Ever since a group of men started to write down what’s now known as the New Testament, Jesus Christ has been a popular figure in the modern western canon. Whether he’s the Son of God, an average man just trying to do his best, or even some random bloke who’s actually named Brian, the Christ-like figure has been fodder for religious texts, harrowing Passion plays, contemplative dramas, and sinfully amusing comedies in every medium imaginable.
With the latest cinematic Jesus currently gracing wide-release theater screens thanks to The Young Messiah, Cyrus Nowrasteh’s exploration of the titular character’s childhood in Egypt and Nazareth, the figure’s omnipresence hovering over this month’s Miracles from Heaven, and a general resurrected interest in cinematic Christs, Consequence of Sound took a look back through cinematic history to determine our favorite takes on the savior. These are our chosen 10 depictions of the Chosen One.
10. Hamlet 2 (2008)
Sexy Jesus (played by Dana Marschz, aka Steve Coogan)
Jesus Christ has played so many different roles in our culture over the past 2016-odd years, from religious figure to pop culture fodder to Northrop Frye-style archetype for almost every hero figure in modern western storytelling. But he has rarely served quite so many functions in so little time as he does in this 2008 comedy about a deluded but well-meaning drama teacher (Coogan) trying to redeem himself and a group of ostensibly troubled teens who don’t need his help nearly as much as he thinks they do — all through the magic of a Hamlet sequel. Over the rapturously ridiculous course of the film, Dana’s Jesus is the following.
— An inspired high-concept gag (A hot Jesus commandeering a time machine to fix the final scenes of Hamlet! It’s already funny before you even begin to add any context or depth to it!)
— The prism through which the film can explore Dana’s bizarre savior complex
— The basis for some whimsical throwaway commentaries on religion and celebrity culture
— The subject of a truly rockin’ musical theater number
And to top it all off, he’s got a hot swimmer’s bod. –Sarah Kurchak
09. Johnny Got His Gun (1971)
Christ (played by Donald Sutherland)
A whole new generation was traumatized by Dalton Trumbo’s 1971 anti-war film (based on his 1938 anti-war novel) about a young soldier who loses his limbs, sight, hearing, and voice in battle when Metallica used clips from Johnny Got His Gun for “One”. But some of the scenes that weren’t featured in that music video might actually be even more claustrophobic and disheartening. Chief among those are a series of dream conversations that the injured soldier, Joe (Timothy Bottoms), has with a sweet but increasingly useless Christ (Sutherland).
There’s an almost Bergman-esque level of existential despair that emerges in Joe’s interactions with the savior-like figure, who knows and openly admits that’s he’s merely a figment of the soldier’s imagination. Joe tries to explain his fate and the extent of his suffering to Christ while they play cards together – or while he watches the carpenter build a collection of crosses – but Christ can do little more than offer a sympathetic, if confused ear. He is as unknowing as Death from The Seventh Seal and as broken in the face of the impotence of faith as the priest in Cries and Whispers. Played with subtle fragility by Sutherland, Christ becomes the most unsettling part of a film that’s not short on moments capable of haunting viewers for years to come. –Sarah Kurchak
08. Ben-Hur (1959)
Jesus – The Christ (played by Claude Heater, uncredited)
Ben-Hur is essentially Gladiator with Christian overtones, which means it isn’t like Gladiator at all. Nor is it a sluggish epic solely focused on worship. Instead, it deftly walks the line between both worlds, taking a note from the 1880 novel that inspired it and portraying Jesus Christ not as the central hero, but as a fringe character who silently influences the protagonist. He never speaks, and we never see his face, a filmmaking decision made all the more effective when Christ gives water to Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), the hero. It’s this simple act, along with his eventual sacrifice, that moves Judah to abandon his quest for vengeance against the Romans who destroyed his family. And because of the sparse use of JC, this decision feels tasteful and universally relatable – not fanatical or over the top. –Dan Caffrey