The James Clayton Column: Ideas for Easter movies

Will Hollywood go for 'The Incredible Disciples' as a franchise...?

This would be a nasty surprise at Easter (or any other time)

Ah, spring is springing. The days are lasting longer, daffodils are sprouting and baby lambs are emerging from the wombs of their woolly mothers, their first bleats forming the soundtrack to the start of the green season. Moving away from such idyllic rural realms to the world of the screen, spring means build-up to the summer blockbusters as the hype machine for this year’s major releases gains momentum and the first huge flicks start to find their way into theatres.

Altogether, this two-pronged attack calls out to the movie nerds who’ve been holed up at home with their DVD collections to survive the dark cold winter and commands: “Come out you into the sunlight you pale hermit! Head out and make your way to the cinema to see the mammoth tentpole treats!” (Yes: it is paradoxical that you should come out into the light only to subsequently sit in the dark again, but there is a possibility of fresh air at some point in this journey – at least before you pass the nachos counter.)

Arriving in spring we also hit upon Easter: another religious holiday which has almost completely lost its meaning in the modern world. How handy then for secularised society that the calendar clearly labels the key dates of Easter week so the theologically-forgetful can remember where they’re up to and what part of the Passion tale it all represents.

First comes Palm Sunday which was the day that Jesus Christ arrived in Jerusalem on a wave of high-fives. Fast-forward a few days and you’ve got Good Friday, which was the day that Jesus got nailed to the cross from which he taught followers the arts of dramatic irony and black comedy before dying after a few verses of “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”.

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Later on in the weekend we arrive at Chocolate Sunday, which came about because Jesus’ mourning followers turned to comfort food to cheer themselves up. At once, Christ was resurrected and rejoined the party which brings out an elementary principle of many missionary religions: “Offer refreshments and they will come…”

Perhaps it’s the violence and suffering intrinsic to the Holy Week story in contrast to, say, the nativity, that ranks Easter as a sort of less significant holiday in the modern age. I get a feeling that there are a fair few people out there who simply see Easter as being a poor man’s Christmas in that you get chocolate but pass up on the presents.

Cinematically, Easter also gets short-shrift in comparison to the winter festival which has spawned a huge backlog of themed movies. If you’re looking for an Easter movie, you’ve not got much to go on and there is no tradition of Easter Bunny flicks to distract kids from consuming colossal amounts of cocoa-based sweets.

You could always stick on Donnie Darko to depress them purely on the basis that it’s got a giant rabbit in it. If Easter really is all about eating eggs, Cool Hand Luke is another option. Had Paul Newman’s incarcerated rebel not been eating hen-laid goods and been challenged to consume confections produced by Cadbury’s, I’ve a feeling that half way through he would have been forced to surrender. His fellow inmates would find themselves not inspired, but rather covered in brown vomit.

Unfortunately for the die-hard atheist film viewers looking for an appropriate Easter film free of religion, the eponymous anti-hero of Cool Hand Luke is pretty much a Christ allegory. Beyond Monty Python’s Life of Brian the other notable Easter flicks are either long-titled recreations of the Passion (The Passion Of The Christ, The Last Temptation Of Christ and The Greatest Story Ever Told) or sandals-but-few-swords epics that allude to the significant happenings of Holy Week.

Two prominent examples are The Robe where Richard Burton plays a Roman centurion heavily affected by the clothing of Christ, and the ultimate biblical blockbuster that is Ben-Hur.

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I find that the will to put the Christian message across in these movies always makes the appearance of Jesus feel a little forced. Judah Ben-Hur’s two encounters with the Holy One – first time when he’s being dragged along as part of a slave convoy and second when he gives the stumbling Jesus a lift with his crucifix – act like signposts to remind the audience that this is “a tale of the Christ” (as put forth in the tagline) and not just a Charlton Heston film with a chariot race. Such scenes stand out like sore thumbs and are slightly corny: a bit like the scene in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade where Indy comes face-to-face with Hitler at a Nazi rally.

The Zen wisdom of another cinematic source of spirituality – namely the Dudeist philosophy of The Big Lebowski – and the idea that “nobody f***s with the Jesus” resonates here. The notion of shoehorning the Saviour into an overly emphatic cameo to clobber home the morals in the style of Ben-Hur contravenes the creed of the Coen Brothers’ film.

In pursuit of a film perfect for Easter viewing then, I’d urge that should anyone be interested or inspired, they either make it totally about Christ or avoid the physical presence of Christianity’s iconic figure. To not tread over the Calvary path and repeat the overdone Passion tale, I’d recommend that a new project did the latter.

Looking to give the Easter season some cinematic love and offer an exciting alternative to the Holy Week narrative, I propose that a film focusing on Jesus’ disciples be produced. Judas Iscariot’s suicidal torment would no doubt make a gripping melodrama, and the lives of the Twelve Apostles who took up the baton from Jesus present further strong sources for idea-starved screenwriters.

It’s also a bonus in that there are twelve of them and thus I see the opportunity for numerous spin-off franchises should studios seek to fully exploit the disciples as commercial entities (the chocolate and card companies have already committed such sins with the Easter season, so it’d be nothing new).

Considering that all the proposed Marvel Avengers projects have been put back for the time being, I’d say that there’s a gap in the market for a new range of ‘superhero’ screen characters. If they act really fast, The Incredible Disciples could be rushed into multiplexes with corresponding branded Easter eggs in time for the beginnings of blockbuster season 2010. They’ve come to spread the word and do good! They are your source of salvation! It’s the Justice League Of Apostles!

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James’ previous column can be found here.