Jesus of Montreal

Even from the beginning, the Jesus tradition was fluid and re-presented in new and on-going contexts. This is true from the beginning of the oral tradition (the stories that got told before Jesus even left town) as well as the writing. Mark is, for example, re-presenting the Jesus story for his/her audience. In my view this representation is in conversation with and about other Christian communities who are adopting the household codes as appropriate structures for their churches. Matthew and Luke (not that we are doing Luke in class) are re-writing Mark for their own purposes and contexts. John is also receiving and re-presenting the Jesus tradition for his/her audience. This process continues on through tradition history and preaching. It is even present in the mall version. Films are yet another medium for the re-presentation of the Jesus story.
I have emphasized the connections between the structure of the gospels and the ways that structure communicates meaning to the reader. I’ve also been emphasizing the role of argument and persuasion to and from a position in letter and in narrative. I want you to “read” the film, Jesus of Montreal, and one gospel (Mark, Matthew, or John) as argument and compare the kinds of argument they are. The process is not simply a statement of plot and characters. Rather, it is a careful analysis of the meaning of other work(s). Plot and character are important, but as support of your points, not a substitution for points. That means don’t simply repeat a summary of the movie/story. Our focus in the second half of this course has been on story telling and meaning. Important questions have been: how does the story go and what does that indicate? What cultural, political, religious, economic factors are related to the story? What is the author trying to communicate and what elements of the text suggest such? Etc. You will apply some of these methods in your analysis of both gospel and film.
One goal here is to focus attention on structure and communication. I have emphasized the connections between the structure of the gospels and the ways that structure communicates meaning to the reader. Thus, your thesis will be a statement about the meaning of the text and film in its context and in relation to course material. This thesis can still be understood as argument (refer back to the handout on writing as argument in Paul). The thesis is a description that should reasonably suit the data of the text. You must do several things in order to get your reader to understand the force of your interpretation. You must present (communicate) the relevant data of the text in such a way so as to lead the reader to the reasonableness of your interpretation. This requires 1) a careful ordering (structure) of the material; 2) sufficient definition of key concepts and issues; and 3) adequate explanation of the significance of the components.
You might pause a moment and imagine what the gospel writers had to do to write their gospels. They had to make many decisions about beginning and ending, content, order, coherence between the data of their text and the point(s) they wished to make. In a similar way, you must make some decisions about how the structure of your paper can best communicate the point you wish to make about meaning(s) you see in a text.
Your review should evaluate how the story relates to the contexts in which they are told. In the case of the film, how is the director presenting the Jesus story to his audience? In the case of the gospel, the focus should be historical. How is Mark, Matthew, or John (as authors) presenting the Jesus story to his/her audience? Both gospel writers and movie director have received a Jesus tradition and re-present it in new circumstances. One goal here is to write an essay that is coherent with the methods and models that have been taught within Phil 133W/Engl 115W. A paper that does not fairly represent materials from class is not compliant with the assignment. How does the author present the Jesus story to his/her audience?
Some notes about the film. This is a Canadian film that was released to a lot of critical success. The film received a number of the Canadian equivalent of the Oscar and was nominated here in the best foreign film category. At the Cannes film festival it received the ecumenical jury prize. This jury is made up of Protestants, Catholics, and, at times, Jews who evaluate the religious and moral aspects of films. The prize is not awarded every year. The film generated some controversy in its release, but not to extent that others did, e.g. The Last Temptation of Christ. This film, better than any I know of, illustrates and illumines the dynamics we have been discussing of how stories get told in relation to contemporary contexts.
One of the things I find fascinating about the film is that it is not a straight dramatization of the gospel story. Its setting is contemporary Montreal. The film employs a “play within the play” technique. Some actors are employed to put on the Jesus story at the cathedral. Thus, we get to see their view of what the Jesus story was. At the same time, there is a slippage between the characters of the film and the characters of the Jesus story. The actor whose project it is to do the play takes on “Jesus characteristics.” His enlisting other actors is like gathering disciples and lots more. I would warn you about one element. The movie is, as stated in the syllabus is rated R. There is a scene early in the movie that often catches students by surprise. The actor who is hired to play Jesus in the play gathers other actors in his project. In one scene they visit a studio where actors are dubbing a porn film. There is not a lot of visual representation, but there is sound and language. It is intended, I think, to convey something about Jesus’ practice of being around sinners and calling people away from their sin.
So, spend some time thinking about how the gospel stories “work.” Review your notes and the gospel texts. Take notes on what you think is important for getting the meaning you see across. Think about your writing from the reader’s perspective. Does s/he have sufficient explanation of the relevant pieces of your reasoning? As you watch the film, take “reminder” notes both for discussion purposes and to develop for your review. Does the film make any difference on how you view the way gospel stories mean? If so, how would you explain this to someone else? Think about how you are able to read the gospels and “read” the film having taken the class.
So, as a final (?) repetition: you are not comparing the overt content of a gospel with the movie. You are not to simply point out that there are differences. Rather what you are comparing is the way the teller (gospel writer and Denys Arcand) re-presents the story for their audience. What does/did it mean in its context? What structural/content elements lead us to think that? Your essay should draw on class material and content. Again, you are not required to agree, but you may not ignore.
Prepare your final draft, carefully proofreading it. Paper should be double-spaced, 12 pts, Times New Roman font, with one inch margins. Length is not hard and fast, but less than six pages is probably insufficient, more than nine is probably unnecessary. So: 1700-2200 words.

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