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The Kozlovic article is indeed helpful for thinking through what makes a Christ-figure. I found it here.  https://dspace2.flinders.edu.au/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2328/14295/2004054629.pdf?sequence=1

One of Kozlovic's key points is that the Christ-figure is often a "holy subtext" smuggled in by screenwriters or "used" to make an appeal to the audience to see the story in a redemptive or heroic way. I agree with all those who earlier in the thread have said this is a pretty cheap form of allusion, and that it's also important to identify how Christ-figures in films may be unChristlike. But I don't think that there necessarily needs to be intention on the filmmakers' part for there to be a Christ-figure as long as the case can be made from the text. At the same time, I want to take seriously those Christ-figures who are as much experienced as textually composed. If a Christian and close reader of films sees Christ figured where I do not (say, in Clarice Starling), then I want to take that argument seriously, too.

A few points I'd add:

  • I think that instead of just seeing holy subtexts within the larger film text, a true Christ-figure should point to the the larger Christ-ian grand narrative. (Does the film itself or the character in question exist or point beyond the film in a holy supertext, if you will?) Again, this need not be intentional. St. Francis in Brother Sun, Sister Moon is one of Kozlovic's main examples of a Christ-figure, but I find the Francis in The Flowers of Saint Francis to be a far more Christlike figure who more clearly points to or reveals the Jesus of the Bible to me as a viewer.
  • There are Christ-figure elements I'd add to Kozlovic's list. One is a repudiation of violence, whether abjuring it or practicing non-violence as a means of peace and justice. Perhaps this could go under Kozlovic's "Special Normal" but he mostly focuses there on the Christ-figure having intimate, celibate relationships with women and intimate homosocial relationships.
  • Another is the work of atonement or reconciliation or salvation. Kozlovic mentions divine source or task, "willing sacrifice" and "service to the 'lesser'" but that's not exactly the same. And he discusses the Christ-figure as a messiah or savior throughout, but it's not actually one of the features.
  • Finally, I don't necessarily agree with the assumption that a true Christ-figure conforms to audience expectations or typology or stereotypes about Christ. For me, a good Christ-figure points to or reveals Jesus by shattering these expectations/stereotypes. This is what the best Jesus films do. They defamiliarize the figure of Jesus to point us to Jesus' unique strangeness.

I've also read the Baugh book mentioned earlier in the thread, and I found it very helpful.

On 5/27/2005 at 8:52 AM, Peter T Chattaway said:

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.

I don't think it was mentioned earlier in the thread, but Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath is another Christ-figure.

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22 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

too vague (if it can be both a Christ figure and a Buddha figure and a Moses figure, is it a "good" figure?)

Jesus is very much presented as a Moses-figure in the Gospels, particularly in Matthew. 

And I remember learning as a teenager in comparative religions there are analogues to, for instance, atonement and incarnation in Buddhist bodhisattvas and Hindu avatars. C.S. Lewis helped me see that not as a threat to Jesus' uniqueness but rather as more evidence pointing toward the truth of Jesus' uniqueness.

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I’ll mention again here that Nausicaa in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke are Christ-figures. Nausicaa especially has at least 14 (maybe more) of the 25 features of Christ-figures that Kozlovic mentions. And the Christ-features the film doesn’t have tend to be the more superficial, stereotypical, Western ones (e.g. white robes or similar garb, blue eyes, exclamations of “Oh my God” or “Christ!”, J.C. initials or name referents).

She also has the features I mentioned earlier: repudiation of violence and salvific/reconciling work. I think the film also is defamiliarizing, too, in that it points (for me, at least) to the environmental significance of Jesus' work, too.

Here’s an article on the subject.

Shojo Savior: princess Nausicaa, ecological pacifism, and the green gospel

by Ian DeWeese-Boyd

Journal of Religion and Popular Culture(Vol. 21, Issue 2) Summer 2009

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308726757_Shojo_Savior_Princess_Nausicaa_Ecological_Pacifism_and_The_Green_Gospel 

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 [1] In the distant future, a thousand years after "The Seven Days of Fire"--the holocaust that rapacious industrialization spawned--the earth is a wasteland of sterile deserts and toxic jungles that threaten the survival of the few remaining human beings. This is the world of Hayao Miyazaki's film, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. (1) In this film, Miyazaki offers a vision of an alternative to the violent quest for dominion that has brought about this environmental degradation, through the struggle of the young princess of the Valley of the Wind, Nausicaa. As Nausicaa struggles to lead her world into a sustainable future, she functions as a savior in this post-apocalyptic dystopia, forging a nonviolent path of love aimed at the restoration of harmony between warring human beings and the natural world. In the process, she also must wrestle with her own violence, and finally grasp the ultimate significance of seeking peace. Prophetically, she comes to understand that the natural world is no enemy to be fought against, but rather a benevolent force, which is slowly restoring the ruined earth. Her commitment to love and understanding--even to the point of death--transforms the very nature of the conflict around her and begins to dispel the distorting visions that have brought it about.

[2] In light of the film's plot and context, Nausicaa's shojo identity is of crucial importance. Like many of Miyazaki's protagonists, Nausicaa is a young female, neither child nor adult--a so-called shojo in Japanese anime and manga (comic books). The liminal status of the shojo coupled with Miyazaki's alluring and yet 'estranging' visions of the world enables us, as Susan Napier writes, to "open up to the new possibilities of what the world could be." (2) As a messianic figure, I contend the shojo Nausicaa offers a similarly beneficial estrangement from common conceptions of the gospel and opens up to the ecological significance of Christ's message of non-violence. Exploring the ecological and pacific aspects of the gospel through this figure, I argue, may provide a helpful lens for examining our own distorting visions in this age of war and environmental crisis.

 

 

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In addition to Baugh's book, there's at least one other book on the topic of Christ figures in movies. ...

Found it: Reinhartz, Adele. Bible and Cinema: An Introduction. Routledge, 2014. (not the whole book, just a chapter)

Edited by BethR

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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On 4/30/2020 at 3:02 PM, Rob Z said:

The Kozlovic article is indeed helpful for thinking through what makes a Christ-figure. I found it here.  https://dspace2.flinders.edu.au/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2328/14295/2004054629.pdf?sequence=1

One of Kozlovic's key points is that the Christ-figure is often a "holy subtext" smuggled in by screenwriters or "used" to make an appeal to the audience to see the story in a redemptive or heroic way. I agree with all those who earlier in the thread have said this is a pretty cheap form of allusion, and that it's also important to identify how Christ-figures in films may be unChristlike. But I don't think that there necessarily needs to be intention on the filmmakers' part for there to be a Christ-figure as long as the case can be made from the text. At the same time, I want to take seriously those Christ-figures who are as much experienced as textually composed. If a Christian and close reader of films sees Christ figured where I do not (say, in Clarice Starling), then I want to take that argument seriously, too.

A few points I'd add:

  • I think that instead of just seeing holy subtexts within the larger film text, a true Christ-figure should point to the the larger Christ-ian grand narrative. (Does the film itself or the character in question exist or point beyond the film in a holy supertext, if you will?) Again, this need not be intentional. St. Francis in Brother Sun, Sister Moon is one of Kozlovic's main examples of a Christ-figure, but I find the Francis in The Flowers of Saint Francis to be a far more Christlike figure who more clearly points to or reveals the Jesus of the Bible to me as a viewer.
  • There are Christ-figure elements I'd add to Kozlovic's list. One is a repudiation of violence, whether abjuring it or practicing non-violence as a means of peace and justice. Perhaps this could go under Kozlovic's "Special Normal" but he mostly focuses there on the Christ-figure having intimate, celibate relationships with women and intimate homosocial relationships.
  • Another is the work of atonement or reconciliation or salvation. Kozlovic mentions divine source or task, "willing sacrifice" and "service to the 'lesser'" but that's not exactly the same. And he discusses the Christ-figure as a messiah or savior throughout, but it's not actually one of the features.
  • Finally, I don't necessarily agree with the assumption that a true Christ-figure conforms to audience expectations or typology or stereotypes about Christ. For me, a good Christ-figure points to or reveals Jesus by shattering these expectations/stereotypes. This is what the best Jesus films do. They defamiliarize the figure of Jesus to point us to Jesus' unique strangeness.

I've also read the Baugh book mentioned earlier in the thread, and I found it very helpful.

I don't think it was mentioned earlier in the thread, but Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath is another Christ-figure.

I read a few papers at SBL and AAR in critique of Kozlovic's papers on Christ figures. You have pointed out one of my key areas of critique, in that a lot of Christ figure in cinema conversations borrow heavily on literary critical concepts, without deep interaction with film critical theory - particularly in the way film criticism engages matter of form, shape, rhythm, and other sensory elements as foundational for the production of meaning.

Once we get down to these theoretical rudiments of cinema, the Christ figure conversation really opens up in new ways. I have argued elsewhere that some of the most formative and innovative Christ figures in cinema, like Balthazar, are actually formal (not script or narrative) elements evoking profound reflections on the shape of Christ in early Christian literature and theology. I have been pecking away at a book on the subject, which traces a more formal and aesthetic reception history of Jesus/Christ figuration in cinema, outsider art, and contemporary fine arts.

The list of bullet points you offer above are very much on point. The quintessential element of a Christ appearance is a destablization of assumed ideas around ethics/justice, salvation/atonement, reconciliation, and moral transformation.

Here are a few pieces I wrote that direction (here and here).

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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2 hours ago, M. Leary said:

I read a few papers at SBL and AAR in critique of Kozlovic's papers on Christ figures. You have pointed out one of my key areas of critique, in that a lot of Christ figure in cinema conversations borrow heavily on literary critical concepts, without deep interaction with film critical theory - particularly in the way film criticism engages matter of form, shape, rhythm, and other sensory elements as foundational for the production of meaning.

Once we get down to these theoretical rudiments of cinema, the Christ figure conversation really opens up in new ways. I have argued elsewhere that some of the most formative and innovative Christ figures in cinema, like Balthazar, are actually formal (not script or narrative) elements evoking profound reflections on the shape of Christ in early Christian literature and theology. I have been pecking away at a book on the subject, which traces a more formal and aesthetic reception history of Jesus/Christ figuration in cinema, outsider art, and contemporary fine arts.

The list of bullet points you offer above are very much on point. The quintessential element of a Christ appearance is a destablization of assumed ideas around ethics/justice, salvation/atonement, reconciliation, and moral transformation.

I absolutely agree with all of this, particularly the formal film theory/criticism dynamic which opens up more distinctly cinematic possibilities regarding the interpretation of a "Christ figure" in film. That irruptive nature of the Christ figure, and how cinema shows/displays/feels this, is so interesting. Do you have copies of those papers available or published? I'd be very interested in reading those (and in the book, whenever it's ready!). If I've learned anything in my PhD research, it's that simplistic or literary-based approaches to film analysis and interpretations are still far too prevalent in biblical studies and theology (even sometimes with well-established film-and-religion folks who should know better!).

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1 hour ago, Darren H said:

> The quintessential element of a Christ appearance is a destablization of assumed ideas around ethics/justice, salvation/atonement, reconciliation, and moral transformation.

Reminds me that I seriously considered nominating Dumont's The Life of Jesus for the Top 100.

I did talk about Dumont's film in one of those papers on this question. It triggered a lot of Christological conflict for me.

8 minutes ago, Joel Mayward said:

I absolutely agree with all of this, particularly the formal film theory/criticism dynamic which opens up more distinctly cinematic possibilities regarding the interpretation of a "Christ figure" in film. That irruptive nature of the Christ figure, and how cinema shows/displays/feels this, is so interesting. Do you have copies of those papers available or published? I'd be very interested in reading those (and in the book, whenever it's ready!). If I've learned anything in my PhD research, it's that simplistic or literary-based approaches to film analysis and interpretations are still far too prevalent in biblical studies and theology (even sometimes with well-established film-and-religion folks who should know better!).

I likely do, Joel. I will take a look. I hope your work gets traction, as the problem is endemic to nearly all past film-and-religion conversation. It is not just isolated to theological criticism.

The best integration I have seen of formal film theory and religious/historical disciplines has happened in trauma studies on Holocaust cinema and modern Judaism. But Joe Kickasola and scholars in his edited journals are also breaking a lot of these molds.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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5 hours ago, M. Leary said:

I

The list of bullet points you offer above are very much on point. The quintessential element of a Christ appearance is a destablization of assumed ideas around ethics/justice, salvation/atonement, reconciliation, and moral transformation.

 

So....now I feel like maybe I don't want to write about this...I don't know. Feel like we are talking in different frequencies....but it's hard for me to understand how that last sentence is not just an alternative proposition/assumption about which elements of the "Christ" figure is most important (i.e. reflective of the speaker's/reader's understanding of which features of Christ are most central.)

I have no trouble affirming that, say Clarice's victimization or identification is a more important feature (closer to my understanding of what features of Jesus's life were central and important  than, say, William Wallace's (or Iron Man's) sacrificial death which led to the defeat of the enemy. But I'm also not interested in doing poetics -- i.e. description or categorization. (Not saying that anyone else does, just that is how it comes across.)

Plus, as is so often the case in early reading, I found someone who already said what I want to say, better and more clearly. Here's Theodore Ziolkowski in "Some Features of Religious Figuralism in Twentieth-Century Literature::

Quote

The essay on 'Typology' in Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics concludes with the sobering observation that 'typology has always flourished in times of ignorance and decay of learning' -- a caveat that may not strike quite the right note of confidence for a conference on religious figuralism in literature...

What interests me about this topic is kind of the same question of whether/why Christian criticism is (to paraphrase Franky Schaeffer) six month later and half as good... In other words, I'm interested in the straw man that nobody here is practicing (I don't think) but which most people here seem to agree exists in Christian criticism (whether it be academic or populist in nature.)I have this nagging conviction that figuralism has some of the same problems as crude forms of psychoanalyic criticism -- sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; sometimes the categories and observations and so broad as to cease to be meaningful or helpful...and sometimes they tell us more about the agenda of the critic than of the artist. 

I suppose that's just a more verbose way of making the undergraduate lament -- aren't they all just "reading stuff into it?" Figuralism/typology, at least as practiced in Christian criticism (see Joel's post in Whale Rider thread) seems particularly susceptible to "reading stuff into it" -- maybe/especially the stuff the critic particularly wants to find in the stuff that he or she particularly wants to find it in. 

Part of what appeals to me so much in the Hastings' quote is that I haven't yet seen much discussion of "Christ Figures" in film that acknowledge typology as an historical practice that goes back centuries/millennia) I suspect (but have no obvious way of proving) that more facile forms of Christ-figure hunting are ways of Christians making pop culture (or even high art) more okay with their own art consumption -- it's okay to watch Star Wars because it really is just the Christian message in another form...see how Obi-Wan lays down his life and becomes more powerful doing so? I guess I just realized in the Silence of the Lambs and Whale Rider thread that whether or not someone was/was not a Christ figure was just about the least interesting question someone could ask, even if doing so led them to hone the characteristics of a Christ figure. What I am wrestling with, right now, this second, is not so much who has the best definition of the Christ figure but whether typology (or figuralism) is ever really helpful at understanding the art/literary object or is only always just the critic trying to bend it to his ideology.

I suspect there is a positive answer to that question and it lies somewhere in those works that *resist* being co-opted by the dominant ideology of the age even as they subversively get that age to see/recognize/endorse elements of the artifact/narrative that are seemingly in friction with that dominant ideology's assertions about the Christ narrative and its privileged status as the imputed foundation and source of its own ideology.



 

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21 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

So....now I feel like maybe I don't want to write about this...I don't know. Feel like we are talking in different frequencies....but it's hard for me to understand how that last sentence is not just an alternative proposition/assumption about which elements of the "Christ" figure is most important (i.e. reflective of the speaker's/reader's understanding of which features of Christ are most central.)

That is an important point, for sure. As an historian of early Christian literature and origins, my answer to what "elements" can be considered representative of the historical Jesus and various early theological permutations of his meaning have to derive from historical investigation of a wide array of texts and various religious/theological phenomena that can be traced back to Jesus and those in the orbit of NT text production. I try to stick with this domain, because it is where I have been trained and feel reasonably accurate.

This element of defamiliarization or destabilization of cultural codes, Jewish or Greco-Roman religious assumptions, domestic and economic practices, etc... is just something we see across the first few centuries CE. I try to start here, and with a few specific core apostolic claims about the meaning of Jesus' work (which are also attested in various creeds, hymns, and liturgies common to Christianity into the 2nd century), as a thumbnail sketch of what is "important" in Christ-figuration. 

We could fast-forward into different Christologies as a template, but then run into the problem you describe above.

Quote

Plus, as is so often the case in early reading, I found someone who already said what I want to say, better and more clearly. Here's Theodore Ziolkowski in "Some Features of Religious Figuralism in Twentieth-Century Literature:

I will have to track that down and read further. The brand of dispensational typology that persisted in Evangelicalism and restoration movements into the 20th century emerged in the 1820s-1830s, under the influence of a few well-educated bible teachers. For biblical studies, at least, this was an era of discovery and advance in linguistic analysis of biblical texts. (I agree with you here on typology, just curious about that historical pattern as described.)

Quote

Part of what appeals to me so much in the Hastings' quote is that I haven't yet seen much discussion of "Christ Figures" in film that acknowledge typology as an historical practice that goes back centuries/millennia) I suspect (but have no obvious way of proving) that more facile forms of Christ-figure hunting are ways of Christians making pop culture (or even high art) more okay with their own art consumption -- it's okay to watch Star Wars because it really is just the Christian message in another form...see how Obi-Wan lays down his life and becomes more powerful doing so? I guess I just realized in the Silence of the Lambs and Whale Rider thread that whether or not someone was/was not a Christ figure was just about the least interesting question someone could ask, even if doing so led them to hone the characteristics of a Christ figure. What I am wrestling with, right now, this second, is not so much who has the best definition of the Christ figure but whether typology (or figuralism) is ever really helpful at understanding the art/literary object or is only always just the critic trying to bend it to his ideology.

I suspect there is a positive answer to that question and it lies somewhere in those works that *resist* being co-opted by the dominant ideology of the age even as they subversively get that age to see/recognize/endorse elements of the artifact/narrative that are seemingly in friction with that dominant ideology's assertions about the Christ narrative and its privileged status as the imputed foundation and source of its own ideology.

I do have a response to this anxiety, Ken! I share your concerns about typology, which we could likely excoriate at length together. My thinking here begins all the way back in the 1st century, where we already begin to see the Christ image co-opted by dominant ideologies or synthesized and reshaped into hybrid cultural identities and practices. I think we recognize good Christ figure analysis when it hurts, when it exposes areas where the presence/word/meaning of Christ do not actually fit into our assumptions an endorsements. We also recognize good Christ imagery when it nurtures or affirms a suspicion or goodness otherwise hard to articulate within our cultural lexicon. Good Christ images create a surplus of meaning above and beyond images confined by consistency with our received ideology.

--

Just made a long paragraph here describing how "the rock was Christ" in 1 Corinthians 10 is a good example of this "surplus of meaning," but it apparently did not save and I am out of time!

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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