• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Sunday, February 02, 2020

    Messiah (2020): Episodes 6-8


    If this is the first time you've come across my blog I should point out this is not a typical post. In 15 years of blogging I've hardly ever used the term 'antichrist' - it just happens that both this and Good Omens have come out at the same time!

    Two things happened for me while watching and reading about episodes 6-8 of Netflix's Messiah (2020). The first is that it was in these episodes where is becomes clear that it is not just the filmmakers who are knowingly referencing events in the Gospels, but the character Al-Masih himself. Most significant in this respect is the main set piece of episode six when Al-Masih (who we learn is really called Payem Golshiri) walks across the Lincoln Memorial's Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C.

    This is a miracle recognised even by those who have no other knowledge of Jesus. When Al Masih does it, it is a calculated move he has chosen as a way of staking the claim that he IS Jesus. Without tediously going into the specifics, this is exactly how the crowd in the programme interpret this miracle. This was not clearly the case in earlier miracles which lacked such a biblical parallel. So while there have been other parallels along the way, the Messiah's referencing of gospel events is part of servicing the series' broader aim.

    This is particularly significant because prior to this we have not been party to Al Masih's understanding of himself. Dramatically this serves to keep up the suspense: is he the real deal or an impostor? We've been denied any hint of what he himself thinks - even his typically flat and seemingly dispassionate delivery maintains this barrier. When, for example, in episode seven a woman turns up in Al Masih's room his initial response is blunt and a little offensive, as if he lacks social skills. Indeed, I find myself a little repelled by it. But then he turns it around, the reaction his abrupt manner produces gives him enough to work with to reach the heart of this woman, and maker her devoted to him. Again there are shades of the Gospels here, albeit it a mishmash of the woman accused of adultery, the woman who anoints Jesus, and later traditions about Mary Magdalene. Essentially a woman who has broken the supposedly acceptable markers of sexuality finds acceptance in the Messiah and becomes a follower.

    It's clear that Al Maish has a heightened sense of who this woman is, but is he genuinely helping the woman find self-acceptance, or just disarming one of his enemies weapons? Al Masih talks about love, but there's very little warmth. This is cunning because it sets the viewer against her/himself. We expect the two to go together, but because we want this encounter to be genuine we're also prepared to accept that the two don't have to go together.

    The second element to emerge for me during these episodes was the possibility that Al Masih is the Antichrist. One one level this has been there from the start, not least because of the Muslim commentators who were quick to point out the associations of the name Al Masih with Al Masih ad Dajjal (an Antichrist-like figure, see comments on episodes 1-3).

    At the same time, however, I've not felt the previous episodes of the show were that concerned with this possibility, but were more interested in three other options: that Al Masih is some variation on Christ returned; that he is simply a harmless impostor; or that his deception is more insidious but is part of a rogue foreign power's plan to compromise the defences of the US and her allies. That's what's concerning the CIA at any rate. It's perhaps significant then that these episodes see an increase in Muslim reactions to Al Masih, including Jibril becoming a leader.

    Thus far, what Messiah has done differently from, say, horror films which use an Antichrist figure, is to leave the viewer puzzling over whether or not Al Masih is the true Christ or a false messiah. In fact, biblically speaking the term is very low key. It's only use is in John's epistles, primarily 1 John 2:18-28 (but also ch.4 and 2 John 1), and is simply "one who denies the Father and the Son" (v22). A single, dramatic Antichrist is not on the cards so much as various people who will leave the community and deny their faith.

    From there various people have extrapolated the word to other parts of the Bible. Perhaps the closest is  Mark 13/Matt 24/Luke 21. The disciples ask Jesus a question about the destruction of the temple (which happened in 70 A.D.) and he starts to discuss false Messiahs - people posing as Christ returned but who are nothing of the sort. Some have spun this out to be referring to the end of the world, hence this is the biblical conundrum these episodes pose.

    This is why Al Masih's deliberate rehashing of biblical incidents is significant. It's a claim to be a Messiah, but is it true or false?

    What we also see in this episode is references to some of the other, more vivid passages and characters, such as 2 Thes. and Rev.18, that some have linked to the idea of the Antichrist, even though the word is not used.

    Firstly, at the start of episode 8 we have Al Masih suggesting to the US President the possibility of a thousand years of peace, which seems like a reference to Rev.20's thousand years when the devil is locked up, though Al Masih's solution is for the president to "withdraw all American troops" from foreign soil.

    Then there is the scene where Philip Baker Hall's character, Kelman Katz, encounters a beach full of dead fish. For film fans, this very much evokes the famous moment in Magnolia when it starts raining frogs, but it also has echoes of a third of all the sea creatures dying at the start of Rev.13-18. The news of a tidal surge at the end of episode 8 also seems to evoke this passage.

    Thirdly, episode 7 also reveals a link between Al Masih and Russia. Some of the most extreme end-time predictions link Russia with Gog and Magog from Ezek.38-19 and Rev.20. It's a clever reference by the writers, more than anything else, designed to catch the ear of those who know more about this than is probably healthy.

    Finally, episode 8 also features Al Masih holds a press conference and is asked outright "Are you the Messiah", but instead of giving a straight answer he replies "I am a message". The journalist is not so easily satisfied however and demands that he "answer the question". This time he replies with a claim which could come from either a returning Jesus or an antichrist figure: "I am here to bring about the world to come."

    All of which has the effect of placing the audience in a position similar to that of the intended audiences for John's epistles and the synoptic gospels. Someone is making claims to be the Messiah, but is he; or is he a false messiah working to bring about the end of the world? The series wants it's audience to make it's own judgements and, unlike typical supernatural thrillers, wants to prolong that process so audiences have to wrestle with it themselves. The episode ends with a tidal surge putting lives at risk (perhaps the third trumpet in Rev.13?) and Al Masih being grilled again. When he says he only wants what God wants, he is pressed further. "What is it that God wants?" Al Massih pauses and looks wistfully out of the window "He wants the flood".

    Ongoing thanks to readysteadycut.com for the extremely useful plot summaries.

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    5 Comments:

    • At 11:12 pm, February 14, 2020, Blogger Bob MacDonald said…

      Hi Matt - so nice to see you are still posting on Bible films. I think the walking on water, FWIW, is a reflection of Mr Massey's comment that each will see their broken reflection according to their viewing bias. The filmmakers seem to have remained true to this considering the variety of biases they portray.

       
    • At 9:00 am, February 17, 2020, Blogger Matt Page said…

      That's a nice take on it Bob. So glad you're still reading.

      Matt

       
    • At 1:10 am, February 28, 2020, Blogger Jake said…

      I find this show offensive to Christ, though. I don't recommend it to anyone. When I saw posters and ads, I felt embarrassed because it didn't look accurate to scripture. I'm totally avoiding it at all costs.

       
    • At 4:52 am, February 28, 2020, Blogger Jake said…

      I don't recommend this series at all. I find it offensive to the Lord. Not worth watching if you'd ask me.

       
    • At 4:03 pm, April 11, 2020, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Hi Jake, I guess that's your right to do so. All I say is that I've found this series to be not quite what I expected. And if the character is (as I say above) the Anti-Christ then I guess, by definition he is meant to be offensive.

      As I say though, given Netflix will judge whether to make more stuff like this based on clicks and views - regardless of whether you like it or not, I understand your reluctance to give them that click!

      All the best,

      Matt

       

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