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Jesus of Hollywood

by Adele Reinhartz

It’s tempting to praise University of Ottawa professor Adele Reinhartz’s Jesus of Hollywood, an evenhanded and thorough survey of representations of Jesus in popular cinema, simply for all the ways it doesn’t go wrong. In an age where questions of faith are reduced to virtual cage matches between fulminating fundamentalists and dismissive atheists, it’s refreshing to encounter an author who avoids the temptations of the converted – that is, taking the Gospels as, well, gospel – while treating her subject for who he is to Christians: the incarnated Son of God.

Reinhartz demonstrates that no matter how personal a director’s interpretation of the Gospel sources, the cinematic Jesus almost always broadly conforms to the norms of the Hollywood biopic genre, which charts the triumphant rise of an extraordinary individual through a series of dramatic conflicts both personal and historical. Particularly strong is her analysis of Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, films that challenge the orthodoxies of the biopic genre and the Gospels while creatively dramatizing the central questions of faith, integrity, and sacrifice embodied in Jesus’ life story and teachings.

But beyond this linking of Jesus’ story to Hollywood storytelling conventions (and the broader contemporary cultures that inform those conventions), Reinhartz forgoes a unified or novel reading of the celluloid Messiah for scholarly accuracy and thoroughness. She summarizes and analyzes key traditional Gospel characters and narratives, placing them within their theological and historical contexts before showing how various filmmakers have brought them to the screen. This approach is ideal for the film student, but gets a little tedious for the casual reader, who may be more curious about why Jesus remains the most filmed character in celluloid history, and why his name continues to incite such passionate opinion.


Reviewer: James Grainger

Publisher: Oxford University Press


Price: $35.95

Page Count: 320 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-0195146-96-7

Released: Jan.

Issue Date: 2007-4

Categories: Art, Music & Pop Culture