Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film

By Lloyd Baugh | Go to book overview

Introduction

The Christ figure in allegory follows the main thread of the Christ story,
while disguising it through a surface narrative and relying on the viewer
to provide the necessary continuity. The figure is strong enough to exist
by itself, but points to a meaning far beyond this existence for its ulti
mate truth. 1

Beyond the explicitly biblical representations of Jesus in film, none of which, as we have seen in the first part of this book, is entirely satisfactory, all of which present the perceptive viewer with esthetic or theological problems, there is a whole series of films which represent the Jesus-story, the Christ-event, implicitly, in analogical form, films which may provide a more satisfactory approach to the person and event of Jesus Christ. 2 These Christfigure films, which will be the object of our investigation in this second part of the book are from various periods, and belong to various genres and styles but they all have two elements in common. They submit to two levels or registers of interpretation, the direct and the analogical, the literal and the figurative; and on the figurative or metaphorical level, they accept a reading that is biblical and christological. They are not unlike the parables of Jesus which, when "read" on a literal level, remain brief narratives of human experience, but when interpreted metaphorically, fairly explode with theological or christological significance.

At least four dimensions of the Christian tradition itself justify the use of analogy or metaphor to image the divine. First of all, the Christian faith is one which finds its meaning in images. Genesis 1:27 reveals that God created the human being in God's image; the human person is an image of God. St. Paul insists that Christ is the image of God. 3 The New Testament recognizes in the Old Testament a variety of images or figures of Christ: the suffering servant of Isaiah, Isaac about to be sacrificed, Jonah who spent three days in the mouth of the whale, Moses who led his people out of bondage, the redeemer and lawgiver. Even Jesus used figures to speak of himself: the good shepherd, the light in the darkness, the way, the truth and the life, the living water. St. Paul insisted that though a sinner, he (and all committed Christians) was "conformed to the image" of Christ ( Rom 8:29) and he called on Christians to imitate his imitation of Christ, that is, to become figures of Christ as he was a figure of Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Thus images of human beings and of Christ, images of human reality, and that includes film images, have a powerful theological valence. Further, the Christian faith is incarnational: it insists that God reveals God's-self in and through matter and in Christ -- human matter -- and not only once but in an ongoing way. Matter and material im

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