December 11, 2014

Jesus in New York

The Book of Life (Hal Hartley, 1998). Hal Hartley’s The Book of Life was a slightly dopey idea – Jesus (then Hartley regular Martin Donovan, doing his mildly aggressive inscrutability) and sidekick Mary Magdalena (PJ Harvey) appear in New York on December 31, 1999, to get the imminent end of the world going – but it had some resonance watched again, 15 years on, or more resonance than a rerun of Kevin Smith’s Dogma or the Schwarzenegger film End of Days would carry now, at least. The lo-tech 90s video looks smeary and awful but otherwise the texture of the 90s is so subtly different – almost no mobile phones, the clunky and slow Apple Mac graphics on Jesus’ laptop, people still smoking – that only the millennial deadline really stresses that this is recent history. Watched now, it is impossible to forget about the actual apocalyptic event that hit New York nearly two years later. Images and ideas seem to prefigure it. An airport is the first location; a few minutes in, a man gazes up at the sky from the street and sees an airliner over Manhattan; later, the movie Jesus is indecisive (men are usually indecisive in Hartley films) about whether to annihilate a large chunk of humanity. He and Satan debate the rights and wrongs of religious violence and fanaticism and ethics, whether humans have souls, whether God is fair. The last shot is of the Twin Towers, receding into the distance. This was the first September 11 film, three years early.