Mary

What if the ancestral division between “those who give life” (women)
and “those who give meaning” (men) were in the process of disappearing? …
It would be a radical upheaval, never before seen.
Sufficient to herald a new era of the sacred, in fact,
which might well be the surprise of this third millennium.

– Julia Kristeva, The Feminine and the Sacred

.
It’s a tale of three couples. (Or is it one?)

A woman and a man. A man and a woman. And according to certain scriptures, the holiest of pairs: Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth.

Despite the confusion that ensues when trying to follow these three – or perhaps because of it? – it might be appropriate to see their stories as but different sides of a single tale. The ways in which a relationship acquires different inflections and meanings, precisely because it is experienced and understood by distinct personalities, each of whom struggles with the afflictions of their biography and the burdens of their sex.

But this is no mere exercise in “democratizing” the noise and confusion that comes on the heels of a relationship that finds itself at the cross-roads. For there is one voice that is privileged over all others, and it is Hers. A fact that is announced at the very beginning of the film, opening as it does with a woman’s vision. And it it this vision that serves to connect what would otherwise remain fragmented and dispersed, pulverized by the onslaught of senselessness.

The Living and the Dead

Following music that would seem to announce the end of the world, we see Mary rolling away a massive stone that blocks the mouth of a tomb, frantically looking for the body she’s sure is hidden in its black embrace. But when she finds the tomb empty, her grief will turn into panic, stricken by the absence of the one who’s no longer there.

But then, suddenly, two angels appear, an old man and a boy, unremarkable in every way except for the message that they bring:

Woman, why are you weeping?
— They’ve taken away my lord!
— I don’t know where they’ve laid him.
Why do you search for the living among the dead?

It will take a moment for the truth of their message to sink in, but when it does, Mary turns and heads back to the mouth of the tomb, no longer haunted by the emptiness housed within. And as she approaches the light, she will find a figure standing there, one who calls out her name in a voice that’s barely a whisper. At first she will recoil in fear and disbelief, for what she sees before her is nothing short of a miracle. A resurrection or an abomination? Upon recognizing his face, she will rush toward him, crying out his name. But he will hold out his hand, as if to halt an impulse too premature to allow.

Do not hold onto me.
For I am not yet ascended to the Father.
[Instead,] go to my Brothers, and tell them
I am ascending to my Father, and to your Father,
to my God, and to your God.

Suddenly Marie awakes. Shaken and startled. As if from a dream. And we will see that she shares the face of the Mary we have already seen, the one looking for the body of the dead. But because she still finds herself stuck between two worlds, she will call out the names of the other two – her alters – as if they somehow remained in hiding. Seeking to summon them from their slumber.

Mary?
Yeshua?

And it is with these two names, hanging in the air like question marks, that this movie’s story begins.

Still caught in the memory of her vision, Marie will return to the site of the tomb and, much to her horror, she will find that it is merely a movie set, one that’s in the midst of being dismantled. Like the rest of us in the audience, she will come to be faced by the fact she’s only an actress, one who played the part of Mary for a film, for a world of make believe. What’s worse, the man who would be Jesus merely turns out to be the film’s director, an egotistical and impatient man – but also her boyfriend – angry that she’s not set to leave. Since shooting is complete, it’s now time to go to the airport … and move on.

Marie, it’s over!
It’s over, alright?
— What do you mean?
It’s over. There’s no more movie.
We’re going home. We’re going to cut the film now.

But Marie will have none of it. What she has seen – her vision – still beckons. It cannot be ignored. So rather than follow the man back to his home, she declares that she will do no such thing. On the spur of the moment, she’s decided to head to another place, one more compelling than the requirements of her job as an actress or the obligations attendant upon a lover.

She’s going to Jerusalem.

Man of Words

One year later, we’re introduced to Theodore Younger, the host of a television program that’s running a series on Jesus: The Real Story. Knowingly or not, in having (actual) experts to speak about the life and times of the historical figure, the program invites us to reconsider orthodox beliefs about Jesus and the message that he taught. As we will discover, beneath the received wisdom lies another tradition – and another set of questions – that speaks to the very meaning of salvation and truth. So however boring the format may be, the talking heads are drawn together as part of a momentous task, seeking to identify what can only be alluded to but not named. A task not so different from the mystery that Mary, more than 2,000 years before, had already divined.

The first guest raises questions more historical than theological, more rhetorical than revelatory. Nevertheless, they lay the foundation for the set of interviews that are to follow, for he asks a pivotal question, one clearly intended to provoke: who would have the interest in killing a man that, according to all available evidence, was nothing but rebellious rabbi?Even if many of his contemporaries considered him to be a messiah, such claims were not unusual. And yet, this man was put to death by means of crucifixion, a form of punishment reserved for criminals and enemies of the state. Clearly, the guest is challenging familiar arguments about those considered responsible for his crucifixion, the betrayals of an individual (Judas) or an entire people (the Jews), but he’s also pointing to the vested interests of power at stake: How did Jesus challenge the authority of those in positions of power? and why was his teaching considered so dangerous?

As we watch the interview, we will see that the program’s host – Theodore Younger – is an animated man who actively engages his guests, ably responding to their pronouncements about the significance of Jesus’ life. But as eventually becomes clear, he’s also an atheist, less a measure of his disbelief than his deep-seated doubt. Ironically, this is what makes him a good interviewer, able to mimic – even amplify – the opinions of others, making room for an exploration of what they bring to the table. But as his story unfolds, we will also see that this very absence of conviction will leave him with an gnawing emptiness that refuses to go away.

Later that evening, as he’s chauffeured back to his home, we will see how Theodore’s already haunted. By particular scene of violence, in fact. One he’s probably seen on the news before, for it’s a picture no more spectacular or brutal than innumerable others that have come to saturate the airwaves. But for some reason, it’s this image that has caught his imagination, leaving him helplessly entranced: horrified, yet unable to turn away. One suspects that it’s a scene he’s come to play repeatedly during this evening commute, a private vision played out during the moments of quiet he’s able to find between work and home. As if it carried a reservoir of personal significance of which even he is not fully aware.

It’s a picture of a father caught in a crossfire, stuck in a war zone, desperately seeking to avoid bullets streaking through the air, unable to safeguard the child that trembles by his side. And yet, precisely because the little one is his responsibility, he will continue with his futile efforts, huddling so as to make their bodies as small as possible, even while remaining fully exposed to the battle that has swallowed them whole. When he finds the courage, he will wave a makeshift flag, pleading with the unseen. Seeking amnesty from the horror within which they’re irredeemably trapped.

These agonizing moments, captured by a photojournalist’s invisible eye, will turn out to be their last. Seconds later, we’ll see their bodies slumped over on the ground: the boy already dead, his body limp and unmoving; the father twitching, caught in the final spasms between terror and oblivion.

When Theodore reaches home, his wife Elizabeth will be there waiting for him, apparently homebound, for she is expecting a child. Their house reflects their privilege, possessions fill the rooms giving evidence of their social status, rooms so capacious that it would appear that she’s been condemned to a life of solitude. But while we may attribute this seclusion to her pregnancy or to the kind of marriage that serves to imprison a woman, the proliferation of mirrors suggests that the relationship between the two of them – as well as the child that’s on the way – might be different than this first impression. An unrecognized complement of the terrified father-and-son, perhaps?

For not only does she provide him with the kind of “reflection” husbands and wives are expected to provide, an image or assessment that helps bring things to light, she also serves as a stand-in for something else. Their respective physical appearances already hints at this: she is no replica of her husband, she’s no Theodore with breasts. Instead, she signals a difference of some sort – an unknown future that has yet to come – a contrast that defines the nature of his home, particularly as it contrasts with the man he takes himself to be, the one that exists in the outside world.

The fact that she complains about his neglect, an accusation that seems to hit a nerve, suggests that Theodore has yet to understand the nature of this woman living in his home, his inner sanctum, or his relationship to her. Instead, his work serves as a treadmill that only defers the inevitable – always busy, always exhausted – even as he continues to be haunted by visions in which a young boy and his father are gunned down by a rain of bullets. So even though his facility with words provides for his livelihood, ultimately they will fail to protect him from the violence that already populates his private visions of hell.

It is in the midst of this confusion that his (unexpected) relationship with Marie begins, unveiling the limits of his understanding.

The Gospel of Mary

It is in a darkened room that Theodore first meets Marie. More specifically, it is through her portrayal of Mary Magdalene, first witnessed during the advance screening for the film she completed a year ago. As he sits among his colleagues from the press, he will see her consoling the other disciples – Jesus’ Brothers – who are deathly afraid. For in the aftermath of his crucifixion, they find themselves crippled with uncertainty and fear, unable to conceive of how to proceed in their teacher’s absence.

How are we to go among the unbelievers?
Pronounce the gospel of the kingdom of the son of man?
They did not spare his life. Why should they spare ours?

Taking on the role of teacher, just as Jesus had instructed, Mary will reply:

Do not remain in sorrow and doubt,
for his grace will guide you and comfort you.
Instead, let us praise his greatness.
For he has prepared us for this:

He’s calling upon us to become fully human.

These words, like those that follow, are taken from the Gospel written in her name, a text unrecognized by the official canon of the Church. And unbeknownst to Theodore, it is this exclusion that haunts his lonely commutes, the times when he is left alone with the nightmarish images that refuse to leave him alone. It is an absence has left a hole in more ways than one. And the words that come to him from afar – across time and space – will make an impact, both immediate and irreversible, leaving him a changed man, if only he can find a way to give them meaning. A task that will consume him for the remainder of this story.

Because listening to Mary’s words requires acknowledging her special relationship with Jesus – “Sister, we all know that the teacher loved you differently from other women” – her rising to speak will precipitate an awkward moment, at least for the other disciples in the room. For it is precisely that relationship that puts her in the position to teach them about things they have not heard and, as a consequence, of which they have remained unaware. But lest we allow ourselves to believe that her authority merely comes from the benefit of their private association, it soon becomes clear that it derives from a different sort of experience. In fact, it is her ability to see differently – to apprehend the invisible and the unseen – that marks her out as especially qualified to speak to her Brethren, fellow seekers of the truth.

I had a vision of the teacher and I said to him,
“Lord, I see you now in this vision.”
And then he said to me,
“You are blessed, for the sight of me does not disturb you.
There, where there is the nous lies the treasure.”

And then I said to him,
“Lord when someone meets you in a moment of vision,
is it through the soul that they see you or is it through the spirit?”
And he said to me, “It is neither through the soul nor the spirit,
but the nous that sees the vision.”

What this “nous” is, we are not told. And yet it seems to hold the key, for it is there that the treasure lies. The secret for becoming more fully human.

Her fellow disciples will recognize the novelty – and danger – of what Mary has to say. In fact, it is Peter who is among the first to respond, the same Peter who would come to be known as the “rock” upon which the Vatican would be built. Upon hearing of her “vision” of Jesus, this foundation of the Christian Church will attack her for the claims she makes, the strange ideas she attributes to their teacher. For the Jesus of whom she speaks is radically different from the one they have come to know and love.

How is it possible that the teacher [would] talk in this manner?
With a woman? With secrets we do not know?
Must we change our customs and listen to this woman?
Did he really choose her, and prefer her, to us?

And so we are presented with the contours of a mystery, one concerned less with the interests behind the crucifixion than with the very nature of what has come to be known as the Christian tradition, including the authority through which its teachings would be transmitted. For the men in that room, what Mary has to say is a difficult pill to swallow: she speaks of a form of knowledge that seems to have eluded them. And it is in the face of their disbelief – unable to accept that a woman would be have access to what has been denied them – that her visions would come to be discounted and dismissed. Unable to admit that a woman might have something to teach the world of men.

Perhaps this is how she came to be erased?

“This Is My Blood”

After the press screening, Theodore will find himself sharing a ride with the film’s director, Tony Childress. It will provide an interesting study in contrasts: Theodore can’t help but be enthralled by the brash man he finds sitting next to him, not least of all because he seems to exercise the kind of independence and freedom not available to him. A personality so large he seems to push Theodore off the side of the screen.

He’s flattered by the director’s compliments about his television show as well as the reminder of the meaning behind his name (Theodore = God’s gift). So it’s not surprising that their chatter soon turns to the ways they can help each other’s careers, particularly since the film’s impending release has been accompanied by noisy opposition. It’s title – This Is My Blood – already suggests why this might be the case, recalling another film that was similarly met with stormy protest. After a brief negotiation, they come to a mutually beneficial arrangement: the director will speak as a guest on the television program if, in exchange, Theodore agrees to cover the film’s premiere, casting it in the best possible light.

During their ride together, little is said about the movie itself, leaving us to wonder about the place of Mary in a film that would seem to be focused on Jesus’ suffering and death. After all, at the screening, the director had compared his film to the horror movies he had seen as a boy. In making This Is My Blood, he answers the question that had baffled him as a child, why audiences seek out movies that frighten and scare: they provide the opportunity to believe in something else, the promise of a hereafter different from the hell and suffering here on earth.

And then quite unexpectedly, just as Theodore asks about the possibility of getting Marie onto the show, their limousine comes under attack, as if that “hell” was re-announcing its presence. It’s also as if Theodore’s question about the director’s former lover itself triggered an avalanche of fury. In their few minutes together, the director couldn’t have missed the fact that Theodore was more impressed with Marie’s performance than any other – including his own – and that he’s had to brush off inquiries about his former leading lady repeatedly, the one who left him in a lurch. The one who chose a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, instead.

Quite inexplicable too is the factional skirmish their presence seems to have elicited. For not only has their limousine come under assault, their attackers soon come to be the objects of retaliation as well, hounded by a group of Hasidim that witnessed the breaking of glass. It’s as if Theodore and the director’s presence – or perhaps their negotiated agreement – had provoked an age old conflict, giving way to a reenactment of the infamous riot of Crown Heights.

When Theodore returns to the studio, he will be incensed. But being the good liberal that he is, his outrage will be directed less at the youth that attacked his car than his intense wish that he just be left left alone – tired of the “bullshit” – incessantly drawn into other people’s problems. So it’s not with a little bit of self-righteous indignation that he tells his make-up artist to stop fussing over his bloodied head, to let it be. For if he’s not allowed to speak about the violence on the street, at least he doesn’t have to pretend he hasn’t returned unscathed.

It’s not surprising, then, that he would begin his interview with Ivan Nicoletto, a Benedictine monk, asking about the possibility of reconciling the spiritual life with the demands of a secular world: “The question is, can we live completely and wholly as a spiritual being inside of society?” Clearly, this gives voice to the tension that has long haunted Theodore, not merely the result of his most recent encounter with the ugly face of violence. Surely, somewhere in the back of his mind, is the image of the father and his boy, caught in the crossfire of a raging battle that is not their own. And it’s probably from the haunted sight of their deaths (and perhaps a fear of his own?) that he hears the monk’s response to his question, for it reinforces his sense that the sacred should inhere in all people, his conviction that all human life be considered blessed.

In the monastic tradition, there is a strong experience of solitude,
but at the same time there is the opening to mission.
So, to meet with other people, to be able welcome people:
seekers of God or seekers of a meaning of life.
To be able to be in touch, to welcome, with joy.

But because the soft-spoken monk senses that Theodore hasn’t quite understood the point, he will persist, not allowing his host to find refuge in a vague celebration of an omnipresent God that miraculously turns everyone and everything into an uncomplicated manifestation of the divine. Instead, he will turn to a different understanding of incarnation, one that involves

full immersion and contamination, [which is] to say,
not
God as a pure, separated [from] the human condition,
but in touch with it.
The experience of Jesus is to be open to the outcaste,
to the marginalized people, to the sinners,
the person considered far from God.

And it is this last assertion which will strike Theodore as if he had been punched in the stomach, stopping him in his tracks. As his mind begins to drift, we are left to wonder what it is that Theodore has begun to ponder. Perhaps something to do with the blood of others – rather than his own – wondering whether the duality he has posed between the sacred and the profane is not what it at first seemed? That the sacrifice of His suffering was not the point of it all.

The Absence of Desire

Should it come as a surprise that during his ride from the studio, Theodore’s attention will return to Mary’s account of what she has seen, what one transcription of the Gospel written in her name calls Mary’s Vision of the Soul’s Ascent Beyond the Powers? As she looks into the camera and begins to speak, one also begins to wonder what kind of recounting is going on here, since it would appear she’s talking directly to Theodore. (Or is she speaking to us?)

And craving said:
“I did not see you descend, but now I see you rising.
Why do you lie to me since you belong to me?”
And the soul answered:
“I saw you
, though you did not see me or recognize me.
I was with you as with a garment and you never felt me.”

And so, Theodore is presented with another dilemma, another duality that defies his understanding. Like the question he posed to the monk, his uncertainty about the place of the sacred will continue to be a source of bewilderment and frustration, believing that it lies somewhere beyond his reach. And yet, should he dwell on Mary’s advice, he will come to recognize that it’s much closer than he thinks, hidden behind what only appears to be a deception.

On the heels of this, his introspection, we are witness to one of the strangest of bedroom scenes. Not only because there’s no sex involved; neither is it because we will discover that Theodore’s fully clothed lying with a woman other than his wife. It’s as if something else is going on between the television host and the woman we come to learn is Marie’s best friend, Gretchen. The intimacy they share provides a striking contrast with distant mirrors we have already seen in Theodore’s home. And yet, despite this, Theodore cannot stop singing the praises of the (absent) Marie, incessantly asking about the other woman who’s not there. And as if to underscore the the nature of such hidden absences, the camera will linger on a book stashed away on the woman’s bedside table: <em>Jesus and the Lost Goddess</em>.

Whatever it is that’s happening between the two of them, Gretchen will finally relent in the face of Theodore’s unending questions, patiently explaining that she does not know where Marie is. She’s been gone for a year now. And even though the two women are close – the best of friends – it’s difficult for her to say anything more about Marie’s whereabouts or when she might return. For her experience with the director, Tony Childress, left her fundamentally transformed.

She told me she was living in two worlds,
that she could go into the past and see the truth.

Fucking Tony!
He pushed her to a bad place.
He always fucked with her head.
He always knew just where to get at her.

Because Theodore doesn’t understand, all he can say is that, regardless of what Gretchen is suggesting, the director seems to have gotten a great performance out of Marie. So, exercising a certain kind of patience with the man whose embrace provides her repose, Gretchen will try to explain once again, using terms that he might be better able to understand.

At what cost?
When you’re an actor, sometimes it’s really hard to get back out.
It’s the director’s job to help you.
He just left her hanging.

While Gretchen sleeps, Theodore will steal Marie’s number, enabling him to make the first of many calls to the one that has so unexpectedly come to invade his heart and mind. But rather than finding the kind of inspiration or comfort he might have expected, all he gets are questions that pierce the facade that’s become his second skin. Not surprisingly, finding himself unsettled in this way, Theodore will revert to his professional standing, seeking to reestablish some semblance of balance. But even this will fail to impress the implacable Marie.

I went to Tony’s screening this afternoon and, wow, congratulations!
You were great. Your performance was great.
— What is it you want?
I just wondered how you’re doing, that’s all.
— That’s all?
Well that, and the other thing is,
I’m doing a national television show on the life of Jesus.
Tony is going to do an interview with me and I’d love to have you, too.
— Why?
Why what?
— Why are you doing a show, a program, on Jesus?
I don’t understand … “why”?

This stammered confession, an admission of his confusion, will provide Marie with the opportunity to level questions even more pointed than the ones that came before. After all, he’s looking for something (in her), although he doesn’t quite know what. The least she can do is alert him to that fact, however painful it might be. It’s a fair question to ask: why do a show about Jesus?

Do you believe in Jesus?
— Well, I guess he existed. Sure.
What do you
believe?
— I don’t know.
It takes courage to walk in the truth
and it takes courage to become more fully human.
Jesus helped Mary Magdalene, and she’s helping you now.

Heresy

It’s no surprise, then, to see that Theodore will return to the studio to review footage about the secret writings excluded from the official canon of the Church, particularly concerning the forgotten place of Mary Magdalene. According to Elaine Pagels, an expert on gnosticism and the early church, what one immediately sees is a portrait very different than the one provided in the books of the New Testament.

It’s clear when you look at the other secret Gospels,
including the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Thomas
… there’s often a running battle between Mary and Peter.
It could be a rivalry for the role of disciple closest to Jesus.

And what exactly is the relation between Mary and the “heretical” teachings associated with these secret texts? According to Pagels, it revolves around the idea of Jesus as Savior and the very concept of salvation.

John says, “He’s the only begotten son,” there’s nobody like him.
The Gospel of Thomas suggests that, yes, Jesus comes forth from God
but the teaching of the Gospel of Thomas is: So do you, so do I !
It suggests that you, too, could become a child of God just like Jesus.
Because you have within you the divine light.
Created in the image of God.

Interspersed with the interview, we will see images of Mary that speak to this kind of transformation. And should there be any lingering doubt about the task that the actress has set for herself, included among those portraits will images of Marie in Jerusalem, as well.

As the Gospel of Thomas has Jesus say,
“If you bring forth what is within you,
what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
And this, of course, from the point of view of orthodoxy, is blashpemy.

And if the truth of this doesn’t yet register for Theodore, it will make itself known soon enough. For whether he recognizes it or not, his visions of destruction are nothing other than what this Gospel speaks about. What he has been unable or unwilling to bring forth from within.

As if to illustrate precisely this point, Theodore will get a call from his pregnant wife the following morning, asking where he’s been all night, and why his phone has been turned off. The charge of neglect raising its ugly head again. At first, responding with defensiveness and anger, Theodore will expect (or hope) that citing the demands of “work” will excuse his behavior.

Elizabeth, I was working, ok?
— Well, since when do you start working all night?
Since when do I have a national fucking television program!
I’ve got the entire responsibility of the show, my fucking show.
Or is that beyond your comprehension, Elizabeth?
— Oh! Beyond my comprehension?
— Since when did you become such a fucking asshole?
Hey, I was doing research. I lost track of the fucking time, ok?

We will, of course, remember that Theodore had also spent the evening with Gretchen and recognize his self-righteous indignation and inflated sense of self-importance as a feeble defense against the sting of his wife’s accusations. So, whether we take these women in Theodore’s life as imaginary or real, the point remains the same, precisely because a man’s relationship with women mirrors the place he’s allowed for the one that resides within. His infidelity is but a measure of his own confusion, unable to discern what one has to do with the other.

Much of the turmoil that characterizes the emotional life of many couples can be seen as the result of this kind of confusion: anger, even hatred, mixed with heavy doses of defensiveness and frustration. Unable to recognize what kind of calibration is required, of bringing forth what already lies within one’s possession.

I can’t get into this right now. My whole future is on the line.
I’ve got to prepare for my show!
— Your future? What about our
future?
You know what I meant.
— That’s not what you said!
Listen, I don’t have time to play these little word games …
— Go to hell!

The ability to turn around in order to make amends will provide a measure of his willingness to begin that kind of work, of making room for what has been pushed-out by the obligations of work and concern about “his” future. As if the demands of the other were somehow irrelevant for his security and well-being.

As if to underscore this point, Theodore’s next interview with the french theologian and philosopher Jean Yves Leloup will touch upon precisely this kind of transformation. And like his previous interview with the Benedictine monk, this man’s words will give Theodore pause, undermining any sense of certainty he might have brought to the table. For even though his guest begins by speaking of Mary’s transformation, the relevance of her message for Theodore becomes increasingly clear. One that can no longer be denied.

Christ gave her the word.
Before the resurrection, she spoke with her hair, with perfume.
Christ led her to her self-fulfillment.
Not only can she be a woman, but she can speak and teach like a man.

That’s the significant aspect: to go hand-in-hand with Christ
man must include, integrate, their female dimension.
And women must integrate, include, incorporate their masculine dimension.
Not just males and females. But [whole] human beings.

And so, as he struggles to pull himself out of an unexpected moment of introspection, Theodore will find himself returning to the “political” question about the struggle between Peter and Mary: Is Peter’s problem with Mary that she’s a woman saying these words or that she is putting herself in the primary position as the number one disciple? To which his guest replies,

Both. But mostly because she’s a woman.

The Soul’s Ascent Beyond the Powers

When Theodore finally returns home, he will find it empty. In the place where he expected to find his wife, he finds nothing but a rumpled bed and copious amounts of blood staining the sheets and the floor. As he’s pulled into a panic, a neighbor will inform him that she’s been taken to the hospital, that all attempts to reach Theodore had gone unanswered. And when he reaches the hospital, he will find that his wife and his premature child lying on the edge of death: his wife unmoving, his young son unconsolable, screaming against the fate that’s been handed him, confined to a cold neonatal prison.

At wit’s end, Theodore will phone Marie again. Calling upon the only person he trusts to advise him about what to do. We’ll see that she’s still in a Jerusalem preparing for the Passover celebrations commemorating the people’s exodus from enslavement, even as her counterpart (Mary) finds herself on the ocean, beginning a not so different voyage with her sisters. Despite the hopes he may have invested in Marie, the advice she provides will take Theodore to his limit. For he will find himself unable to do what she asks, despite the deep love he already feels for his child struggling against the torture of premature birth.

Don’t you think the Father – your Father – would do the same for you?
— You know what? My dad’s dead.
No, I mean your Father, Ted. Your Father’s always there.
He loves us more than we humans can comprehend.
— Well, if he loves me so much, why is he doing this to me then?
Have you asked Him? Have you spoken to Him?
— How am I going to ask him if I don’t even believe in him!
— How do I speak to him? I don’t know how to do that!
Well, he sent us a messenger so we could understand.
So we could go to Him.
Pray. Try.
— I can’t speak to God.


Because Theodore knows not what else to do, he will try to pray, just as we see Marie continuing with a pilgrimage of her own. The intensity of his efforts will correspond with the depths of his despair, fearful that both wife and child will be taken from him. Finally confronted with the fear of the unnamed, a life absent its meaning, and much to his surprise, Theodore will discover that it has nothing to do with career or his national television program. And he will be thrown into a hell more immediate and painful than the ghostly images that had haunted him until now. Simultaneously, as Marie’s celebration of the Passover Seder is interrupted by an explosion, we see Theodore once again pulled into a panic, helplessly watching over his infant boy, struck by a cardiac arrest, an arrest of the heart. Amid the pandemonium that ensues, it would appear that chaos reigns as king.

Intercut with this, we will see scenes of Jesus speaking to his disciples, anticipating his own crucifixion. (From Tony Childress’ film, perhaps?) The message is an awkward one. A mix of calming reassurance and ominous foreboding.

The hour is come when you will be scattered,
each one to his own home, and I will be left alone.
Because they will persecute you as they’ve persecuted me.
They hated without cause.
I’ve said these things to you to keep you from stumbling.
The hour has come when you will be put out of the synagogues.
Indeed, the hour has come when those who kill you will
think that, by doing so, they are offering worship to God.

Despite his personal crisis, Theodore will conduct his next interview as planned, with Tony Childress, the writer, director, and star of This Is My Blood. But as quickly becomes apparent, what began as an amiable relationship for mutual benefit has, by now, become ugly, at least from Theodore’s point of view. So, the interview soon turns sour, particularly when they begin to speak about the protests surrounding the film.

Tony, why did you want to make a movie about Jesus?
— Cause that Gibson movie made like a billion dollars. No, I’m kidding!
— No. I mean, the story of Christ is as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.
— When Christ gets nailed to the cross it’s you getting nailed to the cross, man.
— It’s me getting nailed to the cross.
— It’s the whole society getting nailed to the fucking cross.
— You know what I’m saying?
Have you been nailed to the cross, Tony?
Do you know what it’s like to be nailed to the cross?
— That’s, uh, you’re going deep, baby. “Nailed to the cross!”

They’re organizing protests to picket your film at your premiere.
How do you feel about that?
— I think that the people that are protesting films should have an opinion
— and an idea about what it is that they’re protesting.
— Religious films are always subject to criticism.
— Look at what they did to Scorsese with The Last Temptation of Christ.
— The thing of it is, it’s a lack of intelligence, it’s a lack of …
Is it a lack of intelligence or a statement of faith?
Is it a statement about desecrating a God,
desecrating the image of what you’re supposed to love?

For those following Theodore’s story, this is an unexpected turn of events. For no longer is he playing the neutral host, mirroring the words and sentiments of his guests. Instead, he’s chosen to lambast what he takes to be beyond the pale. One suspects it’s not unrelated to his private torment, one that has led to an appreciation of The Passion that differs from the version peddled by this director from Hollywood. But the sight of two men at each other’s throats – testosterone running wild – will propel Theodore’s producer will call on an unexpected guest, one who intervenes in this flurry of masculine fury. So, after he manages to collect himself, Theodore will turn his attention back to the woman who has served as his guide through the pain.

Marie Palesi, yours is a fascinating story.
A successful artist, promising career, yet you decided to leave it all behind.
What would make you leave behind being an actress?
— I had no other choice.
— You know I played the role of Mary Magdalene in Tony’s movie
— and I became fascinated and inspired by her.
— When you decide to change your life you must give all of yourself …
— My heart was hardly able to contain anything else.
— That’s why I stayed and …

Tony will interrupt, perhaps because Marie is stealing his air-time, or perhaps because he recognizes his role in precipitating this change in her life. His words will drip with sarcasm. “What are you doing now? Healing lepers?” But she refuses take the bait.

I would say that we’re all capable of becoming better people.
We see lots of people in inner turmoil every day.
The one thing I’d like to say is my wish that
all the people of the world acquire peace within themselves.
That’s all I want to say.

Becoming More Fully Human

On his way back to the hospital, in his mind, Theodore will return to his interview with the Benedictine monk, specifically what he had described as the madness of God, the extreme and expressive gesture, when Jesus takes off his robe and begins to wash his disciples’ feet.

That is a very important expression, because stripping himself,
he puts himself outside every position and social status.
— Is that gesture how you reference madness?
In the Last Supper of Jesus in John’s Gospel he makes this gesture.
He found the only hierarchy possible of his life which is a hierarchy of love.
He just wants – yearns – to live in the heart of his friends there.
— So that gesture was his expression of how much I care for you?
— Because it was breaking every social taboo?
I am able to give myself in this way to you.
And so I underline what is essential in my existence.

But when confronted once again with his ailing wife and child, Theodore will fall back into the panic that had stricken him earlier. This time, it’s as if he’s stepped onto the edge of an abyss, the terminal point of his existence. Struggling to comes to terms with a God he has yet to understand, he tries to appease an Almighty that seems impervious to his human needs and desires.

If it’s because of something I did, punish me. Punish me.
I have sinned. Punish me. Punish me. Punish me.
Don’t punish them.
I’m asking you, I’m begging you to please take my life, not theirs.
If you could just save my wife and save my kid,
could you forgive me for all the things I’ve done?
All of the horrible horrible things I’ve done?
I’ve done so many bad things.

Because I want to feel you!
There’s just this hole inside me, and I’m lost.
I’m so lost and I’m so empty inside!
I don’t know how to find myself anymore. I don’t know who I am.
If you could just show me, if you could help me find myself again.
Please. Please, could you take this away from me.
Could you take this away, could you make my wife and kid ok?
Could you just take this away? Please!
And if it’s me, just take me, because I don’t …

But then, suddenly, he stops in mid-sentence, as if he had been struck by a vision of his own. Immediately, the passion is drained out of him. Something has interrupted his grief and despair. And so, his speech shifts, finding a different track, coming to recognize that there’s another path through the pain. One that doesn’t require his punishment, neither does it require the appeasement of an indifferent God.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just don’t know, you know?
I just didn’t know. I just didn’t know.


On the other side of town, as Tony Childress is eagerly preparing for the premiere of his film, we will see the protests begin to swell. And then, out of the blue, news arrives of a bomb threat. So quite tellingly, just as the theater beginning to be emptied, he will rush up to the projection booth, throwing out the man who’s about to leave.

You don’t want to be the projectionist?
I’ll be the fucking projectionist
!
I’ll show you a bomb.
The only bomb is the one in your fucking heart, man!
Who are they to decide?
If you’re not going to play my movie
you may as well take the Constitution and wipe your ass with it!

But lest we take this to be a sign that the director be consigned to the status of a loser, it should be noted that this is nothing other than his Fall. A moment that, if we’re lucky, we all have the opportunity to face. For it is only when confronted with the fact of one’s projections – in this case, the imperative that one’s “movie” be seen and receive the approval of others – that one is in the position to recognize the face of grace. And so it is with Theodore’s alter ego. On the brink of a realization he has yet to make his own. Only able to cry out in despair: It’s not what you see with your eyes, it’s what you see with your heart! Short of that (self) recognition, he will struggle with the fate of a man condemned, destroyed by what has yet to be brought forth. Stuck. Railing against those that seem so intent upon refusing him.

And as if to indicate that Marie is somehow caught up in this passionate fury, we will see Mary battling a storm at sea, the turbulent waters pounding the boat and her sisters within it. And yet, the words she spoke at the beginning will make a return, giving them yet another dimension of meaning.

You are blessed, because the sight of me does not disturb you.
There, where there is the nous lies the treasure.

And from the light of the projection emerges the image of Mary, once again taking the role of teacher, speaking directly into the camera. Continuing her narration of her vision of the Soul’s Ascent Beyond the Powers, beginning with the words that came from the seven manifestations of wrath:

Where do you come from, murderer?
And where are you going, wanderer?

To which the soul replied,

That which oppressed me has been slain;
That which encircled me has vanished.
My craving has faded and I am freed of my ignorance.
I left the world with the aid of another world.
The design was erased by virtue of a higher design.
Henceforth, I travel toward repose,
Where time rests in the eternity of time.
I go now into silence.

And as we see Theodore finding his way to reconcile with the feminine in his life, no longer trying to defend his absence or the priorities that take his energy and attention away from her, we will also see Mary touching ground, finally having reached the other shore.

No longer adrift at sea, but at home in her sisters’ embrace.

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~ by mistified on June 21, 2010.

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