Almost every week my two brothers and I exchange the query: Are you watching _______ on Netflix? Are you watching Messiah? Are you watching The First Temptation of Christ? As kids we watched The Ten Commandments, but after Mel Gibson bled on the silver screen, we avoided Jesus movies like the plague. There were a few exceptions: The Last Temptation, Life of Brian, Godspell, Jesus of Montreal, Jesus Christ Superstar.
The First Temptation of Christ and Messiah and are now stirring up provocative discussions. Are you watching? Debating? How much is Messiah like or unlike Homeland?
The First Temptation is a gay Brazilian comedy. Comedies about Jesus go back at least to the Middle Ages, especially during the Feast of Fools and Feast of Asses. Why not? The resurrection was a big joke that God played on Satan. During the Feast of Fools, young clergy, having put on masks, would drive senior clergy from the church and turn the altar table into a banquet table. Read more here: Comedy, Tragedy, and Religion by John Morreall. On Jesus as a gay man read The Man Jesus Loved by Ted Jennings.
Messiah is controversial. Some reviewers think it’s right-wing, fundamentalist propaganda serving Donald-Trumpian Christians. Others think it is a leftist plot.
There are some stereotypes and cliches in it:
- the messianic figure leaves the Middle East to show up–where else–in Texas
- how does Al-Masih (Arabic for the Messiah) arrive in Texas–in the middle of tornado that leaves only the Baptist church standing
- the first people to blow up a building are, you guessed it, Muslims, not white American nationalists
- the US president is–what else, Mormon
- Al-Masih always, without fail, asks the Big Questions, the ones that bring you out of the closet so you can see yourself
- he won’t drink, doesn’t have sex, and has long hair (when he puts it up in a bun, you know he could not be the real messiah)
But there are lots of questions about stereotypes too:
- the Texas pastor is not Gringo but Hispanic
- the messiah-figure knows magic and went to Williams College
- there is swearing, boozing, and sex–not what you’d expect from a fundamentalist Jesus
- who is the skeptic? the Baptist pastor’s wife
- the actor is not Middle Eastern or Indian; he is Belgian; he wears a hoodie and Levis (you can see the red tag on his rear pocket)
So far, this is the most balanced review from the Globe and Mail. If the plot or character turns right on the ideological expressway, I’ll turn left hoping for more instalments of Kim’s Convenience or The Kominsky Method.