• 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.

    Thursday, January 16, 2020

    Messiah (2020): Episodes 4-5


    If the biblical allusions of Messiah episodes two and three were somewhat muted, then the fourth episode is much more upfront. "The Trial" riffs heavily on the discussions between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, most notably from John's Gospel.

    For some the image of a (potential) Christ-figure clad in a state-issued orange jumpsuit, with all the evocations of Guantanamo Bay may be relatively shocking, though it's an association others have made before. In 2006 Irish comedian Abie Philbin Bowman brought his show "Jesus: The Guantanamo Years" to the Edinburgh fringe where it proved such a success that twelve months later it was playing in London's West End and Off Broadway in Boston. Biblical scholars may also be aware of Gwyneth Leech's "Station X: Jesus is Stripped of his Garments" which adorns James Crossley's book "Jesus in an Age of Terror".

    While I get the impression that this will not be the last time that Al-Masih finds himself in front of the authorities, the script itself firmly points towards the connection with the trials before Pilate when Al-Masih's interrogator, CIA agent Eva Geller. When Al-Masih mentions truth, she fires back "Truth? We'll come to the truth" - not a precise use of John 18:38's "Truth, what is truth", but both structure and delivery point firmly in that direction.

    Within the confines of the programme's story, the scene with Eva is only an interview, but this episode also contains an actual trial in front of a judge who (we find out later) knows he is dying. The presidency tries to pressure him into refusing Al-Masih's asylum so instead he grants it. It is unclear whether this is simply because he wishes to resist the tyranny of the President trying to force the hand of the supposedly independent judiciary, or whether it's because he buys Al-Masih's speech about the arbitrary nature of faith, fate and nationhood, but having already delivered a speech in a similar vein to Eva, Al-Masih is clearly going to be making such speeches on a regular basis.

    Al-Masih's release is a great relief to church leader Felix who has been paying for his lawyer. Having been on the verge of torching his own church due to a lack of faith Al-Masih's appearance in the eye of the storm has restored it. Meanwhile, in Texas, crowds are flocking to Dilley the site of this miracle.

    Episode 5 picks up the story of Jibril, following his interrogation by Mossad agent Avrim in episode 3. The two were largely restricted to brief wordless scenes in episode 4: a battered Jibril stumbling through the desert; Avrim drinking and stumbling around being drunk. The Mossad man's superiors managed to catch up with him long enough to suspend him for deleting the footage of his interview with Al-Masih. Towards the start of Episode 5 it emerges Avrim has gone missing only for him to turn up later on buying guns in Texas and heading towards Dilley. Jibril meanwhile finds himself amongst Al Masih's followers on the Israeli border, only they are starting to divide as some lose faith.

    The episode's title is "So that seeing they may not see" - Jesus' explanation in Luke 8:10 of why he speaks in parables - his followers can understand, while those who don't believe won't understand even though they see the same things. And so the pilgrims flock to Dilley, multiply, and a tented community sets up home. Even Al Masih himself has a (private) tent there. But just when it appears that another miracle is due to round off the episode we get the opposite. When Al Masih is called in the hope he will heal a wounded and traumatised dog, he takes Avrim's gun and puts it out of its misery. This is the second indication this episode that this production is not to be a straight Christ figure narrative: at the start of the episode it emerged that Al Masih's court speech in "The Trial" was stolen from a stock exchange hacker. It will be interesting to see where things go from here in episode 6.

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