Jesus in Contemporary Culture: Part Nine; Jesus of Montreal & the Power of Allegory (Skinner)

Jesus_Of_MontrealOver the past two weeks our class has been watching Jesus of Montreal and dealing with the topic of how to present Jesus allegorically in a way that resonates with contemporary audiences but also captures the essence of one or more of the gospel stories. This movie is unique in that it strays from the script of the gospels while presenting the main character, Daniel–an out-of-work actor in Montreal–as the ultimate Christ-figure. Here’s a description of the film from IMDB:

“A group of actors puts on an unorthodox, but acclaimed Passion Play which incites the opposition of the Catholic Church while the actors’ lives themselves begin to mirror the Passion itself.”

You can find a plot summary and a list of the allegorical elements of the film here.

This is one of my favorite Jesus films largely because of the creativity it uses in telling the story of Jesus within a modern, western setting. In my opinion, most Jesus movies that “stick to the script” of the NT sanitize Jesus and seem to err on one side of the human/divine dichotomy we have been discussing all semester. The practical effect is that most of the time, in my opinion, these films aren’t very creative or interesting. I think it’s also safe to say that many of the well-known allegorical treatments of Jesus’ life are so transparent as to be an almost plain re-telling of the Christian story under a thinly-veiled allegorical cover; I’m thinking particularly of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, though our previous film–The Book of Life–also attempted to pull off a modern day allegory for Jesus and the apocalypse.  (BTW, this is not to say that I dislike Lewis or Bunyan, only that the allegories presented in each are not as interesting to me as what we see in films like Jesus of Montreal.)

As a result of watching this film, our students seemed genuinely engaged at a different level for the first time all semester. When the film was over we asked them to divide up into groups and craft an allegorical version of the Jesus story set in modern-day Mount Olive.  The results were interesting and in some cases, hilarious, though it was still difficult for some students–particularly those from religious backgrounds–to break free from the particulars presented in the Gospels (viz., miracles, parables, etc.). In one version, Jesus was a blond-haired Norwegian named “Markus” who served as captain of the Mount Olive golf team. At one point, he hooks his ball onto a lilly pad sitting in the middle of a lake. Markus then proceeds to walk out onto water and take his next shot from the center of the lake. 🙂

Tomorrow we will begin watching, The Life of Brian. I can’t wait to see how the students respond to that one. I’m sure there will be lots to talk about next week!

Here’s a clip from Jesus of Montreal for those who are interested:

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One thought on “Jesus in Contemporary Culture: Part Nine; Jesus of Montreal & the Power of Allegory (Skinner)

  1. Enjoyed reading this post! And I really do need to make time to watch this movie. My main knowledge of this film comes from Schröter’s Jesus of Nazareth where he favorably discusses it along very similar lines as you do here! Hope to see you at SBL… Wayne

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