Film and Religion

This site contains studies and comments by professors Robert Torry and Paul Flesher about the portrayal and use of religion in film. See their new book, Film and Religion: An Introduction (Abingdon, 2007) for a textbook on this topic.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Jesus Christ, Superstar

On the face of it, Jesus Christ, Superstar (1972) is a Passion Play. It depicts only the last week of Jesus' life, from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey to his crucifixion. But given how different this film is from every previous Jesus film, even from every previous filming of a Biblical story, we should beware the notion that this is a simple depiction of the Passion.

When you think about Superstar, it is clear that it is a love story. The three main characters are Jesus, Mary and Judas. From the start, Mary looks after Jesus, cares for him, anoints him, and watches over his sleep. She sings about not knowing how to love him. When Judas attacks Jesus, she defends Jesus. As Jesus is led away and it is clear that Jesus’ tale will not have a happy ending for Mary’s love, she sings him a good-bye song, “Could we start again.”

Judas plays an interesting role in the film. He is the first to sing, talking about his close relationship to Jesus and how he is worried that Jesus’ actions are going to bring destruction down on the movement. From that point onwards, he acts more like a jilted lover than a worried deputy. He attacks Jesus for not seeing what is happening. He attacks Mary for anointing Jesus and then attacks Jesus for letting Mary close to him. When he receives Jesus’ disapproval, he retreats to the back of the disciples group, casting longing looks in Jesus’ direction.

Fast forward to the end. Judas’ last song before he hangs himself begins, “I don’t know how to love him,”—a reprise of Mary’s song. His last sung words before his death are about Jesus, “Does he love me, does he love me too? Does he care for me?” Clearly, the words of a lover.

It is possible even to see the three main figures as a love triangle. As Mary moves closer to Jesus, Judas is pushed out and acts with jealousy. Of Jesus’ first three stints singing, two of them are defending Mary against Judas’ verbal attacks.


At 9/25/2009, Blogger Paul Flesher said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9/25/2009, Blogger Paul Flesher said...

Does anyone know of any studies of the role of Judas' blackness in this film?

At 11/24/2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the director has said that he was reluctant to cast a black man in the role, anticipating possible reaction; he was convinced to do so when the actor asked him why the director would cast him if he did so. the director said he would because he was the best candidadte for the part.


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