Year 9, Day 104 - 4/14/17 - Movie #2,598
BEFORE: This will really be my first crack at an Easter chain - not the secular Easter, like with bunnies delivering baskets of chocolate, because I watched "Hop" a few years ago (and TCM's doing the same tomorrow, by running a bunch of rabbit-themed films like "Harvey") but I'm talking about the old school, religious Easter. But I did watch "Exodus: Gods & Kings" last year, which was a Passover film, so it's equal time this year, with Richard Burton carrying over from "The Taming of the Shrew".
I was indoctrinated into the Catholic religion at a young age, and for the first 16-17 years of my life, I didn't even question it, that was reality, Jesus was the son of God and he walked the Earth and performed miracles. Then when I went to college I stopped going to church regularly, and started to think for myself. There were a lot of things about the Jesus story that just didn't add up, and slowly I transitioned out of the faith, to the extent that I could. I really empathize with the people who have left Scientology, because it's only slightly harder to leave Catholicism, at least if you have parents like mine. But I digress.
I'll probably get more into the myth of Jesus vs. my take on the reality of Jesus this weekend, but Easter to me has generally just become an excuse to eat egg-shaped chocolates. But this year I'll be doing something special for today, Good Friday - I've got this poster of Da Vinci's famous "Last Supper" that I've had for years, and I finally bought a frame to hang it in the living room. Of course, it's not just the "Last Supper", it's sort of a mash-up with the famous image of those dogs playing poker, so it's Jesus and his disciples playing poker. That should give you some idea about my attitude toward religion these days. So this weekend should be fun...
THE PLOT: In 1st Century Judea, Roman tribune Marcellus Gallio is ordered to crucify Jesus of Nazareth but is tormented by his guilty conscience afterwards.
AFTER: Marcellus Gallio is a fictional character of course - and we learn what we need to know about him in the first scene, where he encounters his childhood love at a slave auction, and after unsuccessfully bidding on a pair of female twins, he instead purchases a burly male slave named Demetrius - just to stick it to his rival, Caligula (who's portrayed very fey, so we can imagine why Caligula wanted that male slave...). Marcellus then frees Demetrius, but Demetrius feels indebted to him, so shows up to work at the Gallio estate anyway. (Note to the author, you can't have it both ways, Marcellus just can't be a benevolent slave owner. That's not a thing.)
His path to becoming a Christian puts him in touch with two Roman emperors (Tiberius and Caligula) and then later he meets Judas and Peter, so this becomes a bit like Forrest Gump living through the New Testament. But notably he never meets the resurrected Jesus himself, probably because that would be genuine proof of that story, and proof denies faith, so that would make his conversion less powerful. After touching Jesus' robe right after the crucifixion, Gallio is beseiged by guilt, to the point of madness, and the "men of science" in Rome suggest that he return to touch the robe again, because only that can undo the "bewitching" that it's done to him.
Right, sure, he finds the exact slave in all of Judea, and Demetrius still has Jesus's robe - this reminds me of the story of the "True Cross", when Emperor Constantine's mother, now known as Saint Helena, went on a personal crusade to the Holy Land to recover the cross that Jesus was crucified on, even though she started looking about three hundred years later. The locals probably had a wonderful time, and racked up quite an expense account, dragging her all over town before bringing her to some place where they'd buried three big pieces of wood the week before. And after finding these three "crosses", what sort of testing did they perform to figure out which one Jesus was hung on? A sick person "felt better" when she held it - that's hardly scientific. What a bunch of bunk. Helena supposedly found Jesus' tunic, too, and I bet she had to pay a pretty penny to get it. How hard could it have been to phony up some religious relics?
The author of "The Robe" similarly chose to attribute superhuman powers to Jesus' clothing, after the fact - like it was Superman's cape or something. It seems he set out to answer a question that absolutely nobody was asking. People don't read the Gospels and then say, "But wait, what happened to the clothes Jesus was wearing? They never told us!" Because that would mean they missed the point of the story. I know, there's a passage that says that Roman soldiers cast lots to divide up Jesus' clothing, but that never really made sense, either. Why would these soldiers, who dressed pretty well, made a nice living for themselves, one assumes, be interested in a dead man's bloody clothes?
Even worse is this mistaken belief that as soon as Jesus died, whether it was the first or the second time (and I've got my own thoughts on that, which I'll probably relate over the weekend...) everything was different. That's not the case at all - except for the odd instantaneous conversion, it was really business as usual for the Roman Empire. It took hundreds of years for Christianity to gain any kind of foothold as a respectable religion, and the Roman Empire was particularly resistant, as they had plenty of Gods of their own (which they borrowed from Greece) and no need of a new one.
Also, it's ridiculous to think that the Roman tribune who oversaw Jesus' crucifixion (assuming it went down like the Bible says, which is debatable...) would suddenly be wracked with guilt and seek out the Robe as a cure for his madness. He was trained as a soldier, and taught to regard the Jews as slaves or enemies, and he probably witnessed a few dozen crucifixions every week - that was just the way things were being done. "Rebel prophet" was a real occupation back then, and the Romans probably regarded them the way our society does "drug kingpin" or "ISIS terrorist".
I was reading about this ex-Navy seal who claims he was the one that shot Osama Bin Laden as part of that raid on Abbottabad back in 2011. He's got no remorse for what happened, why would he? Because it's what he was trained to do - infiltrate, dispatch and then return. The mission clearly stated that this man was an enemy combatant who needed to be killed - now, if this soldier were suddenly to be wracked with guilt for putting a bullet in Bin Laden's head, and convert to Islam as a sign of his remorse, it would make about as much sense as Marcellus Gallio becoming a Christian. In other words, it's extremely unlikely to happen - for "The Robe" it's a clear case of revisionist history.
This film attempts to tell the big story of the Passion and its aftermath by concentrating on a small piece of it, but in the end, that just isn't possible, not without straining the bounds of believability. It's like a footnote to the New Testament, but as a work of fiction, it just ends up casting more doubt on the believability of the original story. But maybe that's just me, your mileage may vary.
Also starring Jean Simmons (last seen in "Hamlet" (1948)), Victor Mature, Michael Rennie, Jay Robinson (last seen in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex"), Ernest Thesiger (last seen in "Henry V"), Dean Jagger (last seen in "Elmer Gantry"), Torin Thatcher (last seen in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"), Richard Boone (last seen in "Ocean's 11"), Betta St. John, Jeff Morrow, Dawn Addams, Leon Askin, Michael Ansara (last seen in "Julius Caesar"), Helen Beverly, Sally Corner (last seen in "Harvey"), Rosalind Ivan, Jay Novello, Frank Pulaski, Pamela Robinson.
RATING: 3 out of 10 palm fronds