Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Gospel According to Verhoeven

Last week, I went to a lecture at Powell's City of Books to hear director Paul Verhoeven's take on the life of Jesus. He's promoting his book, Jesus of Nazareth, which was a bit of surprise for me when I learned about it. After all, Verhoeven is best known as the Dutch film director who has made some of the most successful violent movies of all time: RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers. He's also known for the huge bomb that still illicits jokes: Showgirls. Now, he's into Jesus? Interesting.

Of course I had to go to this event. For one, I really loved Basic Instinct and think its a great film. In fact, it was one of the "most fun" films I've ever seen in the theater. I was stationed in Italy when the film came out and since the base theater got movies about six months after release in the U.S., we knew all about the hype and controversy in advance. The theater was packed with sailors and because of the extroverted nature of most sailors, it was fun to hear the comments people shouted during the film. It added a lot of humour to the film. Normally, I hate people talking during the movie, but put a bunch of young, horny sailors in a theater showing a sexually explicit film like Basic Instinct, and you know the vulgar wit and male need to outdo one another is going to be hugely hilarious.

What I loved about the film is the psychological mind games that Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone) plays on the Detective (Michael Douglas). She really knows how to manipulate him without him realizing that he's being manipulated. As Catherine tells him: "You're in over your head", or an even better line: "I won't confess all my secrets just because I have an orgasm." This film was hugely popular in 1992 and even the French sailors I met at the 1992 Submarine Birthday Ball asked me about Sharon Stone when I wanted to talk to them about Anne Parillaud (the sexy French actress who played in 1991's La Femme Nikita). In 1993, on my second ship (which had a 30% female crew), there was a lady who kind of resembled Sharon Stone and made a play for me. Other sailors warned me about her, but I was smart enough to figure out her game (probably due to the fact that I learned from watching Basic Instinct). Despite her game playing, I managed to embarrass her in front of some people when she said my name in a breathy, panting manner. My response was a bold: "Don't have an orgasm!"

Verhoeven has made a name for himself as a director who doesn't shy away from violence. In fact, I could have done without the extra violent scenes added back into the Director's Cut of Basic Instinct. Thus, it was amusing to read in Verhoeven's book about his critique of Mel Gibson's version of Jesus:
"And then there is Mel Gibson. In his movie The Passion of the Christ (2004), God is not benevolent or compassionate, but psychotic. Gibson's God bears a strong resemblance to the cruel Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, who could be appeased only with human sacrifices. The movie is a showcase for psychotic Catholicism."
Verhoeven's lecture was more of an interview format, with some theologian asking questions and him giving long and interesting answers. Basically, Verhoeven has been wanting to make a film about Jesus for quite some time, now. He's been involved with the Jesus Seminar since the mid-1980s. That group is famous for getting together to determine what Jesus actually said and what was attributed to him by the Gospel writers which may not have been authentic. Their intellectual debates and findings are controversial to many Christians, particularly those who believe that every word in the Bible is literally true, unquestionable, and written by God Himself.

I was interested to learn that Verhoeven is a lot like me in how he approaches the life of Jesus as written in the New Testament. He is also a lot like Thomas Jefferson. What this means is that he has taken out all the science-defying "miracles" as untrue add-ons to mythologize Jesus into "God on earth." To Verhoeven, Jesus was just a man. A spiritual man with a vision of an ideal world ("The Kingdom of God"). To Verhoeven, Jefferson and myself, the virgin birth and the resurrection are nonsense. In fact, in Verhoeven's book, he mentions a theory that I've heard before but haven't really read much about it. This theory is about Jesus' father being a Roman soldier named Pantera who had raped a 16 year old Mary. I think this is an intriguing theory worthy of a Dan Brown novel (The Pantera Code, anyone?). What such a revelation, if true, would do to the very foundation of a religion that emphasizes the outlandish miracles!

Because I'm more interested in learning the truth than believing in childish fables, if Jesus was conceived because a Roman soldier had raped a teenage girl during an uprising, the revelation hardly matters to the greatness of Jesus' life story. Its not earth-shattering to my world view because Christianity should focus on the LIFE of Jesus, not the birth and death/resurrection. It is the life he led that makes an example for us all and why I find it strange that so many evangelical, Jesus-loving (and God-fearing) Christians are supportive of a political party that lies and manipulates their religious views while it enacts policies that go against everything Jesus was about. In fact, many teabaggers are of the evangelical Christian variety and they are still blinded by the swindle of the first eight years of the decade when their Jesus-quoting president led our country to economic ruin while his backers made off like bandits in a casino heist.

I've said it before and I'll say it again...any evangelical Christian who tries to proselytize me has ZERO credibility if they can't even get their political facts right. After all, if they are blind to the truth of what's going on now, when we have so much information at our fingertips, why should anyone believe what they have to say about events that happened two thousand years ago, in which we don't have a full record of events and have to base our beliefs on the written word of people who had an agenda to push?

This lecture by a famous director is yet another example of my amazing life. I'm not sure if I had ever had the thought that I would like to meet Paul Verhoeven someday, but I get to meet him finally. I waited in line for him to sign a copy of his book. The line moved slower than for other book signings, but when I got to him, I learned why. I had asked him a few questions and he was long winded in his answers. He was very personable, knowledgeable, and quite intelligent. He is definitely someone you'd love to have a long conversation with. However, with a long line behind me, I started feeling guilty that I was taking up so much of his time.

I would love to see him still make a movie about Jesus because there is not a single one that I like. I think he would do an awesome job because he stated in his lecture and in his book that he wants to create the most accurate version of Jesus that he could think of. He doesn't think he would be able to get Hollywood studio financial backing, though. Which is a shame. However, that might not be true, as I don't think its any newsflash to point out that there are a lot of Jewish people in Hollywood and they were offended by Mel Gibson's anti-semitic protrayal. Perhaps a more realistic film about Jesus (which rejects the idea of him as an atoning sacrifice that all humans must accept as a personal saviour) would be an easier sell.

At any rate, meeting Verhoeven only verified an intuitive hunch I had last year. I have been wanting to write a screenplay about Jesus in modern America, but I didn't do it. I could've had that project finished and ready to pitch. Verhoeven wants to make a Jesus movie and I want to write one. Maybe our paths might cross again. I certainly think maybe I should have pursued a screenwriting career instead of the unsuccessful political career I kept searching for. So, this possibility will remain on my wish list. I have so many writing projects, but my goal to find a new job remains my #1 priority. It shouldn't take this long. I have so many great ideas and live in this world of possibility that it is depressing to work with a bunch of people who are muddled by their own mediocrity. That's why our lives outside of the office are so different. I keep on meeting interesting people: famous and not. This is definitely the direction I wish to move in.

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