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Since Pale Rider is being brought up in the Top 100 (06) discussion, I guess I'll resurrect this thread to note the Christian aspects of the film.

The Preacher is, for me, one of the most interesting Christ-figures because he is the Apocalyptic Christ. He really isn't the pale rider, he's the rider on a white horse --"His eyes are like flames of fire." (The bad guy notes, "there's something about his eyes." We see the wounds of slaughter on his back -- no one could survive those wounds. He restores the Eden of the mining camp with the stream that runs through it. And the faithful respond "I love you!"

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Some other Christ-figures in film:

Karl in Sling Blade. Karl is associated with the Bible, a book on carpentry, and a book about Christmas. He is baptized. He eats with outcasts. He sacrifices his own freedom to redeem the Wheatleys.

Rosa in Solas. Her unconditional love and continual sacrifice eventually redeems her embittered daughter. Her association with Christ is made explicit at the end of the film with a sustained image of a cross juxtaposed with a tribute to her redeeming grace.

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SHANE (1953, USA)

Ma, I just love Shane. He's so good.

According to movie books, this is the classic western; a mysterious stranger hangs up his guns, but when the bad guys go too far, he's got to decide between his old ways and the new. And to judge by all that's been written in Christian movie books, the title character is practically Jesus on a white horse riding.

So you may be fuddled just a bit when you rent this one and it doesn't look like westerns are supposed to look

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

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Ooh, look at this:

The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure, by Anton Karl Kozlovic, in The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture online, 8 (Fall 2004).

From the abstract:

So, what can be legitimately called a cinematic Christ-figure? ...[T]he critical literature is reviewed, the popular cinema scanned, and twenty-five structural characteristics of the Christ-figure are identified and explicated.

Numerous examples are cited, including several that have been mentioned in this thread, and more.

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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Bizarre coincidence, I just came across that the other day too.

FWIW I'm reading Peter Malone's Movie Christs and Antichrists at the moment which was one of the first books to discuss this type of stuff back in 1988.

Matt

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  • 7 months later...

The most obvious for me (and it is deliberately overt in the movie itself) is the partisan Sotnikov in Shepitko's The Ascent (Voskhozhdeniye).

This is also a criminally neglected film, one that without any doubt whatsoever would be straight into the Art and Faith Top 100 list were it more widely available. The only way to get hold of it, though, is to buy a deleted VHS copy secondhand from the Amazon UK website.

Fans of Anatoli Solonitsyn - so memorable in Tarkovsky's films - will find what is arguably his best performance outside of Andrei Rublev in this movie in which he plays an interrogator (with obvious allusions to Pontius Pilate).

Here's an extract from one review over on the imdb website:

" I saw "Ascent" in Bombay (dubbed in English) when I was 18, soon after the film was made. I have tried to see it subsequently EVERY TIME it was screened at the local Russian cultural centre. One of the first images in the movie is of a series of telegraph poles in a snowscape, one of which is out of alignment....and you realise that they look rather like the sign of the cross in the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a Judas-Christ parable, with several scenes "composed" like famous paintings of scenes from the Passion. "

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  • 2 weeks later...

Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers.

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers.

-s.

Interesting. Never got round to watching this but recorded it just last week. I think you've probably just pushed me into watching it sooner rather than later (the joy of a PVR, recording stuff just in case I get chance to watch it without worrying about the mountain of tapes building up!).

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers.

-s.

Interesting. Never got round to watching this but recorded it just last week. I think you've probably just pushed me into watching it sooner rather than later (the joy of a PVR, recording stuff just in case I get chance to watch it without worrying about the mountain of tapes building up!).

Oh man, I apologize. I got my threads confused! Instead of reading "Christ figures in films," I thought I read "Crass Killers in films."

I'll be careful to fully read the thread title next time. ;)

-s.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers.

-s.

Interesting. Never got round to watching this but recorded it just last week. I think you've probably just pushed me into watching it sooner rather than later (the joy of a PVR, recording stuff just in case I get chance to watch it without worrying about the mountain of tapes building up!).

Oh man, I apologize. I got my threads confused! Instead of reading "Christ figures in films," I thought I read "Crass Killers in films."

I'll be careful to fully read the thread title next time. ;)

-s.

Ha! :D Well, Christ figures crop up some unexpected places according to this thread. I guess NBK has gone back onto the 'maybe one day' list for now.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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Neo from The Matrix trilogy.

INT. HOLY TRINITY CHURCH - SANCTUARY - NIGHT

FATHER LORENZO

So now that you've told me all of this: why do you hold such a deep aversion to discussing angels?

PASTOR DAVID

Because I don't wanna get it WRONG! To stand up in front of my congregation--AND in front of God-- and screw it up! Do you hold much stock in that passage from James that says "We who teach will be judged more strictly"??

FATHER LORENZO

Yes... in fact .... I consider that one scripture to be an occupational hazard.

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Also, I generally find that a lot of films need to divide the role of Christ into two separate characters. That's because the actual work of the real Christ involved several different jobs:

a ) freeing the captives

b ) defeating the enemy

c ) sacrificing his own life in order to achieve/fascilitate either ( a ) or ( b )

And these three jobs need to get spread around. Very few movies/novels have ALL THREE JOBS successfully handled by just one character. Aslan is a rare exception here. (And if ya wanna get technical, there's a FOURTH job that is kinda hard to also squeeze in here, and that's d) rising from the dead again after the self-sacrifice thing. Not all films can manage all four jobs, but a few do try.)

The movie Reign of Fire had two separate characters: Quinn and Van Zan jointly share the role of Christ figure (one of them, Quinn, had a Jesus beard.) Between the two of them, Van Zan sacrificed himself, Van Zan also defeated the enemy, and Quinn led the survivors to freedom.

The movie The Little Mermaid also had two for the price of one: King Triton and Prince Eric. King Triton sacrificed himself (took the place of his daughter who was condemned to prison for eternity by overwriting his own name on top of hers on a literal contract with the Devil--or Ursula). Prince Eric defeated the enemy (he slew Ursula with the pointed bow of a ship). And via slaying her, Eric set the captives free (set them free from the evil garden where they were imprisoned).

The movie Tron also had a two-for-one deal: Flynn the Human and Tron the Program. Flynn left his humanly home and "became one of us" (or rather, he became one of THEM) by abandoning his humanness (not willingly, I admit) and clothing himself in the form of a program, and then he dwelt among them AS one of them. Tron, meanwhile, slew the Master Control Program in a one-on-one battle on some desolate plain (Armageddon?). Meanwhile, Flynn cast himself down into Hell (okay, he really cast himself down into the Master Contol Program) and by throwing himself into the pit of Hell, he was able to help Tron and this set the captives free AND Flynn was then ricocheted OUT of Hell and back up into the Heavenly realms (the human world) again where he was greeted as a conquoring hero and permanently elevated to his rightful place as the CEO of the computer company.

Out of all these films. Tron probably has the most allusions to Christ and even to many elements from the life of Christ, including

1) his being able to perform "miracles" in their midst,

2) his bringing programs back from the dead,

3) a Roman Empire brand of tyrrany in the computer world complete with gladiatorial games,

4) the widespread persecution of those who clung to the religion of "the Users."

And, when the final battle takes place at the end of Tron, the enemy that needs defeating is not just a Devil/Satan/Red Dragon firgure, he's also joined by an Anti-Christ/Beast figure. So in addition to two Christs, this film has two Devils. And the Anti-Christ figure even suffered a head injury like in Revelations 13:13.

Edited by Plot Device

INT. HOLY TRINITY CHURCH - SANCTUARY - NIGHT

FATHER LORENZO

So now that you've told me all of this: why do you hold such a deep aversion to discussing angels?

PASTOR DAVID

Because I don't wanna get it WRONG! To stand up in front of my congregation--AND in front of God-- and screw it up! Do you hold much stock in that passage from James that says "We who teach will be judged more strictly"??

FATHER LORENZO

Yes... in fact .... I consider that one scripture to be an occupational hazard.

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  • 7 years later...

I'm re-opening this older thread to pose a request for the A&F group: I'm in the process of writing a book on guiding young people in thinking theologically about films; the working subtitle is "The Youth Ministry Film Guide," and it'll (hopefully) be published in late 2015. I'm including a chapter about Christ figures and imagery (self-sacrifice, resurrection, etc). I've built a growing list of films and characters, and this thread helped affirm some of those choices, as well as opened my eyes to others.

 

The last post was 2007 in this thread was. Are there any other films--especially more recent ones--where you would see a Christ figure? Even if it's only fragments or allusions, it'd be worth exploring, especially by showing young viewers how to discern whether or not they're reading a Christ figure into a film (what I'm calling filmic eisegesis). Any help or guidance will be much appreciated. Here is my current list:

 

Babette's Feast

Au Hasard Balthazar

The Thin Red Line

John Carter

Gran Torino

Short Term 12

In America

The Iron Giant

Children of Men

I Am Legend (essentially a remake of The Omega Man)

Superman Returns and Man of Steel (almost any decent Superman film, really)

The Terminator films

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

The Avengers

 

Also, A&F is going to get a big thank you and credit in the book. This has been an invaluable community for promoting thoughtful discussion about film and art, and I'm indebted to its communal wisdom. And perhaps it'll be an encouraging invitation for more pastors, youth workers, or teens (!) to explore and learn from this environment.

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Don't know if I can be much help, Joel, but for whatever it's worth: whenever I see the Superman movies touted for their "Christ figure" potential, I feel obliged to point out that the first two Christopher Reeve films basically follow a Last Temptation of Christ template: the hero is full of angst about the role his father has given him, and he gives it up for sex and ordinary life, but then he realizes what a disaster that decision was, and so he pleads for his father to forgive him and put everything back to the way it was -- and his wish is granted. (And Lois Lane's memory of her affair with Superman is utterly obliviated, just like the "timeline" in which Jesus marries the two Marys and Martha.)

 

Then again, I just realized you mentioned the two *non*-Christopher Reeve movies, so that might be neither here nor there. But just in case... :)

"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 think any discussion of Christ figures in popular art needs a solid backbone of critical skepticism or resistance to easy identifications. Not everyone who saves someone, or comes to the world from someplace else, or dies and rises again is a persuasive Christ figure. 
 
More specifically, calling such a character a Christ figure is only illuminating to the extent that it offers a persuasive angle of commentary on the narrative or the artist's choices, as opposed to merely giving us an opportunity or excuse to talk about Jesus.
 
For this reason it is vital to zero in on how characters fail as Christ figures. (I've always remembered a bon mot from someone on this board, I want to say Russ, objecting to a shallow Christian engagement with cinema that begins with Christ figures in The Fellowship of the Ring and goes as far as Christ figures in The Return of the King.) 
 
It's easy to point out that E.T. is a being from the heavens with a healing touch, a glowing heart and other miraculous powers who dies and rises again and promises to be with us always, but the most crucial and illuminating angle for me on the question of E.T. as Christ figure is that his death has no saving significance
 
From that perspective, the Iron Giant is a much more interesting Christ figure than E.T. -- yet it is crucial to note that the Iron Giant is a savior only because he chooses to be one, rejecting his inherent nature, which is a weapon. 
 
Regarding The Avengers, I've always appreciated that Whedon didn't go for the cheap Christological allusion of having Tony fall cruciform (like Gandalf) from the wormhole. That's fitting since Tony's sacrificial act is his own redemption as well as New York's; spurred by Cap's moral critique, he rises above his past selfishness and technocratic, cost-free approach to problem-solving and proves his willingness to lie down on a wire to save someone else. (And he falls instead of rising again, and is only saved from death by a) the Hulk and b] a complete narrative indifference to physics.)
 
Provocatively, an unsympathetic or morally ambiguous character can be a more persuasive Christ figure than a likable character, just as Jesus tells a story about an unjust judge rather than a supremely just one. The father in Zvyagintsev's The Return is a revelatory figure in part precisely because he's a bad father, thereby throwing into relief the essence of fatherhood even in a bad package ("If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children..."). 

Edited by SDG

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I think an interesting discussion could be held on the ways the protagonist in Calvary may or may not be a Christ figure.

 

Of course it must be remembered that where one perceives a Christ figure depend a great deal in how one understands the work of Christ.

 

I don't know if I mentioned it above, but in the remake of Rollerball there is a setup to make one think there is a Christ figure (how else can you explain the change in the character's name from Jonathan E to Jonathan Cross?) but in reality he is the antithesis of a Christ figure. He dies for no one, but everyone dies to save him.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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I think any discussion of Christ figures in popular art needs a solid backbone of critical skepticism or resistance to easy identifications. Not everyone who saves someone, or comes to the world from someplace else, or dies and rises again is a persuasive Christ figure. 

 

More specifically, calling such a character a Christ figure is only illuminating to the extent that it offers a persuasive angle of commentary on the narrative or the artist's choices, as opposed to merely giving us an opportunity or excuse to talk about Jesus.

Steven, I'm very interested in exploring this in the book, as it's quite easy for those in the youth ministry tribe to pounce upon even a tiny allusion to Christ imagery and use it as a sermon illustration to help drive their spiritual point home. Emphasis on "use." The film becomes less about receiving what is being presented, and more about looking for ways to use it as sermon sprinkles, the tiny bits meant to add color one's Bible study. I'd like to challenge these practices and offer an alternative.

 

Figures like The Iron Giant, whose personal sacrifice and subsequent resurrection are more salvific, are better examples than the ones you've cited (E.T., The Avengers), but are often the ones missed by both youth workers and young people. Babette as the grace-incarnate outsider who brings freedom through disrupting the religious and social conventions of her community is another stronger Christ figure than more popular manifestations, such as Jack from Titanic.

 

Regarding the failures of Christ figures--I'm going to specifically address the evangelical fascination with Braveheart and Gladiator as somehow having Christian worldviews or being examples of Christlike masculinity...which they aren't.

 

I think an interesting discussion could be held on the ways the protagonist in Calvary may or may not be a Christ figure.

 

Of course it must be remembered that where one perceives a Christ figure depend a great deal in how one understands the work of Christ.

Calvary is still on my to-see list, but it's now been raised as priority #1. I also want to explore the varying ways we perceive Christ--savior, healer, bearer of grace, king and authority, miracle-worker, etc.--and create a dialogue between how we see Christ in Scripture compared to the portrayals we see in art (specifically film), and how both affect our concept of Jesus. I should point out that I am avoiding talking about "Jesus films" too much, as I'm honestly not familiar enough with them to speak with any authority. Matt Page and Peter Chattaway know far more than me, or maybe anyone. :)

 

Don't know if I can be much help, Joel, but for whatever it's worth: whenever I see the Superman movies touted for their "Christ figure" potential, I feel obliged to point out that the first two Christopher Reeve films basically follow a Last Temptation of Christ template: the hero is full of angst about the role his father has given him, and he gives it up for sex and ordinary life, but then he realizes what a disaster that decision was, and so he pleads for his father to forgive him and put everything back to the way it was -- and his wish is granted. (And Lois Lane's memory of her affair with Superman is utterly obliviated, just like the "timeline" in which Jesus marries the two Marys and Martha.)

 

Then again, I just realized you mentioned the two *non*-Christopher Reeve movies, so that might be neither here nor there. But just in case... smile.png

I'm open to exploring the Reeve films--and this is a great insight that I'd like to personally process, if nothing else--but the more recent manifestations of Superman are the ones many young people and youth pastors will (sadly) be familiar with. I'm realizing how many young people have absolutely no concept of the older Superman films, so I want to start with familiarity, then pace-and-lead them into unknown (and better) territory.

 

Also, I may bring up Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, another Vin Diesel-voiced potential Christ figure. :)

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Joel Mayward wrote:
: . . . it's quite easy for those in the youth ministry tribe to pounce upon even a tiny allusion to Christ imagery and use it as a sermon illustration to help drive their spiritual point home.

 

Heh. At this point I feel compelled to say that I'm kind of proud of the fact that my review of The Matrix for BC Christian News wasn't quite as gung-ho about the Christ-figure elements as *some* people were back then: "...Neo kills dozens of his fellow humans without giving the moral implications of his actions any real thought. (Even Terminator 2 took time to assert that killing people is wrong.)"

 

Then, in my review of the third film: "What’s more, it is the machines, not the people, who get the last word. And who, four years ago, as a triumphant Neo left threatening voicemail messages for the Matrix and flew up, up and away to the pounding rock beat of Rage Against the Machine, could have predicted that? Pity the youth pastors who must now make sense of all this."

 

For whatever that's worth.

"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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  • 3 months later...

Hollywood Jesus has decided that ranking articles are a good thing. I don't even know what most of them are even about (which speaks to how well aligned I am with the tone there). I did hawever put together one on Christ Figures in film. I picked ten I think are good examples and in a broad range. Go look them over and say yea or nay. http://bit.ly/1JTYB3i

 

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Hollywood Jesus has decided that ranking articles are a good thing. I don't even know what most of them are even about (which speaks to how well aligned I am with the tone there). I did hawever put together one on Christ Figures in film. I picked ten I think are good examples and in a broad range. Go look them over and say yea or nay. http://bit.ly/1JTYB3i

"Yea" to Iron Giant, John Coffey.

 

A strong "Nay" to Maggie Fitzgerald and the lack of Au Hasard Balthazar.

Edited by Joel Mayward
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  • 4 years later...

I am bumping this thread because discussion of the 2020 Top 100, especially in threads for Whale Rider and The Silence of the Lambs, has renewed some discussion of "Christ Figures." 

I'm thinking about making this my focus for essay in the companion book, possibly as a foothold into how the evolution of the list speaks to the history of this board and the evolution of its participants' exegesis. 

I think that an historical overview (in an article, not here) of typology might be helpful. For the time being, I'll float the idea that this is a a problematic form of exegesis because it assumes historical questions (such as the authenticity and historicity of the Old and New Testaments) as a foundation for interpretation, thus imposing an interpretive lens onto the work even if it doesn't share that foundational belief and thus can't really be participating in typology intentionally. 

Don't all critical lenses do that? I suppose yes, to some degree. A feminist lens may see the film through feminist assumptions about the world that were not shared by the author or culture, but isn't part of the ideology the assumption that individuals (or groups) may be blind to the ways in which culture imposes its values on individuals? Thus, the argument would be that a worth that is trying to be truthful (in the mimetic sense) will illustrate truths the author is un(or sub) conscious of. 

There's a modern difference (I think, I haven't investigated) in the use as well. I get the feeling that post 60s and 70s, a lot of typology attached to mass-media (film) is less about interpreting the work than about making it acceptable/palatable to the Christian audience. (It's okay to watch something about a different religion or that is areligious because it carries a shadow of the one true religion even if its purpose is not to explicitly point you towards it.) Some of that may even be okay, as far as it goes, but I think it's also clear that the meaning of the label "Christ Figure" and the overall practice of typology is so broad that one has to question whether or not it is helpful. (The same can be true of formalist criticism though -- metaphors and symbols are opaque, so any narrative work that is not sringently allegorical embodies a push/pull between being too specific (and thus not autonomous or meaningful to any but those inside) and too vague (if it can be both a Christ figure and a Buddha figure and a Moses figure, is it a "good" figure?). 

As a total aside, this is another reason why I keep lobbying for The Celluloid Closet -- it's a move about gayness in cinema, sure, but it's also a movie about symbols, exegesis, subtext, categories, and how movies use them to convey (or at times hide) meaning to different audiences.

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On 8/22/2006 at 7:50 PM, BethR said:

Ooh, look at this:

The Structural Characteristics of the Cinematic Christ-figure, by Anton Karl Kozlovic, in The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture online, 8 (Fall 2004).

From the abstract:

Numerous examples are cited, including several that have been mentioned in this thread, and more.

This article quoted by Beth has a taxonomy of 25 characteristics displayed in cinematic Christ-figures.

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