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"The King of Kings" of Flesh and Blood

Updated on December 22, 2019

At first, Jesus' portrayal of art faced great rejection among theologians, before his incarnation became a goal that helped spread religion, preach it and bring it closer to people. The seventh art made Jesus flesh and blood. Here's a tour of the works that have approached his teachings and biographies since the early 1960s.

For years, Christian theologians have disagreed with them about providing an artistic depiction of Jesus. The early Christians thought that this was a violation of the second commandment: "Don't make you a sculpture..." (Exit 20:4-6)... Until St. John of Damascene, who was one of the first to defend icons and images as a means of honor.

In 787, the Niqia II Complex settled these differences, declaring that icons and crosses were not considered pagan. "Producing representative art is a means that the words of God become real, not just fiction", he said. The Council went further than John the Damascene, recommending that all churches contain images of Christ and the saints, "the more Jesus and the saints are seen in art, the more they will remember them for a longer time". In other words, one of the objectives of Christian art was to help believers understand the idea of incarnation.

After that, a new dilemma arose: many Christians had difficulty imagining Christ as a human being, sometimes neglecting the humanity of Christ as if he were not a human body. Therefore, throughout history, the Church has affirmed that Christ is the incarnation of the Lord in human nature, and that Christ's complete humanity is essential for salvation and discipleship. If Jesus were not human, he would not have died for us.

If the Church supports art and the humanity of Christ, cinema has proved to be a better way than icons, idols and painting, because it gives us a fuller sense of who is a human being. When it comes to films that embody Christ, they are often either to preach or inspire faith. But apart from Christian films whose mission is primarily proselytizing, many directors have entered Jesus Christ in their work since the birth of cinema. Slowly, films that embody Christ began to take a different direction, and the filmmakers took the risk of approaching Christ and putting forward the dialectic of faith.

One of the first films that embodied Christ in silent cinema was a French film production (44 minutes) entitled "The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ" (1905). In 1927, American director Cecil B. DeMille presented his silent film The King of Kings on the life of Jesus from birth to crucifixion. The work (two and a half hours) is considered one of the most important silent films about the life of Christ. After that, it became annually that films presenting Jesus in a direct or indirect way were poured out. In this article, we will review some of the most important films that embodied Christ in The Seventh Art.

"King of Kings" (1961) - Nicholas Ray

From The King of Kings by Cecil B. DeMille
From The King of Kings by Cecil B. DeMille

Presenting a film with the title and story of one of Cecil B. DeMille's most important silent films doesn't mean that the film is a replay of the first film. On the contrary, Nicholas Ray's passion for the film was born directly from his heart, and by an audio account from the great American director Orson Welles. In Ray, Jesus (played by the great actor Jeffrey Hunter) is not a man of majestic power, but a simple, fat and huge young man. Ray did not seek to stir the feelings of the viewer through the "wonders" of Christ, but went to the essence of religion and faith. For example, the scene of the long sermon on the mountain (one of the most beautiful scenes in the film) embodies this religious ideology and presents the story of Christ who seeks to be among his people. The dynamics of this scene with stunning scenery, very successful. Christ does not speak to people through the pulpit, but deals with them, walks among them, hears every demand, answers every question, and surrenders entirely to his people, planting the seed of his knowledge. This is what Ray succeeded in, that is, to present the image of a man who came to teach, and to focus on the power of the faith he preaches.

Although it is a religious story with an epic pulse, it focuses not only on the character of Jesus, but also on events before his birth, focusing on the oppression suffered by the Jews at the hands of the Romans. Ray's ideological approach, completely mirrored the director's character: showing Jesus at a historic moment, revolutionary and fully integrated into his time as a director. "The King of Kings" is one of the most important films about the life and death of Christ. We certainly still remember to this day Jeffrey Hunter as the most attractive Jesus on the big screen.

"The Gospel by St. Mati" (1964) – Pierre Paolo Pasolini

Pasolini presented the Gospel according to St. Miti, based on a Marxist vision.
Pasolini presented the Gospel according to St. Miti, based on a Marxist vision.

Although the great Italian director Pierre Paolo Pasolini is a communist and an atheist, one of his most successful and popular works is a film about Jesus (played by Spanish actor Enrique Eradoki). In his masterpiece, Pasolini presented a reliable picture of Christ's existence, through the religious influence of his mother, who loved him so much (she appeared in the film, the incarnation of the Virgin Mary when she became old). The way the film was presented was almost surprising, not because of its great realism, not because one of the atheist directors stood behind the camera, but because Pasolini presented the "Gospel by St. Mati" based on a Marxist vision. He faithfully preserved the Gospel and recounted the most famous moments in Jesus' life: "Baptism by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River, teaching his disciples through proverbs, retiring in the desert for forty days and one night, confronting the desert and priests, achieving miracles, and capturing him His trial, his crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead".

Pasolini's narrative approach to the film blended with poeticity, ambiguity, realism and philosophical vision associated with Marxist ideas. Black and white, semi-harsh landscapes accompanied by classical music from Mozart, Bach and Prokofiev.

The Gospel according to St. Meti constituted a revolution. Like every revolution, fighters were required to abandon their emotional brakes. The Messiah of Pasolini is a radical Messiah determined to change the world. Because the director tells the story of Christ in an extreme way and shows him intent on destroying the prevailing models, Pasolini was forced to break several ladders. Jesus Pasolini has sublime features, dark skin and black eyes. To highlight the depth of his features, he resorted to an important detail: the scarf with his head black. Christ becomes dark with a face bent on change. The radicalism of Christ here goes beyond the physical image. Not only did he destroy the protectors of treasures and distribute wealth, but he restored dignity to the disadvantaged. He attacked hypocrites who swore in the gold of the temple instead of the temple itself or who valued the material more than their altar.

With all this radicalism in subtraction, there is no space to present emotional images. There is no skin and no pain when carrying the cross in the film. Christ is still far from himself, moving towards his martyrdom as a man who is completely immune to torture, without any trace of suffering, except for a light drop of blood falling on his forehead at the last minute of his crucifixion. Pasolini is less concerned with human suffering, what is important to him is the seeds that have been planted. Therefore, it is not strange to see at the time of resurrection, the disciples of Jesus are running epically to meet him with the tools of ploughing the earth. They are destined to re-plant faith in the cruel and brutal geography that inhabits the entire film.

"The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988) – Martin Scorsese

Four years after American director Martin Scorsese tried to produce "The Last Temptation of Christ", he almost lost hope, but he remained patient and a warrior. For a Catholic man like him who was thinking of becoming a priest in his youth, a similar film was a personal challenge for him. More importantly, Nikos Kazantzakis' novel provided him with a view that somewhat resembled his artistic specificity. Through it, Scorsese explained Jesus' speech in a personal way.

The film presents the intense duality within Christ (William Dafoe), who offers him the possibility of living a life far from the divine side. Masih Scorsese struggles with everyone, and his greatest and fiercest struggle is with himself. It is the confrontation between man and God, the struggle between our spiritual and material interior. This is the essence of Scorsese cinema. An existential cinema deeply tormented. Christ sees himself with extraordinary brutality. His body wounds and physical suffering are at the same time a mirror and a representation of his inner pain. Christ is a tale and a metaphor for the suffering of the world, not a tool of faith.

There is no Christmas in the film and no simplified approach to the mythical character of Jesus. He is a human being here, giving a new dimension more realistic and powerful than his heavenly state. The video tells the story of Jesus in an orthodox way, but dafoe's human dimension in his performance makes the well-known story more true, as if we had never seen it before. The suffering and conflict of Christ portrayed by Scorsese is on an existential level. Jesus himself doubts his state of mind, and the viewer in turn questions, and asks himself: Is this a man with schizophrenia? Where's the real God? Are the miracles he performs real or is they exaggerated, after being amplified by the collective imagination at the time?

But at an important turning point, Jesus ceases to be a simple carpenter to become the Prophet. Then, his classic image in schools and churches is radically changed. Skosi wanted to dismantle God and destroy the myths defined by the Gospels, the Church, and subsequent religions.

Here we come to the turning point, the radical modification of the events contained in the Gospel, which sparked the controversy. In the time of crucifixion, the most interesting thing in the film occurs, when Jesus knows that his sacrifice is no longer necessary, and he is free to live his life as he pleases, but to marry the one he loves. In Scorsese, Jesus lives to become old, and then finds himself on the cross again and asks God for forgiveness. This shift has led fanatics to boycott the film since it was just a jenin. Anger and violence erupted in galleries and a Paris gallery was set on fire, and the tape was banned in many countries and still banned in some of them today. It is undeniable that the film is controversial, perhaps the most controversial in Scorsese's film career. But "The Last Temptation of Christ" is a very personal work of an authentic author and director. The cinema he offers is very personal. Christ Scorsese is the messiah, the fugitive who was deceived by his worst enemy: the human Christ.

"The Passion of Christ" (2004) - Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ" spoke of the last 11 hours of Jesus' life
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ" spoke of the last 11 hours of Jesus' life

At the age of 33, the man who preaches Christianity and love became a legend above all else. He carried the sin of the world on his back, and was his way to death. It was the "passion of Christ". Australian-American actor and director Mel Gibson talks about the last 12 hours of Jesus' life.

The video is very clearly highlighted , because of its high content of violence, the last hours of Christ's life in an unusual way, especially for a film of a religious nature where violence is minimized. Gibson wanted to show in detail and brutally christ's path to crucifixion. In this sense, during most of the film, we will see Christ face the most violent violence in a detailed way. All the brutal acts of violence shown in the film are a clear and successful provocation to the audience. People with hot blood will feel the need to break into the screen to help Christ. On the other hand, sensitive people will cover their eyes for these scenes and perhaps stop watching altogether. The punishment facing Christ in the film goes beyond inhumanity, so sadistic as if it were being carried out directly in us.

Movies to Mention

Many films have dealt with the life of Christ, but few have to stop. With the films we mentioned earlier, there are some works that dealt with the life or teachings of Christ indirectly, but Christ played a major role in them. Not all of them can be mentioned because most of them are TV movies, and we are talking about movies. But we will mention two films that cannot be skipped.

  1. "The Milky Way" (1969): The great Spaniard Luis Buñuel walks the film in a humorous and surreal way. During a journey of two beggars on the main Christian pilgrimage route (St. Jacob's Road), they face the atrocities, heresy, superstition and intolerance that the Catholic religion has shared throughout its history. The video shows the principle of good and evil, and Buñuel shows some ambiguity on the religious subject even when the homeless meet Jesus and the Virgin Mary. In short, the film is a lesson in theology and philosophy that shines on issues such as fate, sin, grace, the human and divine nature of Christ and the Inquisition.
  2. "Silence" (2016): Martin Scorsese returns with a Christian personal film. "Silence" is an extreme film about religion and psychological conflicts within the religious person and the priest. It is not far from the "last temptation of Christ", it is reflections on faith, the link of the religious to his Lord, the Lord's silence towards human horrors and the suspicion of religion within each individual.

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