I always intended to see “The Passion of the Christ”, if only to see what the fuss is about. But, if ever faced with the option of actually renting it–the thought of choosing it over a a light romantic comedy, taking it home, putting on your comfy pants and curling up on the couch to watch the Romans soldiers beat the crap out of Jesus. Just never felt right. And listen, I am sure that if you can trust anyone with the sensitive issue of Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection, it’s Mel Gibson. But it’s just never happened…so there that is. I’m more a “Jesus of Nazareth” girl, or as my mother always called it, “the one with the good looking Jesus”.
I personally struggled with the Easter story. Poor Jesus, I personally like the part of the story where he’s a sweet little baby. But then, I would get depressed in Church around Christmas because–I knew what became of Jesus from the spoilers in the years before. That’s why I stopped going to church, they just use the same book again and again.
On further inspection, I am surprised just how-star studded this film was: Laurence Oliver, Ernest Borgnine, James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp? What are you doing here?)–there were seven Oscar winning actors mixing it up biblical style in this famous 1977 mini-series. Anne Bancroft played Mary Magdalene.
Jesus was played by Robert Powell, though he was not director Franco Zeffirelli’s original choice. The first actor thought of was Dustin Hoffman and also Al Pacino, before it was decided that Powell should take the role because he had “wonderful blue eyes”. Which is fair, I saw that movie when I was eight or nine, and what I remember most are these piercing, unblinking eyes to compliment his bone structure and silky hair. Who wouldn’t believe in this guy?
This brings up a rather serious question: was Jesus an attractive man? Which is the first thing I Google, steeling myself to be struck by lightning for even asking. (This could really come back to bite me in the afterlife, when God goes over my lengthy list of faults before pausing…”Did you seriously Google, ‘was Jesus attractive?’, and then going one more down the list…”Are you about to compare “Jesus of Nazareth” to the “Breakfast Club”? To which I’d say, “Yes God, but don’t spoil it for everybody”.) Anyway, some websites say yes, Jesus was a total babe, but one website claims through bible verse that he was pretty average: “He had no form of majesty that we should look at Him, and nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him”. So, if it’s in the Bible, it has to be true. But it seems that Powell’s portrayal has become the most seminal, and therefore contemporary, non-religious people with only vague memories about biblical movies have no choice to believe that Jesus was anything but a stone-cold fox.
After seeing this six hour miniseries, I had a number of questions. What happened to all of the apostles, Jesus’ posse. I wonder if the Last Supper was actually like that scene in “The Breakfast Club”, where every one cries and reveals their true selves; that they are more than just a jock, a brain, a criminal, a basket case or a princess.
In exposing their flaws and failings, in accusing one another of similar crimes, they realize just how similar they are–they are just human beings, trying to get through life. Though they know that they love and accept each other, come Monday morning, they will betray each other by denying their affiliation with one another. As for the disciples, how I wished for a snappy epilogue at the end of the film, with brief summations about what Mary Magdalene and the Apostles get up to following Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. Simple Mind’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” could play and do a brief montage: Peter wept bitterly after denying Jesus, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John helped write the bible, and Judas committed suicide after betraying Jesus. On further inspection, it becomes clear that a ‘whatever happened to?’ special on the apostles would be a bit like the ending of a Shakespearean, Quentin Tarantino mash-up. They could sum it up with a group shot that said “Martyr’s Deaths all around”.
“Thomas sealed his testimony as he was thrust through with pine spears, tormented with red-hot plates, and burned alive”.
“Peter thought himself unworthy to be crucified as his Master, and, therefore, he asked to be crucified “head downward.”
“Andrew was hanged on an olive tree at Patrae, a town in Achaia”.
“Philip evangelized in Phrygia where hostile Jews had him tortured and then crucified”.
Matthew surely remembered his resurrected Savior’s words, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”, when he professed the resurrected Christ unto his death by beheading at Nad-Davar.
“Nathanael, unwilling to recant of his proclamation of a risen Christ, he was flayed and then crucified”
The list goes on, John is the only one of the twelve Apostles to have died a natural death. And what of Mary Magdalene? The romantic in me wants to believe that maybe she was Jesus’ old lady, his biblical friend with benefits, his best friend. She was certainly his closest companion.
This leads me to Googling another potential heavenly lightning rod to crash down upon me: “Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene lovers?”. There’s evidence that she was his wife, and even the mother of his child (The DaVinci Code has something to say about it, but I’ve never jumped on that bandwagon). Mary is generally remembered as a prostitute. Sounds about right, seeing that’s how the patriarchy likes to remember strong women. Listen, who knows what her life was like: there weren’t a ton of available employment options, and being a single girl is tough. Besides, people do a lot of crazy things before they meet Jesus. When she met Jesus, she famously washed his feet with her hair. Jesus said that a towel would have been just as nice, but that it was a solid effort nonetheless. They had a good laugh, he cast seven demons out of her, and they became fast friends.
Whatever her role was before she met Jesus, she was of great comfort to a man who had a pretty full plate. It wasn’t always an easy task. When his father told him about his Easter plans, it was understandably upsetting. Magdalene tried to calm him down and he was like “Talk to the hand, Mary”.
Magdalene is a prominent figure in the Easter “Who’s Who”. She is often referred to as “the apostle to the apostles.” She is present through Jesus’ last hours, the crucifixion, the burial, she goes to anoint his body early Sunday morning, and he appears to her first. She gets the task of spreading the good word. How does art and history remember her? As a weeping hooker. In fact the word “maudlin”, meaning “effusively or tearfully sentimental.” is a derivative of Magdalene. Maudlin is term reserved for velvet sad-clown paintings; Mary had front-row seats to the long journey to the execution site, his six hours on the cross, the mockery, the crown of thorns. (Thanks to a most helpful Easter timeline from the Grace Fellowship Church).
III. The Final Three Hours on the Cross [Noon – 3:00 PM Friday]
C. SAYING: “I am thirsty.” [Jn 19:28]
E. SAYING: “It is finished.” [Jn 19:30b]
I know it’s beside the point, but I felt rather bothered by the sour wine–sour wine? Why not just give the son of God milk while he’s dying on the cross? Mary should have pulled a Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment for a cool glass of H20.
Jesus takes his last earthly breath, and the mood shifts from mob mayhem to morning-after regret. An earthquake occurs, tombs opened, a Centurion laments: “Truly this was the Son of God!”. And the once-cheering crowd collectively cries “Aw, fuuuuuuuck”. Jesus’ body is collected, placed in a tomb, and watched over to prevent theft. Mary Magdalene never once left his side, leaving only to collect spices for burial.
When Mary arrived with the spices at Sunday daybreak, the large boulder that was placed in front on the tomb was rolled away. An angel arrives on the scene, gives them the scoop, and instructs them to update the apostles. She returns later with Peter and John, who eventually take off home, leaving her alone to have her famous cry in the garden. Jesus appears to Mary, but she thinks she’s the gardener, as according to John 20:11-18.
Jesus: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Mary: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.
Jesus: Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Mary: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Mary (realizing he’s not just some gardener) “Teacher”!
Jesus: “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
Mary: “Are you going to call me?”
Jesus: “Yikes Mary, I’m sorry, this is awkward…”
This all happens over the span of a long weekend and the Oxford English Dictionary faults her excessive emotion with a sad root word like ‘maudlin’. I think watching Christ perish on the cross would certainly merit a good hearty sob when you finally got a minute alone. As for her part in the ‘whatever happened to’, what happens to Mary is the stuff of myth. According to the Bible, Jesus goes to Heaven and Mary fades like smoke. Non-canonical writings and church traditions decree that after the resurrection of Jesus, Mary went to Ephesus, in Asia Minor, with the Apostle John and Mary of Nazareth. Mary continued onwards as a leader among the disciples, teaching, preaching, and healing. She locked horns with a jealous Peter, who disapproved of women and of female church leaders in particular. How I wish she had the technology to write a tell-all memoir about her relationship with Jesus, and the days that followed his passing.
Eventually Mary entered a cave in a mountain overlooking the Plan d’Aups (this cave is still a pilgrimage site today). According to other legends, she spent her last 30 years becoming the “first female Christian contemplative. Every day angels came and lifted her up to heaven, where she was fed heavenly food, then they brought her back to her cave. As she felt her life drawing to a close, Mary sought out Maximin at what is now St. Maximin la Sainte-Baume, died a glorious death in his presence, and was buried in the crypt under his chapel”. Who could ask for better golden years? As the caretaker of Jesus, there has to be some heavenly perks. The post-Jesus days must have been a real slog for the holy entourage. All but one apostle died horribly, and Magdalene’s epilogue falls through the cracks, her legacy subject to interpretation and imagination. Not the teacher, leader or feminist icon but as the the virgin/whore, Ally Sheedy vs Molly Ringwald.
With his long hair, rebellious nature, natural leadership abilities and a tense relationship with his father, I guess that makes Judd Nelson Jesus. Principal as Vernon Pontius Pilate with Emilio Estevez and Anthony Micheal Hall are an amalgam of all apostles: young, nervous, idealistic and frightened. They want to be accepted, no matter the cost. And the all-knowing janitor….is God? Whoa. Holy Bible by John Hughes. As we learned from both stories is that one can’t judge; the members of the Last Supper Club can not be lumped into stereotypes, for all humans know too easily how it is it be a doubter, betrayer, sinner, and a saint.