The film cuts out a lot of characters (admittedly, most of them were minor) and scenes and introduces a lot in its place (notably the 'Jesus ripping his heart out' scene was one of that). Not to mention that whereas the film took great pains for naturalism and historical accuracy (cf. the crucifixion scene), Kazantzakis wasn't afraid to include references to traditional Eastern Christian spirituality in the main work itself, and thus, the supernatural has more of a presence in the book than the film.


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