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Peter T Chattaway

Last Days in the Desert

38 posts in this topic

36 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

: . . . before Jesus leaves the desert, Satan tells him that if he ever changes his mind about his mission, he'll offer him a way out, or something like that. The hummingbird is Christ's "last temptation" moment. 

Yes! That line of dialogue is in the film that I saw, and that was my thought too. But the scene with the hummingbird is just cryptic enough that apparently some people think it might be a sign of grace.

In the post-screening Q&A with Garcia at my viewing, someone asked about the hummingbird image, and (I'm paraphrasing) he essentially stated he just thought the image to be provocative. He said something like, "Is it Satan? Is it God? Is it just a hummingbird? I dunno!" Apparently he *did* research into what types of hummingbirds are native to the area. So this may be a case where the filmmaker puts something within the image to evoke something in the audience, but may not have had a clear intention beyond that. Honestly, the hummingbird scene and few other moments in the crucifixion sequence felt like weak points to me, akin to Inarritu's falling meteor scenes in his previous two films--they're enigmatic and evocative, and maybe nothing more.

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Thanks for that tidbit, Joel. 

Edited by Nathaniel

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4 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

 

: Are you referring to Ferrara's Mary?

Oh, how I wish that there was some way I could see this movie.

One of my favs!

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Thanks from this corner too, Joel. Yeah, I'd have to say I'm all for imagery that teases the imagination, but I normally hope that the director has at least a little more of an idea of what he's up to than the audience does. Film-as-Rorschach-test is less interesting to me than film-as-poetry, if I can put it that way.

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53 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Film-as-Rorschach-test is less interesting to me than film-as-poetry...

QUOTABLE.

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Oh, that's a great analogy. And there are certainly poetic moments in this film, moments which invite reflection and interpretation. I think the final shot does exactly this, and we could talk quite about the meaning behind the final image (in fact, maybe we should!). But the hummingbird may be nothing more than an interesting image Garcia wanted to put in the film.

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The Latino Committee sponsored a post-screening Q&A at the DGA on May 15th, moderated by Scott Derrickson. The full talk can be watched here.

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On 5/16/2016 at 9:47 PM, Nathaniel said:

Another question you raise, about whether the film encourages us to look inward or outward, is slightly more difficult to answer. I have a theory I've been playing with lately that supposes the most vital films about Christ are more illuminative of the auteur behind the camera than of the subject they are undertaking. Hence, Pasolini gives us a portrait of a lonely intellectual surrounded by idiots, Ray an attractive celebrity working within and against a system, Scorsese a troubled sinner working out his salvation with fear and trembling, etc.

If I applied the same theory to this one, I would say that it tells us less about the subjective experience of the Son of God (a distinction Garcia takes all too literally) and more about what it feels like to be the son of a famous author.

These are important comments. Your first comment is something Jesus Studies has been talking about for the last few decades, and I spent a few years at conferences arguing that Jesus cinema was the best place to see this self-reference in real-time, connected to specific historical and social contexts. It is my hope that the book I am working on will push a little harder on this issue.

And FWIW, Last Days is perhaps the best exemplar of an Ebionite or adoptionist Christology I have seen in cinema. This Christology argues this concept in a few different ways (and was deemed heretical quite quickly), but the gist is that the Christ came upon the human Jesus, and left him again at the crucifixion. Again, the causality here is defined different ways, but most will argue that Jesus achieved this adoption through his generosity of spirit, denial of wealth and status, and unique law-abiding nature. 

This is not an orthodox Christology for sure, but it is a very interesting one. It depicts Jesus in very humanist terms, as one who achieved Messianic significance by a deliberate poverty of spirit (the "Ebionite" term deriving from the Hebrew word for "poor" linked by early Christian writers with the concept in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount). Thus his spiritual biography can be seen as an iconic resistance of materialism and denial of social status as a mark of one's relationship with God. His death is the ultimate example of one broken, delivered to God as sacrifice on behalf of the idolatry of Israel. Last Days poses Jesus battle with Lucifer in these very terms. 

So yeah... subjective experience of Garcia present for sure. But it is an experience cast in very historic (even if heterodox) Christian terms.

--

And your second comment is what I like best about Last Days. It is the most Johannine film I can think of in that it takes Jesus' Father/Son conundrum seriously. This is kind of a father/son film that happens to have Jesus in it - thus making its reflections cosmic in scale.

So, so much to say about this excellent film.

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On 5/17/2016 at 5:01 PM, Joel Mayward said:

So this may be a case where the filmmaker puts something within the image to evoke something in the audience, but may not have had a clear intention beyond that. Honestly, the hummingbird scene and few other moments in the crucifixion sequence felt like weak points to me, akin to Inarritu's falling meteor scenes in his previous two films--they're enigmatic and evocative, and maybe nothing more.

Right. Hummingbirds have zero connection to the Jesus reception history excepting this film. I understand the desire to insert something into the scene that would perk it up a bit, but maybe a more thoughtful choice would have worked better. A Noahic dove? The Talmud describes God in Genesis 1:1 as a dove. The raven Jesus tells his disciples to consider? The rooster which crows for Peter? Though I guess they don't fly.

But what other elements of the scene felt like weak points? 

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7 hours ago, M. Leary said:

But what other elements of the scene felt like weak points? 

I would have to revisit the film to remember what I found to be troubling, but I do recall that the tone and aesthetic of the final crucifixion sequence didn't quite resonate with me in the way the rest of the film did. I should watch it again.

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Today only, you can rent this movie at Vudu for 10 cents as part of its anniversary celebration.

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