The Movie that was Saturday

Over the past several weeks, I have been trying to think of ways to better prepare myself to participate in Resurrection Weekend (AKA Easter), because to be honest, I just haven’t been into it the last couple of years. I had too many things distracting me, and I let myself focus on those distractions to the point where I didn’t especially care about the most important event in my religion’s calendar. 

I know that music helps a lot of people to find their right frame of mind, but for me it’s never helped that much. I like music, and I can (somewhat) participate in it if my perspective is already good going in, but it doesn’t exhort me the way it might for you. The artistic medium I connect with best is film–yes, even though I want to be a writer when/if I grow up–so I began thinking about the themes of the days of the Easter weekend and which movies could help me better align my attention. 

It didn’t take me long to decide what I’m going to watch on Friday and Sunday. While I understand theologically why we call this particular Friday “Good”, that adjective has never sat well with me. The more time I’ve spent in the Gospels, the more I look at Good Friday as the darkest day the world has seen. Jesus gets betrayed multiple times in several different ways, his closest followers are so confused and scared that they abandon him and isolate themselves from the community of one another, all sorts of really weird things happen (read Matthew 27), the earth itself goes dark in the middle of the day, and God can’t bear to look at the Son he loves. 

The film that most deeply and viscerally reflects these themes for me is Ingmar Bergman’s “Winter Light,” a day-in-the-life story of a pastor who seemingly can’t do anything right. No one in his congregation cares about his sermons, and when a troubled man does come to him for counsel, the pastor is too distracted by his personal demons to even listen to him. And yet, “Winer Light” concludes on a note of bitter hope (perhaps sarcasm, but I’ll take the optimist’s route here) that brilliantly encapsulates the divine irony of the crucifixion. 

For Resurrection Sunday, my movie is “Ordet,” an obscure (though that depends on the circles you inhabit) story of a fractured family, featuring a son who has become convinced he is Jesus Christ. He wanders around the house, quoting Scripture as if he wrote it, but no one listens to him. They know he has a disease, and they’re waiting for him snap out of it and become normal again. The son eventually realizes he isn’t Jesus and runs off into the wilderness, but his return–as himself once again–sets the stage for the most supernatural moment I have ever witnessed in a movie. I can’t think of Easter without “Ordet” coming to mind.

Which leaves me with Saturday, or as I have been calling it recently, “The Day When Nothing Much Happens.”  All the drama of the cross is over with, and the magic of the tomb and the women and the angels hasn’t happened yet, so basically what you have is a bunch of bewildered disciples wondering who they should try following next and a few paranoid adversaries who are afraid Jesus’s body will get stolen in a grave-robbing resurrection hoax. What could I watch to help me connect with all of that existential angst? 

I thought of “The Fisher King,” mostly because I love that movie and it’s been a while since I’ve watched it, I think, because it’s really more of a resurrection story than a purgatory story. “Wings of Desire” (the German film “City of Angels” was based on) came to mind, because the hidden activity of angels in it illustrates the tension of God’s whispering presence and his shouted absence, but I decided to reject it because it ends too happily. To really get me in the mindset of Saturday, I realized, I needed something depressing and disturbing, a film that makes it so hard to envision redemption that you’d lose sleep over it. 

Mike Leigh’s “Naked” came to mind. It’s the kind of movie where after you watch it, you say, “Okay, I’m glad I watched that because it’s brilliantly acted and realized, but it’s just so dark that I can’t imagine ever wanting to go anywhere near it ever again.” The movie, essentially, is about a man (David Thewlis, whom you’ll recognize as Professor Lupin from the Harry Potter movies) who goes about town doing nasty things and spouting tantalizingly cracked philosophical rants. I like to think of him as Christopher Nolan’s version of The Riddler. And it doesn’t end well, for him or anyone who encounters him. His darkness is so pervasive that by the end of the film, it’s hard to remember what smiles look like, or why anyone would want to make one. 

I think my Resurrection Weekend movies are set.

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