This is The Pasolini Project, a monthly discussion series from Adrianna Gober and Doug Tilley, delving into a vast body of work that, until relatively recently, had not been widely available on home video: the films of director, poet, journalist, and philosopher, Pier Paolo Pasolini. We’ll be exploring Pasolini’s filmography in chronological order, taking occasional detours through his staggeringly extensive artistic efforts outside of film, as well as the work of his collaborators and other related media.

For Part Three of our deep dive into all things Pasolini, we’re cracking open The Gospel According to St. Matthew. For the previous entry in the series, click here.


Doug Tilley: So! Let’s talk about The Gospel According to St. Matthew!

Adrianna Gober: I know the term “masterpiece” is virtually meaningless now because it’s so overused, but if ever a movie deserved to be called “a masterpiece,” this one is certainly a contender.

DT: I don’t disagree. It’s a movie that I — I’m very conflicted in my feelings about it, but not in terms of its actual quality as a piece of art. It’s almost indisputable that this is an amazing movie, and actually a massive leap forward technically for Pasolini. It’s also a very interesting melding of —- though not overtly —- his political views with a story told as starkly and realistically and straightforward in some ways as possible. But I think I’m conflicted simply because I’m coming at it from a very unfortunately cynical position, I’ll say, and I’m almost in awe that he was able to bring such beauty and such intense belief to material that he did not dismiss but certainly didn’t believe in as literal fact.

AG: I’m not as cynical about it. I don’t find it that hard to believe that an atheist could have made a movie like this, especially when that atheist is Pasolini —- who was also a Marxist — because the character of Jesus Christ is not that far removed from the other characters we’ve seen thus far in Pasolini’s filmography.

DT: Absolutely.

AG: It’s just that with Jesus Christ, there’s this added supernatural dynamic of him being wholly human and wholly divine. But that aside, it isn’t really much of a stretch for Pasolini. Take the Sermon on the Mount, which we see depicted in the film; there’s that whole spiel with the Beatitudes, “the meek shall inherit the earth,” “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and so forth. This absolutely gels with Pasolini’s identification and even beatification of the subproletariat. So much of Jesus’ teachings could translate to Pasolini’s personal political manifesto, and I think he very strongly identified with that aspect of this character, and he wanted to do justice to the story of the life of Jesus Christ because he so strongly believed in the message —- not necessarily the divinity of Christ, but the message of Christ and what he symbolized on a social level.

DT: This presentation of Jesus Christ is, I think, wholly unique in cinema. Pasolini does something really brilliant here, which is that all of the dialogue in this film comes directly from the gospel of Matthew. So, he can’t really be criticized about twisting the words or changing the tone, because it really is presented as close to the book as possible.

AG: Yeah, it’s very faithful.

DT: And this performance makes Jesus come off like a union organizer, right? He comes off like a political revolutionary, which he was if you take it as literal fact. But I always go back to, like you said, because he’s using the actual dialogue from the Bible, you get those great lines, like, “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” So kind of starkly anti-Capitalist and so in the face of —- you don’t even have to look at Italy in the early 1960s, you can look at nearly any Western, European world right now that values money above all other things. It’s so funny, because I think there’s even a suggestion in the movie that a lot of people at that period who thought themselves the most holy were also the people who were so obsessed with wealth, and you know, there’s certainly parallels to be drawn to today.

AG: I mean, just look at the Vatican.

DT: That certainly came to mind frequently while watching the movie. How could they take those words that were meant to be directly from the mouth of Jesus and reconcile them with the reality of their situation?

AG: Right.

DT: I actually don’t know the answer to that, by the way. If I haven’t made it explicitly clear, I’m not a religious person. I don’t find the idea of religion heinous or anything like that, I have a lot of friends who are very, strictly, closely, deeply religious, and I have a lot of respect for that. In fact, I have a lot of envy for it; I know that might sound strange, but I always wish that I had the kind of faith they have in a lot of cases. Whether it be in a higher power, or an afterlife or something like that, it seems to me like something that would be extremely comforting and I honestly have a lot of envy for that comfort.. But this is the kind of movie when watching it, because of the kind of language…again, it’s adapted so closely. It’s also a little more powerful than a lot of adaptations of this story people might have seen because you feel like these are instructions, right? It feels more instructive, I think, than a lot of the more stylized versions of this story.

AG: Yeah, which is interesting because the guy who plays Jesus, Enrique Irazoqui [voiced by Enrico Maria Salerno], was a non-professional actor but yet he seems to have such a strong intuitive sense of how to comport himself in front of a camera, as well as a command of the people acting opposite him; he has this electric presence that demands attention.

DT: He’s also a little non-standard in terms of visual presentation.

AG: Oh, yeah, I wanted to talk about that. I guess we can talk about it right now. He is a sexy Jesus.

DT: [laughs heartily]

AG: It was not lost on me that Pasolini chose an attractive man to play the righteous savior of humanity, but also, he has short hair, which is very non-traditional in depictions of Jesus Christ. He’s also dressed very similarly to the way the women in the movie are dressed, often wearing a veil, which I find interesting. I don’t know if this was a way to signify that Jesus was aligning himself with the low status members of society, the women…I’m not sure how much we should be reading into it, but it does strike me as a deliberate choice on Pasolini’s part.

DT: I can certainly see that. I wouldn’t necessary call it a feminization of Jesus, but certainly Pasolini has shown himself in the work that we’ve seen so far, and it becomes very explicit here, that —- I hope I’m not misinterpreting here —- I think he feels like women have at least the potential to be more pure in some way. He does cast his own mother who he obviously adored —- and we’ve talked about that previously —- as the older version of Mary in this story, and I think he adored her and saw a purity if not a holiness in [Mary] that the kind of rough-edged men that we see in a lot of his movies don’t really envelop.

AG: I’m inclined to agree.

DT: So, this is the first Pasolini movie we’ve talked about where we don’t need to explain the plot in any detail. [laughs]

AG: Yeah, that’s nice and convenient. [laughs]

DT: I will say that, being someone who is familiar with this story and has seen it played out many times, I still found it kind of shocking to watch in some ways. Just because the order of it is so ingrained in who I am, because, while I didn’t grow up in a religious family, I still went to church as a child,, and studied it in high school, but how it plays out so starkly against these clearly Italian backgrounds but still feeling of a time period that is not my own here in 2018. It really does a good job of masking the time it was actually made, considering that this could not have been made on a very high budget. It just feels like the scope of it is both incredibly personal, but wide enough to make the viewer understand why this is a story that has resonated throughout the entire world. No matter what you think of the reality of what you’re seeing here, this is an amazing story, and seeing it play out is still very gripping and engaging. It’s kind of strange to say that about something that has both united and divided the world in such massive ways, but it is such a great story. A great story with some great dialogue.

AG: I think Pasolini understood that immediately after reading the gospel, and because he understood it, I think it informed how he chose to depict the story. You touched on this earlier in our discussion, but this is very different from a lot of the more popular and well-known depictions of biblical stories, because there’s nothing really fantastical about it. Yeah, Jesus performs miracles, but in its construction, there aren’t too many huge embellishments for dramatic effect, it’s not gaudy, it doesn’t have that element of spectacle. And also, Pasolini employed some of the techniques of Italian Neo-realism as well, like the use of non-actors, and so I think he used all of this to his advantage. Because there aren’t all of these distracting dramatic inventions, or the excesses of a Hollywood budget, all you have is the story, so of course the emphasis falls on the characters, their relationships and what’s going on.

DT: I do think that when he does use —- I wouldn’t say flashier visual elements, because this is not a flashy movie in any way —-

AG: Not at all. I mean, the angel simply appears without fanfare, nothing out of the ordinary to signify their arrival. At the point in the movie where “flashy” would be acceptable, it doesn’t go that route, it just cuts to the angel speaking when they weren’t there before. It’s a little jarring, actually, but also fairly unique and refreshing.

DG: And also, there isn’t that music swelling when big moments happen. So when Jesus provides a miracle, like healing the sick, or we see a person with a deformity, it very much is just: he looks at the person, and then it just happens on screen. It’s just a cut —- and again, in some ways, it’s probably a limitation of the budget he was working with, but it’s also the kind of workman-like people of —- there’s nothing normal about the presentation of Jesus here, but he is a man of the people, so of course these things would not be very showy or flashy, and in fact it does reiterate his words. Like, “do not go and tell people about me performing miracles, just make this a testament to your belief.” It’s something that does have resonance to me, even as someone who does not have a lot of emotional or spiritual connection to the material.

We had already touched on a little bit about this presentation of Jesus, that he may be “sexy Jesus,” but he doesn’t have that kind of muscular figure or the long hair that we sometimes see in other presentations. He does seem very young, though very commanding on screen; it does help that his voice —- even though his face is Enrique Irazoqui —- comes from Enrico Maria Salerno, who also did the dubbed Italian voice of Clint Eastwood in the “Dollars” trilogy, so this is a gentleman who knew how to do a commanding voice. But also, the way that dialogue comes out is so forceful and commanding, it makes you believe that what he says is important and something you should listen to and follow.

AG: Yeah, totally.

DT: I just want to touch on what you mention about Pasolini’s neorealist approach to this material, because when he does bring in more stylized or cinéma-vérité or documentary-style elements to it, I find it incredibly affecting, particularly when we get to the trial before Pilate at the end, or even when we see the baptism by John the Baptist, where we see these long shots with many, many people, and you’re kind of within the rabble there. You can’t even hear the dialogue that easily, because you hear the movement of the people and it is kind of just in the background occurring, as if you’re seeing it as a spectator, and it kind of reminded me a little bit of The Passion of Joan of Arc, even though that movie is very stylized in a very specific way, it brought to mind that feeling of being a witness to this historically and spiritually important event.

Aside from the performance of Jesus, I really do like the fact —- and this is again consistent with what we saw in Mamma Roma and Accattone —- that, as you mentioned, these are non-actors for the most part in this movie, and they are cast for their specific look. He even has cast some critics and political commentators in supporting roles in this, and it makes it feel more lived-in in terms of an existence that we’re watching here. But some of these faces are also amazing —- I mean, when you see the 12 apostles, right?

AG: Super expressive.

DG: Very expressive! It’s funny, because I remember one of the things we talked about when we discussed Accattone was that when you see all these faces together, they start to blend and I couldn’t really tell people apart. In this movie, I had no issue with that at all. I knew who I was looking at as soon as I saw their face. When you see Judas Iscariot for the first time and he’s identified as Judas, you will recognize that face for the rest of the movie. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the look of him, it’s just those faces are distinctive enough….it almost plays a part of the character —- and maybe that also comes from having so much knowledge about that background and where it’s all going —- but it’s like you’re following them playing that part, and it really is a testament to Pasolini’s skill and developing skill as a filmmaker that with all of these characters in play, you never really get lost. Not necessarily in the story, but in terms of who is who and who is doing what, considering that not all characters are as easily identified.

One of the most striking sequences in the movie is the murdering of the newborn or young children. More than anything, I just want to get your take on it because it is the most explicit act of violence that you see in the movie outside of the crucifixion and the very end.

AG: Well, what I found really striking about that scene, besides the brutality of it…..well, I guess it is the brutality of it, but not just seeing that horror play out as a viewer, but the surprise of it, because I’ve never seen that aspect of the Christ narrative depicted in such a frank, matter of fact way; it’s almost always glossed over, but Pasolini digs into the ugliness of that situation. The other thing I find striking about this sequence is that, in a weird way, it kind of reminds me of the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin.

DT: Absolutely.

AG: And I was wondering if maybe Pasolini had that in mind a bit when he was mapping out that scene.

DT: It kind of helps too that the whole village that you’re looking at is slanted, almost like a staircase [laughs]. But you’re right, it’s something that is usually not focused on in any detail in the telling of the story, at least in my own experience, and when you think about it for more than, “oh, this is just part of the story of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus,” it’s a horrific, terrifying event! The idea of these massive soldiers coming in to murder babies….I mean, you see babies flying though the air in this sequence. I will say that, if there’s any flaw in this movie in terms of its presentation, I do think it has the potential to be a little bit laughable, especially when you see this in high-definition. When you see these babies kind of flying around….but if you give in to the horribleness of the actual events that you’re seeing, there’s certainly nothing to laugh about here. It really puts it in clear, stark display that this is not a fun, light story you’re seeing. This is a story of substance and of characters in life or death scenarios.

AG: I think also that this moment of the film is a really good example of the difference in perspective that Pasolini brings to the table as a non-believer; he doesn’t have some of the biases that maybe a person of faith would have that they might want to skirt over the more unpleasant aspects of this story in favor of something more romantic. Know what I’m saying?

DT: Absolutely.  There’s no softening. Even in the presentation of Jesus, there’s no soft lighting. He is committed to telling this story because he loves the story. He’s not glorifying it.

AG: He’s not precious about it.

DT: “Precious,” that’s a great word to use, absolutely. And, again, this is the first hint at the more explicitly stylized direction that some of Pasolini’s work is going to go in the future. Even though, it’s not like we’re going to be seeing huge, Hollywood-style presentations, but the fact that we’re going to be moving to color soon means that there’s going to be more visually-striking elements. But I do want to talk about the music in this movie.

AG: Yeah! The two sequences with Odetta’s “Motherless Child” are stunning.

DT: This is a really interesting score. You have Johann Sebastian Bach as sort of a throughline through the entire movie, original music composed by Luis Enríquez Bacalov —- who I know best for his Spaghetti Western themes —- and also, we get some American spiritual music, African-American spiritual music. “Motherless Child” plays over some very intense, memorable sequences in the movie. It seems to be, of all the stylistic parts that Pasolini’s adding to this story, one of the most in-your-face. It must have taken audiences completely by surprise when they saw this movie.

AG: It took me by surprise and I’ve seen the movie once before.

DT: It’s such a strange thing. When I’ve seen it in the past, maybe on an Easter Sunday, or watching it in bits and pieces on a television presentation, you can kind of jump in anywhere because you’re so familiar with the story, but maybe it doesn’t hit you like it hits you when you’re watching it focused entirely on what you’re seeing; on the stylistic elements, on what Pasolini is bringing to it. It really does feel revolutionary when you’re watching it. You feel like this is a whole new way of telling these stories, and it also makes me think that most of the presentations of bible stories that I’ve seen are so overblown and almost —- this might be a controversial thing to say —- almost blasphemous in the way that they twist the words around and change the dialogue. If you love this material so much, and you have so much faith and belief in it, the idea of changing those words really does seem like it goes against that entire idea.

AG: Yeah. I guess sometimes if you love something a lot, you want to pave over the cracks, so to speak.

DT: Absolutely, and I think that’s particular the case when it comes to the presentation of Jesus Christ in cinema, and this kind of concern in showing him in any way flawed. Think of the massive uproar about The Last Temptation of Christ when it was released.

AG: Which is strange because that movie is not what I’d consider very blasphemous; in fact, it’s pretty reverent of Jesus Christ.

DT: Maybe overly reverent in some ways. It’s made by a filmmaker who obviously has a deep and enduring faith, and that’s very clear when you watch the movie. I think in that case it might be that certain elements of what was on screen were told out of context, and people just naturally had this antagonistic relationship to it. When we see how Jesus is presented here [in The Gospel According to St. Matthew], he’s very commanding, but he’s also difficult, you know? He seems like someone who can be overbearing and confusing because he talks in such vague terms sometimes and is unable to say exactly what he means, and even seems to contradict himself sometimes because that’s just how the words are in the bible, because of course it’s a story that is so much based on interpretation.

I do think the actual text —- at least, the translated text we’ve all come to accept —- seeing that on screen and knowing that it comes right from the text itself, it adds a little bit more weight to what you’re seeing. But I could see how people going in to screenings of this, knowing who Pasolini was, knowing he was a public figure and a homosexual and Marxist, and knowing that he had already been arrested for his work previously and that he was such a controversial figure, they went in thinking: oh, he’s going to take the piss out of Jesus, he’s going to try to manipulate it to fit his point of view. And the thing is, in some ways, he did, but he didn’t do it by changing the words or changing the order of events. He just showed it as it was, and it just happens to echo what his worldview was.

AG: Right, and I was reading that his goal was to sort of re-mythologize Jesus for the modern era and to project what was then the current sociopolitical climate of Italy onto this story that everybody knew.

DT: I think it’s very effective doing that. And of course, he also said that he’s telling the story of Jesus with the knowledge of 2,000 years of the kind of depictions of this story and keeping those in mind. So, there’s a real mix of how people dress in this movie. You have the Jesuits and they have giant hats on and things like that. You see all of these strange depictions that have been taken from various paintings from over the centuries, and it all comes through in an interesting amalgam, but it never feels inconsistent as you’re watching it, because —- not that this is a fantasy world that you’re watching —- but again, there is a stylized element to it, and there is a distance from seeing these events from the perspective of 1960s Italy or 2018 North America that allows you to accept the story you’re seeing as-is, but then you hear those words and you’re kind of pulled in close. There’s a continuous pushing and pulling of me as an audience member as I’m watching it, and maybe that is also representative of that conflict I mentioned at the very beginning with my own lack of spiritual belief, mixed with a story I feel has a lot of important resonance.

AG: The anachronisms don’t really take you out of the movie because Pasolini does such a good job of drawing you in with the story and unifying things with a consistent tone, it makes everything so immersive.

DT: When we watched Accattone and Mamma Roma, those movies are connected so explicitly; there are actors that are in both films, the material is very similar, but this is our first look at Pasolini as a larger film-making force. Even though Accattone was in some ways an adaptation, this is an adaptation of a novel that does not take place in the present day of the time. It requires a lot more cast, a lot more costumes, miracles on display, supernatural elements I would say. So, we really do see Pasolini as a filmmaker developing, evolving, but also we’re seeing his connection with the material and the kind of material he’s most interested in change a little bit here. We also see a very small appearance —- and I recognized him immediately — by Ninetto Davoli.

AG: Oh, I was going to comment on that, too. I thought that was him as the shepherd. 

DT: Yep, that’s right. We see him just for a moment, but that’s an actor we’re going to be getting very familiar with as we go forward here. I just wanted to point him out because this is kind of the starting point of that collaboration and relationship that we’re going to see so much more of.

AG: Yeah, and I think Davoli even winds up in Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini, too.

DT: He does, he does.

AG: Going back to The Gospel According to St. Matthew, one thing I wanted to comment on since you brought up the fact that Accattone and Mamma Roma are tethered together by some common threads, I agree that this movie is a pretty large leap forward for Pasolini and it is a very different film from what came before in many respects, but there is one scene in particular at the end of the film —- and maybe you already know what I’m going to bring up —- after the crucifixion, there’s these shots of Mary’s anguish for her dying son and they’re constructed very similarly to that end scene in Mamma Roma where Anna Magnani’s character walks into the hospital room to see Ettore and she has to be propped up by orderlies because she’s so overcome with grief to see her son dying —- and he’s in a Jesus Christ pose, on a slab.

DT: Right, which is again echoing the fate of Ettore in that film, which again, specifically and intentionally echoed the images of Christ. Very consistent with what we’ve seen with Pasolini’s work so far.

Even though we’re not talking about it here, I should bring up La ricotta, Pasolini’s segment in Ro.Go.Pa.G. It is kind of a branching and bridging work that came before The Gospel According to St. Matthew but has a lot of those religious elements in it. But the reason I wanted to bring it up here is that the actor who played Ettore in Mamma Roma is in that short; he’s only in it for a little bit, but there’s actually a line of dialogue where someone calls out to him and calls him Ettore in it. That’s his actual name, but you can read that as him playing —- because he’s playing an actor in this movie as well, and the actual landscapes you’re seeing are very similar to what you see in Mamma Roma, that there’s some sort of consistency in character here. But even his face showing up is part of that kind of throughline that you see, and the other one is that there’s a part with Orson Welles in that segment, and he’s reading from a book, and the book is Mamma Roma, with an image of the film on the front of it. It’s very clear what he’s saying, and I think he’s reading the words of Pasolini himself from it. It’s something that will become explicit when we talk about that later, but I just wanted to mention it here because in terms of the bridge from the more realistic, lower-class down-in-the-dirt type elements that we saw in the films we’ve covered so far, and even though there’s certainly lots of elements of that in The Gospel According to St. Matthew, it’s looking at it from a more symbolic form and from more of a distance than reveling in that community of people that we’ve seen previously. Inevitably, in the telling of a bible story, we’ll touch on a lot of emotional, spiritual triggers that people have.

AG: Yeah, it’s going to rankle, too.

DT: Yeah, and maybe we should finish up here by talking about the response to The Gospel According to St. Matthew, because it was fascinating to read about. People were ready to picket this, and in fact —- just touching back on La ricotta again —- Pasolini was arrested for that, which, when you watch it, it seems very tame and not blasphemous at all, and in fact noble in its condemnation of those who value wealth and status over the teachings of the Bible above all else. And that is one of the main cruxes of The Gospel According to St. Matthew.

AG: Well, that probably touched a nerve. [laughs]

DT: Exactly, right? And I think people —- because he’s basically saying, “stop being a hypocrite, you can’t say you live by this if you’re doing things that are completely opposed to it,” and people responded very emotionally and in some cases using the law to their advantage. But here, people were going in expecting to see an interpretation of the Bible from a Marxist, from a homosexual, from someone who was an atheist and that it was going to in some way mock their belief system, but instead the response —- maybe the immediate response was still somewhat controversial, but through the passage of time, this film has been held up as one of the most accurate —- if you can use that word —- depictions of a bible story ever.

AG: As it should be. I have this written down, but at the press conference for the movie in 1966, Pasolini was asked why he made this film if he is a non-believer, and he said: “If you know that I am an unbeliever, than you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.” Which I think is a great line.

DT: It’s a great line and I’ve thought about it a lot afterwards, especially that “nostalgia for a belief,” because I think anyone who was raised in a religion or raised with religion around them, and maybe before they came to a certain point in their life where they lost that faith, that you would have a nostalgia for it. I have that kind of envy of those who can take comfort in their spirituality and their religion, and that I have a nostalgia for the time that I could have that as well. I think that in interviews later, though there wasn’t much “later” to his life, unfortunately, Pasolini was a little more explicit about his atheism in regards to the making of this movie, because in that particular quote, you kind of see it as, is he contradicting his own atheism a little bit? Is he leaving some wiggle room there? But it’s an amazing suggestion of where his mindset was at the time he was making this movie.

And of course, now even the Vatican holds this up as one of the great bible films, if not the best one. I was reading Roger Ebert’s review of The Gospel According to St. Matthew yesterday, and he was writing about it at the same time that Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ came out, and he wasn’t using this as an opportunity to talk about why he liked one or the other or anything along those lines, he was just focusing on how the messages differed, how focusing on the suffering of Jesus at the end over the words he said before all of that occurred really changes the meaning of the story, and I think a lot of modern interpretation and modern retellings of this story really focus on the suffering aspect of it, when this movie is all about the message Jesus was trying to tell beforehand. In fact, Jesus himself in this is constantly kind of reiteration that the message is the important thing —- this is what you need to hold onto.

It is just a different interpretation, but I am not a fan of Mel Gibson’s film.

AG: I’m not either. When I think of “torture porn,” that movie is where my mind goes. It takes that concept of the mortification of the flesh, that aspect of Christianity focused on atonement and connection to Jesus through suffering for the absolution of sin, and twists it into something lurid and sadistic. Though one could argue that it’s simply amplifying tenets of Christianity that are inherently troubling and just making them clearer, though that was not Gibson’s intention.

DT: And because of the chord it struck when it came out, it’s very transparent that a lot of modern Christians take that as the point of the story, where if you were to sit down and watch The Gospel According to St. Matthew, you’d see a very different interpretation just as valid if not more valid, and it’s one where I think if you were feeling a little shaky in your faith, or feeling a little distanced from the modern version of Catholicism or Christianity, you could see this and feel, “this is what connected with me in the first place, and this is what I can hold on to.”

AG: Right. Before we close out the conversation, I just want to go back to what Pasolini said about this film and how it seems like he may be contradicting himself. I don’t really view it as a contradiction, because the way I think about that statement and having a nostalgia for a belief, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean a belief in a higher power or a belief in the tenants of the Catholic faith, but rather a belief in the message of brotherhood and compassion that Christ carried and that you see in this film, and maybe trying to recapture the feeling of being very young and accepting that message whole-heartedly.

DT: Absolutely, you’re 100% right. I was thinking more about that line where the person called him an unbeliever, and if you call him that than you know him better than he knows himself. But you’re right, the “nostalgia for a belief” certainly suggests exactly what you were saying.

AG: It’s OK, Doug, you’re allowed to interpret things differently from me. I give you permission.

DT: [laughs]. Well, I do want to end by saying that of the films we’ve watched — and this is only the third — that this is my favorite Pasolini film we’ve covered and from the ones I’ve seen after this, it’s fully possible that this might be my favorite Pasolini film. I’m leaving it open that things could change, especially as there are a number of Pasolini films that I have yet to see, but I will say that I found this an almost overwhelmingly beautiful movie to watch. It actually made me reconsider my connection to spirituality in some ways, not so much that I’m ready to go running back to the Church or anything like that, but it kind of paints almost every other depiction of Jesus in cinema in a different light and it both exemplifies what I like most about those stories and, in contrast, it exemplifies what I dislike most about how a lot of the presentations of these stories happen, and how they play out.

AG: I agree, and that’s actually what I was going to say for my concluding thoughts. I think this movie really distills the essence of Christ’s teachings and what it is to be a Christian, and what people should be taking away from his story, so it completely makes sense to me that you would reconsider your spirituality after seeing this, because Pasolini does such a good job of making that message appealing and something aspirational.

DT: He made, at least in my experience, the strongest case for belief. It’s so strange, the piece of art that most strongly moved me towards that concept of faith and belief is the one made by an atheist.

AG: Sometimes you have to have a certain degree of separation from a subject to really see it for what it is.

DT: Absolutely. If we take nothing else away from this film, it’s that separation gave us a very unique element of perspective on this material, and it gave us an enduring film that people still…they watch it every year, a lot of people do, but it’s funny because it hasn’t become the standard Easter Sunday movie you see on television, even though it probably should be playing a little more regularly.

AG: Yeah, fuck the Ten Commandments.

DT: [laughs] That’s really what I was getting at. These stories, in their overblown, Hollywoodized versions, are the ones people see most often, but this is the one that stays closest to the material.