November 2005

The God Who Wasnt There

The God Who Wasnt There The God Who Wasn’t There is an exploration of the Jesus myth from former Christian, Brian Flemming.

But it’s not just about Jesus.

Starting off with a selection of vox pop interviews with several Christians leaving a Billy Graham rally, Flemming acknowledges that Christians can be a very happy bunch when they’re talking about Jesus. But that’s not the complete picture.

So, to balance things a little, we are shown the less acceptable face of Christianity – the nutters, the extremists and the fundamentalists for whom the Bible has provided plenty of justification for the most appalling atrocities.

We then jump to a rather entertaining summary of ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told,’ and it’s here that Flemming starts raising the questions that this documentary seeks to address by highlighting some of the leaps and inconsistencies in the accepted narrative.

And then the film reaches the crunch questions. Where did the story of Jesus come from and what happened between the founding of his ministry and the rise of Christianity?

With the help of a variety of academics and writers – each of who provides an intelligent, thoughtful and clear take on the subject matter - Flemming explores the mythical and folkloric roots of the Christian story. And he starts to build quite a powerful case that Jesus was a mythological figure – one with striking similarities to many other mythological characters – for whom Christians have claimed an unwarranted historicity.

That’s not the end of the story, though.

Pagans, as we are so often reminded, have historically been very keen on blood sacrifice. Goats, lambs, messiahs – you name it, they’ve sacrificed it. And, historically, Christians have been just as bad. But do Christians today share this obsession with blood sacrifice?

To answer this, Flemming pulls together a series of unauthorised scenes from the most popular Christian movie of all time – The Passion of the Christ. I’d forgotten quite how explicitly violent, and downright nasty, the film is and – as Flemming points out in one very memorable scene – Ian Gibson shows an attention to detail that Ruggero Deodato would have been proud of.

But does any of this matter? We all know that religious people are nice people who wouldn’t harm a fly – and some of them even do good works. So what if they’re all following a fantasy?

This brings us to the third and probably most powerful part of the film.

This is the part where he looks at what Christianity actually says – what the Bible actually calls for – and, accepting that most Christians don’t subscribe to a literal interpretation of what the Bible says raises yet another question.

What do modern Christians believe?

The conclusions are often very disturbing. And, as part of his attempt to answer this question, Brian Flemming returns to his own fundamentalist upbringing – specifically the Christian school he was sent to – and attempts to challenge the very self-contradictory man in charge of teaching 1800 students over what exactly he is trying to promote.

The God Who Wasn’t There is a dryly humourous tour through the parts of Christianity that many people – both Christians and others – would really prefer not to see mentioned. It’s a film that asks a series of provocative and interesting questions that challenge the both the basis of Christianity and the modern incarnations of the religion.

The film already has a well-deserved following and is one that will appeal to anyone who is interested in looking beyond the dogma. My only gripe is that it could have been a lot longer – but with a stack of extended interviews and special features on the DVD, this could be premature.

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

Based on the book of the same name by J T LeRoy, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things starts with 7 year old Jeremiah (Jimmy Bennett) being removed from his foster family and returned to his mother, Sarah (Asia Argento), a 23 year old junkie. Sarah’s attempts at bonding with her son are weak – to say the least – and it’s not long before Jeremiah runs away, looking for his foster parents. ‘

Not surprisingly, he doesn’t find them and, instead, ends up at a police station waiting for his mother to arrive. To say that being fed ice cream by a kindly cop in a police station is the happiest moment that Jeremiah enjoys in the entire film is not only an understatement, but – hopefully – gives some indication of how things go from here on in.

Having failed to instantly win her son over with her poor attempts at motherhood, Sarah resorts to emotional manipulation and, fearing the return of the social services, takes him on the road.

And so begins the dysfunctional relationship at the heart of this story.

As Sarah works her way through a seemingly endless string of loser lovers, drink and drugs, Jeremiah find himself, by turns, abused – both physically and emotionally – and neglected. This isn’t to say that Sarah is wilfully evil, more that she lacks the knowledge, the patience and the strength of character to take care of a young child – as is evidenced when she not only allows Jeremiah to consume beer and pills, but actively encourages him to do so.

This reaches a nadir when Sarah vanishes, leaving Jeremiah in the care of her paedophile boyfriend.

And it’s at these moments of extreme trauma that Jeremiah takes refuge in a childish fantasy world, populated by a pair of animated red crows. The crows are crudely animated, and deliberately so, and do an excellent job of getting across the fractured mentality of a 7 year old under appalling stress. Even Jeremiah’s fantasy world is an unpleasant place.

Following this, Jeremiah then falls into the hands of his disciplinarian, Bible-thumping grandparents. This is neither a loving nor a happy home but, with time, Jeremiah (now aged 11 and played by Dylan Sprouse and Cole Sprouse) appears to have gotten used to things.

And then Sarah reappears, with yet another boyfriend in tow…

Essentially a road movie without a destination, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things explores, with an unflinching gaze, the unhealthy and mutually dependent relationship that develops between Sarah and Jeremiah.

While not overly graphic, this is both a powerful and disturbing film in which the audience is allowed no uncertainty whatsoever as to what is happening. As such, it is a tribute to Asia Argento’s directorial abilities that she has managed to handle a series of – frankly shocking – scenes in a manner that is both unambiguous and understated.

There is no grandstanding in this film, no over-acting, no happy ending, no real resolution. Just two people who have become – and continue to become – destructively dependent on each other.

Of course, Sarah and her series of boyfriends are the villains of this piece but none of them are simplistic. All of the characters are well drawn – if extreme – examples of human frailty, stupidity, ignorance, laziness and – most of all - weakness. While the film makes no attempt to exonerate, or even explain, their actions it manages to avoid falling into the trap of demonising the characters, instead making it quite clear that these people are all too human.

Packed with cameos, including Peter Fonda, Winona Ryder and Marilyn Mason, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things is an unglamorous exploration of a part of North American culture that rarely makes it onto the big screen. The result is often brutal, but also an honest and engaging film.