Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film

By Lloyd Baugh | Go to book overview

2
The Woman as Christ-Figure:
La strada, Nights of Cabiria, Babette's
Feast, Out of Rosenheim
(Bagdad Cafe) and Dead Man Walking

The logical place to begin any discussion of the woman as a filmic Christ- figure is in the good number of films dedicated to women saints: the extensive Joan of Arc cycle, with its two masterpieces by Dreyer and Bresson, Alain Cavalier's recent film on Thérèse of Lisieux, Thérèse ( 1986) and perhaps Augusto Genina's award-winning, but little distributed, Cielo sulla palude ( 1949), the story of Maria Goretti, saint and martyr. The point we are making here is that the woman saint is a Christ-figure because she lives fully her Christian vocation to be imitatio Christi, because she quite consciously conforms her life and her death to the pattern of the life and death of Christ. In this sense, as the stories of these women saints develop, we begin to see behind or within them, images or reflections of the ideal of humanityachieving-Divinity represented by Jesus Christ.

These women saints we have just mentioned, and of whom we shall speak further in the "Saint as Christ-figure" section of chapter six, are easily recognized as Christ-figures against a background of highly-principled spiritual and moral struggle, involving global forces of good and evil, martyrdom, sainthood, with significant public, ecclesial and historical consequences. It is a struggle between, on the one hand, the highest spiritual ideals lived out with intelligence and integrity, with nobility and heroism, and, on the other hand, monumental powers of evil, in some sense almost equally matched with those of good. The filmic images of these Christ-figures, universally-recognized spiritual giants, struggling against sophisticated forces of evil, have the effect of edifying the viewers, challenging them to move towards this level of spiritual integrity.

But not all women Christ-figures are saints. In this chapter, we shall consider how the women protagonists of five films, not one of them a saint, represent in their persons and in their lives and struggles, various patterns of the life, death and Resurrection of Christ. The two films of Fellini we shall now discuss move us into a very different world from that of the saint, an environment which, at first glance, might seem to have little or nothing to do with considerations of spiritual integrity and heroism, with two protagonists who seem to be light years away from anything near sanctity or imitatio Christi.

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