The feud between science and religion has accelerated over the last century. This is increasingly visible in recent movies. Stargate (1994) follows a group of men to a distant planet, where religion reigns supreme. By uncovering hidden technology, the men reveal how millions of people were tricked into kneeling before a false icon. Similarly, Contact (1997) tells the story of a scientist who turns her back on God when, as a child, she loses her father; once she’s able to travel through space, she finds that heaven only exists in her mind.
Like these films, Jonas McCord’s The Body examines the threat science poses to organized religion. It begins as archeologist Sharon Golban (Olivia Williams) is venturing into a tomb, recently discovered beneath a small shop in Jerusalem. Inside the tomb, dated at 32 A.D., is a clay wall that hides the remains of a crucified man. The point that piques Dr. Golban’s interest is that during this time in history, all crucified people were denied the luxury of a tomb, except for Jesus. As Dr. Golban makes a more thorough investigation of the site, she discovers other clues that lead her to believe the deceased man is Christ. When a local priest confirms her findings and begins to doubt his own faith (which, of course, has a very particular story about what happened to Christ’s body), the Vatican sends Father Matt Gutierrez (Antonio Banderas), a former military intelligence agent turned priest, to Jerusalem with specific instructions. Due to the potential damage an “unrisen” Christ could cause to Christianity, Gutierrez is told to debunk the recent findings, at any cost.
Antonio Banderas, Olivia Williams, John Shrapnel, Derek Jacobi
Father Gutierrez at first uses the influence of Moshe Cohen (John Shrapnel), the Prime Minister’s aide, to stop the publication of Dr. Golban’s report. However, when they put all the evidence together, the two begin to bond, as even Gutierrez cannot deny that all signs point to the body being Christ’s. Tension builds when religious and civil strife breaks out in the city. Both Moshe Cohen and the fanatical leader of the Popular Front of Jerusalem (Muhamed Bakri) attempt to steal the bones in order to blackmail the Church, knowing that if the public were to find out that Christ was a mere mortal, the Vatican might face extinction. At the same time, even Cohen admits that what he is doing poses no real threat to the Church, because “faith” cannot be broken by logic or material “proof.” He points out that, if people want to believe that Christ had risen, even when the existence of the man’s remains prove otherwise, then there is no stopping them.
The Body is most intriguing in its refusal to take a clear stance on either side of the issue. This strategy is clear from the beginning, as the priest and archeologist work side by side. Viewers are allowed to make their own decisions, based on the “facts” in this fiction film. And sometimes the “facts” are not so clear. It turns out that Gutierrez is a stubborn believer himself, asserting that if the body did turn out to be the unrisen Jesus, he would pray to God for guidance and his faith would not sway.
More unconventional is the light that McCord casts on the politics of organized religion, questioning the motives and practices of the Church. When the Church rejects any possibility that the body might be Christ’s, it shows no consideration for its believers who might be understandably upset at such news. The Body depicts the Church leaders as corrupt and tyrannical (using Gutierrez, the Vatican manages to stop the publication of Dr. Golban’s findings altogether), and in doing so, the movie argues that organized religion is fallible.
Perhaps most importantly, The Body explores the possibility, or impossibility, of a universal faith. Everyone in the film is futilely struggling to find the one true religion. In the end, Golban’s daughter shows how unimportant this struggle is. As her mother tucks her in to bed, her mother asks if the girl is bothered that she cannot see her God. The daughter replies that her dead father sees God in the afterlife, implying that we all report to the same creator when we die.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times.