Friday, May 5, 2017

jesus, pop

I was going to rage tonight, get political, get advantage on ability checks. But, weirdly stressful midday and my students bugged me this evening and I'm in the mood for something simpler. This morning I watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and right now I'm watching Beginners again. And, I feel like some old fashioned Christ-Figuring. If you've been with this blog for a while, you know what that means. If you haven't, then maybe look back on the original Kozlovic Scale Christ-Figuring two-parter (Days 93 and 94) regarding Phil Connors in Groundhog Day or what I take as the inaugural Kozlovic-Black Scale*--when I Christ-Figured Rambo.

* Yes, I gave myself partial naming rights. If Anton has a problem with that, he has yet to talk to me about it. Anton being Anton Karl Kozlovic, who published a few times on the subject of the cinematic Christ-Figure. And, I've done it several times here.

Thing is, I'm going for a twofer tonight. I am going to Christ-Figure both Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy (just going by Vol. 2 as it has been a while since I've watched the first.) and, because that should be too easy, Hal Fields from Beginners.

The scale is scored out of 25, 25 being most cinematically Christ-like. But, before you get confused, I will warn you that there are more than 25 items on the list.

1 tangible Always an easy one. I guess cinematic ghosts cannot be Christ-Figures. Peter and Hal both get this first point. 2 central Peter and Hal are both central to their respective films, though if I wanted to get picky this early in the list, I might point out that Beginners is Oliver's story, not Hal's. 3 outsider Peter is a human who was abducted from Earth when he was a kid, and he hangs out with a bunch of aliens. Hal is a gay man who has known he was gay since he was 13 but chose to live as a heterosexual, have a wife, have a kid, until now when he has joined the gay community. And, just being gay... I argued regarding Rambo that he "represents an entire class of outsiders, Vietnam vets who came back from war to find the public turned against them." Being gay, I'd almost give Hal the edge on this one over Peter. But, without getting picky just yet, they're tied, 3 to 3.

Then, Peter takes the lead because he is both 4 divinely sourced and has a 4.5 miraculous birth. For the record, the decimaled items on the list are my additions and they demonstrate fairly explicitly characterization toward being a cinematic Christ-Figure. Peter: 5. Hal: 3.

Peter easily takes points for 5 alter ego and 6 special/normal as well, but the point to Hal's piece of the story of Beginners is about how he lived as someone else, someone "normal", and now he's not. Peter: 7. Hal: 5.

Kozlovic (2009) offers up 7 twelve associates next but specifically points out that "Christ-figure films... usually have a lesser number of Apostle-figures to avoid overly complicating the storyline" (pp. 7-8). This is easy for Peter Quill. He's part of a superhero team, MCU and whatnot, and the second film adds Mantis to the circle and positions both Nebula and Yondu more securely in the circle. It's harder for Hal, but mostly because this is Oliver's story we're watching. Hal does have his new associates--his boyfriend, his priest, his therapist, his secretary, the movie night guys, the LA Pride guys; we just never focus on any of them but for the boyfriend, Andy (Goran Visnjic). The presentation matters, though. I'm going to give this one to Peter but not Hal. Peter: 8. Hal: 5.

8 holy age is interesting. First of all, Kozlovic (2009) suggests that cinematic Christ-Figures are sometimes "constructed to match biblical specifications so closely that they begin their 'divine' mission when they reach the mystical age of 'thirty'" (p. 8). Additionally, Christ is 33 when he dies. Some films go with the 33 instead of the 30. Though, to be fair, this could just be a coincidence because of the age range of most popular actors and the age range of the protagonists of most popular films. But, I digress. See, Peter Quill is rather explicitly 33-years old. The film opens in 1980 with his father and mother (Peter has not been born yet), and then skips 34 years to 2004. Interestingly, a good chunk of Beginners takes place specifically in 2004, when Ewan McGregor would have been 33. But, his Oliver is not the Christ-Figure here. Hal is. However, Hal was born in 1922, and got together with Georgia in 1955, when he was 33. If his mission was to be heterosexual... So, Peter: 9. Hal: 6.

9 judas figure I am tempted to give Hal this one as Andy has another boyfriend, but Andy will fit better below at 11. Peter, on the other hand, is definitely betrayed in his story--I will avoid explicit SPOILERS.

(Not really. It's his father. Which, it should be obvious early in the film that something has to turn.)

Peter: 10. Hal: 6.

10 mary magdalene-figure i.e. a "sexually tagged woman." Peter definitely has this in Gamora and Hal has this in his wife. While the role of wife wouldn't normally fit here, since Hal is gay and Georgia wanted to fix that... 10.5 virgin mary-figure is a bit strange because Georgia almost fits this one as well, since her relationship with Hal seems sexless (nevermind that Hal is her husband and not her son; this doesn't have to correlate exactly), which would suggest Oliver's a "miraculous birth" not Hal's. Meanwhile, Mantis' role with Ego is also sexless, but she barely interacts with Peter at all. Additionally, Peter's mother is presented almost in abstract, a holy object represented by the opening scene and some statues Ego has made. I am feeling generous, so both get this one. Peter: 12. Hal: 8.

11 john the baptist-figure, pointing the way to the Christ-Figure. Since this is Oliver's story, he gets this role, I suppose, pointing us to the story of Hal. It's a bit of a cheat for Ego to take this role given his actual role as Peter's father, but he also points Peter to his special abilities. Peter: 13. Hal: 9.

12 death and resurrection Permit some SPOILERS here. If not for Yondu, Peter would be left for dead at the end of Guardians 2. (Plus, he had already been thought dead at least one time earlier.) Hal, on the other hand, only dies once. But, since this is a cinematic score, I should mention that the disjointed way that Oliver tells the story offers up Hal after he has already died. No point for that, though. Just worth mentioning. This means that Hal also cannot get the point for 13 triumphalism, while Peter can. Peter: 15. Hal: 9.

14 service to lessers and 15 willing sacrifice pulls Peter further ahead. He's saving the universe (not just the galaxy). Peter: 17. Hal: 9.

There is some internal 15.25 torture for Peter, but not much externally. Similarly, Hal's cancer hardly counts. Arguably his treatments causing him pain could count, and he's not doing so well so far. But, 15.5 stigmata... Ego's tendril of light that he stabs Peter with and mounts him on, twice, is pretty close to that spear wound. I've got to give Peter this one. Peter: 18. Hal: 10.

15.75 atonement is a big one. Had I--SPOILERS--done a score for Yondu instead of Peter, he would definitely get this one. But Peter is not really saving the universe because> how was a thief. He's more like a D&D adventurer, thieving one day, saving the world the next. (Though, he is rather explicitly not thieving anymore.) Hal doesn't get this one either. But, 16 innocence goes to both. Peter is in trouble with Sovereign for something Rocket did. Hal is in trouble with Oliver because society made him hide who he was. Peter: 19. Hal: 11.

17 cruciform pose Though Peter is not posed with arms out, the fact that twice Ego holds him up on a spear of light should earn him this point. But, no 18 cross associations for him or Hal. Peter: 20. Hal: 11.

Not even that.

19 miracles and signs I gave this point to Rambo because of his "superhuman feats [with] barely any scars to show for it" so Peter gets this even without his manifesting a ball out of light. But, Hal is getting left behind because his story just doesn't quite fit.

20 simplicity and 21 poverty and 22 jesus garb I cannot give any of these to either Peter or Hal. (Though Ego's outfit comes close.)

23 blue eyes because the cinematic Christ-Figure has them. Hal's eyes are, indeed, blue, but Peter's are green. Peter: 20. Hal: 12.

24 holy exclamations Look at today's title. That's from Beginners. Peter: 20. Hal: 13.

No 24. j.c. initials for either. So Peter ends up scoring as a pretty good Christ-Figure, while Hal does not. Which is as it should be. Peter, as superhero, as action film protagonist, must be bigger than life. And, his alien heritage slides him so obviously Into the Christ-Figure niche that I would have been shocked had he not scored high. On the other hand, while Hal's story, especially coupled with Oliver's, might offer up some useful lessons about life, about the human experience, it just is not really about his sacrifice. Rather, his coming out, his owning who he is--that is what inspires (though not too quickly) Oliver. That is what might inspire us, watching the film.

The important takeaway, though, is that Christ-Figuring, especially this deliberate quantifying way I do it, doesn't necessarily mean anything. Even Kozlovic's original version--it was a study of cinematic Christ-Figures, seeing what they had in common through a sort of open coding. He didn't decide on qualities for a Christ-Figure and then look at every cinematic hero. Nor would I. And, putting something of such potential import on Peter Quill or Hal Fields, or John Rambo, or John McClane, or Phil Connors--

Scratch that. I was going to say it just for fun. But, Christ-Figuring Phil Connors is serious business.

SOURCES

Kozlovic, A.K. (2009). How to create a Hollywood Christ-figure: Sacred storytelling as applied theology. Australian eJournal of Theology, 13:1, pp. 1-16.

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