The Holy Moment
Forgive me Mel, but The Passion of the Christ just plain stinks. To be expected, I suppose—did anyone really believe that Mad Max was capable of a cinema that operated beyond the kind of plodding, dunderheaded ridiculousness that makes The Passion little more than a prequel to Braveheart?
Rather than comfort, his camera wants to unsettle, to set our limitations, to suggest more. Common are shots of near-microscopic closeness that pan to accumulate, and close-ups that pull away to reveal. To get at the heart of things, he never starts from without, but from within.
God is a simultaneously overbearing and absent voice in Crimes and Misdemeanors. After listening throughout his Jewish upbringing that “the eyes of God are on us always,” Judah becomes a nonbeliever who is nevertheless haunted by the figure of an all-encompassing father.
As the Dardennes anchor The Son to the body of Olivier Gourmet, Dumont sees his world through the eyes and flesh of Schotté’s Pharaon, a slow, shambling, awkward man whose odd demeanor cannot be wholly attributed to the loss of his wife and son a year previously.
The published screenplays of Ingmar Bergman’s “religious trilogy” contain, as a sort of introduction, a single-page announcement of the director’s intentions. “The theme of these three films is a “reduction”—in the metaphysical sense of the word.”
One of pop art’s great emblematic figures of human spirituality stands only three inches high, sucks his thumb like a lollipop, and perpetually carries a blue blanket wherever he goes, clutching it close to him for security from a hostile world.
Magnolia is, if nothing else, a story of people struggling to depart from the kind of rehearsed language that insulates their egos and actually say something candid. That is why much of the film’s dialogue consists of characters talking around one another in clichés.
Spielberg demands that one grapple with this difficult doctrine for the film’s duration, rewarding the viewer with the rapturous thrill of the journey. With this theological concern providing the groundwork, Spielberg invites the viewer to look deeper.