It's been a big week for religion for me, at least on film. I started by seeing Prometheus, the Alien prequel (sorta) by Ridley Scott and starring Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Idris Alba and followed it up with its antithesis, a documentary about the recent traveling production of Terrence McNally's so-called "gay Jesus play" Corpus Christi.
I'm a sucker for space movies and count the original Alien as a favorite, but I am at a loss to explain how the latest installment in the series relates to the others. I'm actually not all that confused regarding the mythology (despite many potential questions or outright black plotholes) so much as confused why the tone of Prometheus is so 2001: A Space Odyssey when the original couple of movies were much more character-driven. The fun of the first Alien was relating to the regular but quirky, flesh-and-blood people who were trapped on that godforsaken ship in the middle of nowhere. In Prometheus, the characters are bloodless, humorless (even when cracking jokes) or, in the case of Charlize Theron's head honchette, a Metropolis Mary so robotic she's suspected of being less human than the ship's resident machine, the eerily effective (and HAL-like) Michael Fassbender. (No, there are no scenes of the actor's legendary penis bursting out of anyone's tummy, but his performance is stunning.)
The basic plot is that two researchers (Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green, scientist lovers with no chemistry) have discovered ancient symbols across all known cultures pointing to a galaxy far, far away where they believe the human race was engineered by another sentient group. A trillionaire with a desire to live forever (Guy Pearce in atrocious old-man makeup, even though he's never shown young in any scenes) funds an expedition to the planet where he hopes mankind can meet its maker, but it's a trip clouded by the conflicting agendas of those on board. The captain (Idris Alba, exceedingly unnatural in a role meant to mirror the sort of flip attitude of Harrison Ford's Han Solo) cares only about his job, some of the crew just came along for the money, the scientists are driven by a need to answer life's greatest questions. And then there is that damned android, who's not supposed to have emotions yet who seems hellbent on ignoring commands and hastening what's bound to be a troubling outcome.
I did like the movie and was consistently interested in where it was going. However, Rapace is no Sigourney Weaver (she barely registers on screen and sports a weird 'do reminiscent of Janet on Three's Company once she grew her hair out) and some of the film's biggest twists are easily guessable early on. In many ways, the film is an atheistic masterpiece. But as a movie, it's only heavenly in stretches, including some truly chilling scenes toward the end and one scene that is a terrific PSA against unsafe sex.
In direct contrast, Corpus Christi: Playing With Redemption, is the type of film that could make even the least spiritual among us have flutters of faith. If not in God, then in the power of a group of people taking on a sore subject not for wealth but for the greater good.
The documentary, directed by Nic Arnzen and James Brandon, touches on the original, tumultuous Off Broadway debut of Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi, which was targeted by the religious right as sacrilege for presenting the son of God as a gay man, but spends most of its time chronicling Arnzen's recent production of the play. His version casts many women in the otherwise all-male play and has been on the road to places as far-flung as Scotland and as uncomfortably close to home as Texas, which one man of the cloth refers to as "the heart of darkness" in the film.
José and I attended a fundraiser for The I AM Love Campaign in NYC last night where the documentary was screened with the directors, members of the cast, McNally and Larry Kramer (who speaks in the fillm) in attendance. It's a moving documentary; Arnzen, who already had the participants' trust as their director, and Brandon pulled achingly honest commentary from the men and women who spent years of their lives presenting Corpus Christi, especially Jeanene Ambler, Sheilagh Brooks and Elizabeth Cava, whose reflections touch on race, AIDS, death, faith and more. Gay Jesus himself, the film's co-director, co-writer and co-producer James Brandon, gives some straightforward and unpretentious quotes then is shown in character and is a magnetic messiah.
The film benefits from having a diversity of players, allowing us the infectious humor of someone like Molly O'Leary and then aching sincerity of Mark "Colby" Colbert, who was battling drug addiction and hiding his HIV-positive status when he first began working on his part, but who seems to have experienced a genuine transformation on the road.
The film has a definite arc that makes up for its sometimes meandering quality, and while some audience members said they wanted to see more of the play itself, I'm not sure it's essential to give away more than the 15 minutes McNally apparently approved. Having never seen a production of Corpus Christi myself (how did I miss that but make sure I saw Grease with Rosie O'Donnell?), I felt free to focus on the backstory of its players.
In the end, I related most to actor David Pevsner, who seemed moved by his experience but who, unlike most everyone else, resisted the spirituality around him. Yet even an atheist would be hard-pressed to dismiss the transformative quality this production has had on so many audience members and on the people who created it.
And the movie also helped me realize that the original Jesus Off Broadway was none other than Anson Mount from the Britney Spears groaner Crossroads!
If you'd like to help donate toward getting the documentary to some communities who could really stand to see an alternative viewpoint on gay and religious issues, check out the official site.