This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Every self-respecting churchgoer is hardwired to understand what Easter is really about. Forget the poached eggs, scrambled eggs, chocolate covered bunnies with eggs, egg-on-egg propaganda for a second. It’s about the crucified dude who woke up three days later, pushed aside a stone, waved bye to the hate, and eventually floated up to the heavens.
Now I'm not here to argue about the legitimacy of an immortal man named Jesus. I’m just acknowledging how quintessential this Christian reboot story is to a holiday. But while Jesus’s other big celebration gets all the movie treatment, there was never a lot to choose from on Easter. At one point, it was the crystal toothed straight-to-DVD Jesus, Bruce Marchiano, with his blue-ish eyes, perfect Americanized accent, and healing powers to boot. In 2004, it was the dark and mysterious Jim Caviezel Jesus, who winded up Mel Gib–sonned in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. And back in the day, we got a Ted Neeley diva-like Jesus, who discoed his bare feet through a resurrection while singing lyrical messages of straight proverbial fire in Jesus Christ Superstar. (The only damn Jesus that mattered to me).
To watch these same stories recycled, as if they ended with anything but the predictability of the last 30 minutes of Titanic, is still pure tedium for the soul. But films with Christian themes still sell, and Netflix remains a huge housing station to that. So if it’s even a little Christian or Jesus-themed, it was added to the list. I tried.
Let’s just remind ourselves that Keanu Reeves is immortal, and by extension, is probably Jesus. That much is proven. But then there’s the allegory fodder of The Matrix by the Wachowskis (now Lana and Lilly Wachowski). A story that features “the one,” who is “tempted” to switch sides by AI-driven agents, the devils of the series initially. Then he’s guided along to his destiny by Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, who is a black John the Baptist. And finally, ultimately, rises above it all to discover that he’s the savior to all of mankind after technically dying and resurrecting himself to become “the one.” It’s about as Jesus-themed as it can possibly get within the science fiction genre.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
This film shows the Jesus look for the Americanized modern-day. In this, Superman is feared by the people he most wants to save, while wearing the knitted red and blue. Zack Snyder’s Superman has been the most visual example to the allegory of an almighty Christ. Its original creators from infancy alluded to his Christian roots. We’re not going to spend too much time talking about how terrible this plot was with the “Why did you say that name?” line. Just know, that as far as the Jesus symbolism goes, this one stacks up. (Ben Affleck’s ‘Batman’ is clearly a doubting Saint Peter, BTW.)
This film is an ultimate examination of what one can go through when having a crisis of faith; the Christian belief in something that isn’t seen. Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film Silence is punishing, both in length and in its refusal to provide the viewer any sort of relief. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play two priests who leave Portugal for Japan in search of a third priest who is played by Liam Neeson, who they believe committed apostasy. Add in a culture that once treated Christianity as if it were illegal, making it punishable by death in the 17th century. It’s easy to see where this is going.
The Prince of Egypt
It wasn’t the most historically accurate film, but to their credit, they got the right shade of color on these Egyptians for once. DreamWorks in 1998 went on to tackle the story of Moses by adding in some of the most catchy songs ever gifted to humanity thanks for the legendary Hans Zimmer. It also included a decent script from the mind of Philip LaZebnick ( he also wrote the screenplays for Pocahontas and Mulan) and was directed by Brenda Chapman, the first woman to direct a feature-length Pixar film—Brave. Nothing bad here.
The Last Temptation of Christ
There’s an assumption in the tale of Christ that one can be human, with human limitations, and not feel the same vulnerabilities that make us in fact, human. The Martin Scorsese version of Jesus, played by Willem Dafoe, is the self-doubting, fatigued, not really excited about carrying the souls of humanity type of dude that makes far more sense. To be told that you’re destined to die a horrible death while taking on the apparent sins of every human around the entire damn earth—how can you be happy about that?
Kingdom of Heaven
In case it wasn’t already clear, Christians and Muslims have been going at it well before the respective religions became tax exempted. So here-in comes Gladiator’s Ridley Scott with a historical epic surrounding the crusades and the Holy Land. Starring Orlando Bloom as a village blacksmith in France, he discovers that he’s actually the illegitimate son of Crusader, Sir Godfrey (Liam Neeson). Despite the religious conflicts woven within, which mostly reflected our own, it never came off as an anti-Muslim, or pro-Christian film in its many stances; it's just a whole lot of sword on sword, blood-serviced comfort food.
The Passion of the Christ
This is Mel Gibson adding a lot of cinematography (and blood) along with bells and whistles to a story that’s been told for the umpteenth time. And yes, while this is still a story about Jesus, it’s important to note just how different (and controversial) this was in 2004. Instead of the traditional focus on proverbial bars, and the slow progression toward death, Gibson went straight into the direction of carnage; he zeroed in on the persecution of Christ with excruciating detail. Make no mistake, despite its religious intentions, this will always be considered the quintessential Christian horror film.
Also, Gibson is making a Passion sequel. OK then!
Here’s Mel Gibson again with the on-screen savagery of this 2016 biographical war drama. Sure, he’s one of the worst humans (seriously, there’s too many awful things to list) but someone keeps letting him direct horror films disguised as history. To understand the placement of this film on this list is to imagine a soldier named Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, rummaging through bodies absent a gun because his pacifist beliefs as a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian don’t allow it. Another film that tackles the questions of faith without being preachy and monotonous in doing so.
“When I dance, I really have to make sure that that’s God because people will notice when I’m dancing for the flesh.” says one Jesus Camp attendee, Tori Binger, who looks like she’s no more than ten years old. The statement is brewed with the nuttiness that encompasses this whole damn documentary about the cultish side of southern Christianity.
The Ten Commandments
I mean, I guess I've got to put this here and pretend like it hasn’t already been seen several hundred times before. Sure, I’m still not crazy about the white folks in Egyptian paint thing, but this is a shining example of what a hefty production could do to an over-told story in 1958. Even if you weren’t a Christian kid forced to watch this on ABC every easter, you had to appreciate the epicness of water turning into blood and a parted sea. Charlton Heston, of course, played Moses who had to lead his Hebrew folks to freedom. Every spring, It became the Home Alone of the Easter holiday.
One could argue Ben-Hur is the better Charlton Heston Easter movie (bro literally meets Jesus) but it’s not on Netflix, so argument over.
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