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Darrel Manson

Christ figures in films

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OK, I'll admit that I see Christ figures where few others do. That either means I'm very perceptive, or that I really want to see them. I see lots of threads about films that note a Christ figure, but I didn't see one dedicated to discussing them.

Let's start with defining Christ figure. It is a character that conveys some aspect of Christ - redeeming, sacrificial, avenging (apocalyptic), etc. No Christ figure will ever be a perfect representation, so we ought not to get hung up on how they miss the mark, only on how they hit the mark.

Luke in Cool Hand Luke is an obvious Christ figure.

The one I'm thinking about now is Christy in In America. (Name is a bit obvious, isn't it?). When I skimmed through the In America thread I didn't see any references to her as Christ figure (although I didn't read everyone's reviews.)

Here's how I see her as such (besides the name): she is the one who liberates the family from the spectre of Frankie. She is shown shedding (and sharing) her blood. At one point she says, I've been carrying this family on my back for a year (as if she is the one carrying the cross). Is that enough to consider her as a Christ figure? I think it's enough for us to think about it.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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The robot in Iron Giant has become one of my favorite film Christ figures.

Sacrifices himself for those who fear and would kill him and then is miraculously resurrected.

I just finished studying Lord of the Flies with my HS Junior English class (been years since I had read it) and I was struck by the complexity of Simon as a Christ figure in that book. Does it come out that strongly in the film version?

Edited by solishu

Scott -- 2nd Story -- Twitter

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Luke in Cool Hand Luke is an obvious Christ figure.

Clearly you're right about Cool Hand Luke -- although people have argued with me on that one.

Another obvious one is Bogart at the end of Casablanca. He even uses (paraphrases) Christ's own words from John 13:36 -- "Where I'm going, you can't follow. "


Yours truly,

ABP

No one with a good car needs to be justified. -- Hazel Motes

In the final end, he won the wars, after losin' every battle.-- Bob Dylan, Idiot Wind

Hot Rod Anglican blog ...

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The Christ figure that leaps most immediately to my mind is perhaps the most personally disquieting one I can think of: Grace in DOGVILLE. Without venturing into spoiler territory I can't say more, but suffice it to say, she embodies for me aspects of Jesus' role in salvation history that I've assented to hundreds of times in the creed, but mostly live as if I didn't believe.


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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The Christ figure that leaps most immediately to my mind is perhaps the most personally disquieting one I can think of: Grace in DOGVILLE.  Without venturing into spoiler territory I can't say more, but suffice it to say, she embodies for me aspects of Jesus' role in salvation history that I've assented to hundreds of times in the creed, but mostly live as if I didn't believe.

Ron, I figured you'd be ready to make a list here.

Von Trier seems very fond of women Christ figures: Bess in Breaking the Waves may be my all time favorite. Dancer in the Dark can be seen in that light also, but not as well, I think.

The one that I think is somewhat akin to Grace is The Preacher in Pale Rider.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Ron, I figured you'd be ready to make a list here.

Heh heh heh. I was feeling strangely listless.

Von Trier seems very fond of women Christ figures: Bess in Breaking the Waves may be my all time favorite.  Dancer in the Dark can be seen in that light also, but not as well, I think.

I'll be viewing those ones before long. I suspected there might be many such points of comparison.

The one that I think is somewhat akin to Grace is The Preacher in Pale Rider.

Ah yes. I feel a thesis coming on: "Pale Shadows on the Apocalypse: The Christologies of Eastwood and von Trier."


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Several people have tried, but no one has yet convinced me that Cool Hand Luke is a convincing Christ figure. He's always seemed to me to be more of an Existential Hero -- like Sisyphus taking some measure of delight when the rock rolls down the hill. If Luke is Christ, then so is Maude in Harold and Maude. Hal Ashby had the good sense to not pose Ruth Gordon in mock Christ poses like Rosenberg did with Newman.

By the way, I love Cool Hand Luke. I just don't think it fits this category.

Balthazar is probably my favorite Christ figure, though I'm not sure why exactly.

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Hal Ashby had the good sense to not pose Ruth Gordon in mock Christ poses like Rosenberg did with Newman.

By the way, I love Cool Hand Luke.

Edited by Ron

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Several people have tried, but no one has yet convinced me that Cool Hand Luke is a convincing Christ figure. 

Whether it works or not, it seems certain that Luke was intended to be a Christ figure. From the in-your-face symbolism of Luke's body being spread in cruciform shape (after eating the ~50 eggs) to his complaint to his disciples: "Stop feeding off me," the cues are definitely there. The last quote, of course, makes him more like one who had the ability to be a Christ figure, but was unwilling to take up the cross.


Yours truly,

ABP

No one with a good car needs to be justified. -- Hazel Motes

In the final end, he won the wars, after losin' every battle.-- Bob Dylan, Idiot Wind

Hot Rod Anglican blog ...

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Lloyd Baugh's Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film is what turned me on to Bresson in general and Au Hasard Balthazar in particular -- he devotes an entire chapter to that one.

The first section of Baugh's book deals with Jesus films like the ones by Pasolini and Rossellini and Zeffirelli and Scorsese, etc., while the second half deals with Christ-figure films, beginning with the "transitional" film Jesus of Montreal, which is about a Christ-figure who plays Jesus in a play-within-the-film.

Without regurgitating everything that Baugh writes, I can say that I have always loved his analysis of Dead Man Walking and Sr Helen Prejean as a Christ-figure, in his chapter on "The Woman as Christ-Figure" (which also looks at La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, Babette's Feast and Out of Rosenheim AKA Bagdad Cafe). He writes, "In synthesis, Helen Prejean is a Christ-figure, and only when the film is viewed through this hermeneutic, does it yield up the full riches of its significance," and I'll leave it at that, to whet your appetites. smile.gif


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Recently my church's film study group found Barbara Nicolosi's article in which she discusses three types of Christ figures in film, very helpful.

She includes some of the examples already mentioned in the category of Christ in his role as the PRIEST who "presents [his or her] body as a living sacrifice


There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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The KING, a servant leader who unifies a broken and disrupted community, bringing peace and brotherhood.  My example for the "King" category would be Paul Rusesagabina in Hotel Rwanda

Nice.


I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Some to toss into the list:

Superman

E.T.

Parry in The Fisher King


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Whether it works or not, it seems certain that Luke was intended to be a Christ figure.  From the in-your-face symbolism of Luke's body being spread in cruciform shape (after eating the ~50 eggs) to his complaint to his disciples:  "Stop feeding off me," the cues are definitely there.  The last quote, of course, makes him more like one who had the ability to be a Christ figure, but was unwilling to take up the cross.

The cross in CHL is when he digs and fills the pit. When the spiritually blind authorities kill the Luke that has done so much healing (of a sort) among the prisoners. The resurrection is his final escape. The ascension is when he is taken away in the car, never to be seen again.

Dragline at the end of the film serves in the role of evangelist, sharing the good news of liberation, even while in chains. (Camera backs up and out showing a crossroad, then the picture which has been creased with a cross.) Whether it works or not, and I think it works wonderfully, Luke is designed as Christ figure.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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An obvious one, kind of hidden-in-plain-sight one, though probably quite unnoticed by it's intended audiences is....

Kinsey.

He's painted as a prophet, and tireless confronter of hypocrisy...

The liberator who must first free himself from his distant, uncommunicative "old testament" Father.

He's got these apostles, who to this day, have kept the faith.

He refuses to judge anyone for their sexual behavior. In fact, he has the power to heal the shame of repression almost just by listening.

By assimiliating and collecting (obsessively taking it upon himself) the data of sexual "sin", and making it public domain, he alone can bring humanity back to the garden of eden.

Ultimately, Kinsey is broken by the Congressional Pharisees.

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Big big fan of CHL, but had never interpretted the ditch digging / filling scene as the cross, always thought the actual death scene was, and the resurrection was the way he lives on in their memories.

O actually like your interpretation much more thoough. Man I'm going to miss you guys!

Matt

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Well, in spite of the horrendous acting I think Keanu Reeves Neo worked very well as a christ-figure, albeit with a slightly gnostic bent to it.

Why has noone mentioned him previously? Is it because he is a to obvious choice?

/thomas

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Well, in spite of the horrendous acting I think Keanu Reeves Neo worked very well as a christ-figure, albeit with a slightly gnostic bent to it.
Slightly?
Why has noone mentioned him previously? Is it because he is a to obvious choice?

You're right, Neo is very much a Christ figure, and a good example of one that is filled with flaws, but since a figure isn't a perfect repersentation, Neo has a place at this table.

Maybe he wasn't brought up yet because the sequels left such bad tastes in many mouths that we have pushed the whole Matrix thing out of our minds.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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If we're going to give Sister Prejean the nod as a Christ figure - then we would have to give all those who demonstrate Christ's love and acceptance that title. I see her as an incarnation of Christ's love, grace and forgiveness in which she is living out our Lord's explanation: Matthew 18:18 "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be [ Or have been] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be [ Or have been] loosed in heaven." She is who I long to be - a ministering presence of Jesus Christ - in a hurting and hurtful world.

This is similar to the nun in Entertaining Angels: the Dorothy Day Story.

I noted in our review:

The nun is a lover as well, but of a different sort.  Committed to Jesus Christ, a cheerful giver to others, the nun

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

Cinema In Focus Website

Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara Website

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In a different perspective, I would also bring up a perversion of the Christ Figure in Johnny Mnemonic.

Another perversion would be Jonathan Cross in the abomination remake of Rollerball. Isn't that an amazing name? And yet, everyone dies for him rather than the other way around. Edited by Darrel Manson

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Denny Wayman wrote:

: If we're going to give Sister Prejean the nod as a Christ figure - then we would have to

: give all those who demonstrate Christ's love and acceptance that title.

Don't say that until you've read Baugh's analysis of the film. He bases it on much more than just her "love and acceptance". There is her kenosis, as a woman from a wealthy family who has emptied herself of all that; there is her Gethsemane moment in the women's washroom; there is her via dolorosa (though I can't recall if Baugh himself uses that word) as she walks with Poncelet to his death; etc.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I'm assuming that it is understood that this thread, and thus my post is full of spoilers1.gif

Of course, there's Percy Talbott in The Spitfire Grill. "Innocent" outsider comes into a community, turns their lives around, dies for the sake of another. Resurrected symbolicly in the winner of the contest.

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Good catch on Percy in Spitfire Grill - one of my favorite films for a variety of reasons - I'm surprised I didn't think of it.

Peter,

I have not read Baugh's analysis and so I write from ignorance. That however doesn't stop me!

I do though see the "via dolorosa" as a walk the "crucified one" takes - which in this case the one laid out in crucified form was not Prejean but Poncelet.

To define a Christ figure as one who accepts the sacrifice or "emptying of one's self of wealth" is not only to misstate the KENOSIS - which is a partial emptying of divinity, but it is also to misunderstand this universal requirement of all Christians. We are all to sacrifice the wealth of this world for the service of our Lord - either by giving it up and becoming a full-time minister as Sister Prejean did, or by stewarding it for His purposes. The former makes me think of that wonderful scene in the film BROTHER SON, SISTER MOON, where the young St. Francis empties himself of his family's wealth!

Denny

Edited by Denny Wayman

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

Cinema In Focus Website

Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara Website

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Denny Wayman wrote:

: I do though see the "via dolorosa" as a walk the "crucified one" takes - which in this

: case the one laid out in crucified form was not Prejean but Poncelet.

Well, fine, but Prejean identifies with Poncelet as surely as Jesus identified with Dismas and Gestas or whatever other sinner you'd want to throw into the mix. Prejean is not EXECUTED, sure, for obvious story (and real life!) reasons, but her identification with Poncelet does subject her to some of the same scorn and abuse that he faces, just as Christ's identification with sinners and victims of crucifixion subjected him to some of the same scorn and shame that they faced too.

: To define a Christ figure as one who accepts the sacrifice or "emptying of one's self

: of wealth" is not only to misstate the KENOSIS - which is a partial emptying of

: divinity, but it is also to misunderstand this universal requirement of all Christians.

I think you're missing the point. The point under discussion here is how Prejean's DEPICTION in this FILM parallels the Christ STORY. No one is commenting on anything the "real" Sr Helen Prejean may have said or done.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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