Special BL- “ARGH!” – “King of Kings” – Review

23 Apr 2011, Posted by arghcentral in 5. Wednesday BL-"ARGH!", No Comments. Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Special BL- “ARGH!” – “King of Kings” – Review

King of Kings

USA, 1961, Samuel Bronston Productions/MGM

Directed by Nicholas Ray

In 1961, King of Kings was panned, cynically perceived as commercial sacrilege. Cooler heads have since prevailed and its stature has risen tremendously in the years since, even among Christians. “It’s just a cash in,” they once said. Indeed, the battle scenes, the casting of Barabbas and Judas as revolutionaries, and Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils would support that assumption but King of Kings is much more than that. If it is loose with scripture, so what? The Passion of the Christ (2004) takes the scant number of verses (straightforward and unspecific verses) about the scourging and crucifixion and turns them into the most fetishistically rendered violence in screen history. Samuel Bronston might have been fiscally motivated to make the movie but it can’t help but be elevated by the artists (Nicholas Ray and Philip Yordan – previously paired on the epochal western Johnny Guitar.) Rather than giving us another thoughtless devotional, King of KingsJesus remains a transgressive figure, outside of and irreconcilable with our society past and present.

It’s true that Jesus almost seems like one character among many, a supporting player in his own film, but what’s important is the presence and the idea of a Christ figure. The coolness of Jeffrey Hunter’s performance makes it difficult to simply identify with Jesus. It’s a thin and occasionally uneasy line between the iconic and the tangible; something out of reach yet very real. The key character (but not the central one) is the Roman general Lucius – alienated from Rome, disenchanted with his place, wondering what his purpose is in the hostile territory of Judea. This character witnesses Jesus, finds something in him, but nevertheless isn’t a follower and it is in this that all of the power of the film is collected. Lucius sees a vital, powerful new way, a reordering of society on purer, greater principles, but simply cannot accept it – old allegiances, socio-cultural conflict, commerce, politics, and human nature, in other words the world, forbid it. Christianity in King of Kings is a permanent sub-culture. What I find in the ending isn’t a sense of complete victory, as other Christ films conclude, but simply a group of people abandoned to their work in the world. Far from heralding the great rise of Christendom, the apostles and the gospel seem destined to become lost in the mainstream. The ideas are adapted and the roles are assumed but the revolution is lost.

– Jonas Erickson

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