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Easter vigils

Mark spring with a basket of holiday flicks


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There's no cultural precedent for how to celebrate Easter once you're a grown-up. This is the day Jesus came back to life, so the bar scene is pretty dead. It's a bit gauche to go out and get trashed with bunny ears on, after all. What can you do but stay home and watch a few good films about Christ? Here are five of our best recommendations.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)

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Pier Paolo Pasolini's film is a stark, black-and-white biographical drama of Christ's life in the Italian neo-realist tradition. This is the stoic, sometimes arrogant Jesus we're all familiar with. The dialogue is sparse and comes directly from the Gospels. Picture it: "Two sparrows are sold for a farthing, and one shall not fall on the ground without your father's leave. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, ye are more valuable than many sparrows." Best of all are the scenes with ordinary people getting baptized while Odetta's Negro spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" wails in the background. Knowing that Pasolini was a homosexual Marxist atheist only adds to the intrigue.

Constantine (2005)

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And now for something completely different: What if there was a battle over earth between heaven and hell, and hell won? Jesus doesn't make much of an appearance in Francis Lawrence's adaptation of the comic book (originally titled Hellblazer) but his weird fallen angels sure do! Constantine is not a great movie, per se, but it celebrates Christian cosmology like no other. Look out for Tilda Swinton, androgynous as ever, as Gabriel, Gavin Rossdale as a sharp-dressed Balthazar and Keanu Reeves smoking so many cigarettes.

The Rapture (1991)

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In the beginning there is Sharon (Mimi Rogers), a lost telephone operator who spends her nights swinging with a furniture salesman while struggling against the emptiness inside her. She finds Christ, some other stuff happens and her story comes full circle. Don't overthink the title: The movie indeed ends with the Rapture, but how it arrives there and what it means for Sharon is subject to endless interpretation. Writer/director Michael Tolkin's film didn't exactly make waves when it was released, and it might not even be considered a cult classic now, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more uncomfortable film to inspire a sincere conversation about Christ with your traditional relatives.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

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You'd have to be utterly joyless to not let Norman Jewison's film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber's rock opera into your heart. The songs are catchy and brilliant, obviously, but it's the depth behind the exuberance that elevates this work to something greater than a good soundtrack. A party bus drives up and a bunch of hippies get out ready for a rowdy passion play. They've got one foot in the past and the other rooted deeply in the present. During the Last Supper, the apostles sing, "Then when we retire we can write the gospels so they'll still talk about us when we die." Or consider Simon Zealotes singing: "Christ, you know I love you. Did you see I waved? I believe in you and God, so tell me that I'm saved." It's the straight-talk that really stings. You get a sense of what Jesus was up against.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

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Take care not to get Martin Scorsese's masterpiece confused with Mel Gibson's passion play/snuff film of a similar name. Christ, Judas, Mary and the Apostles are all fully human characters, and their revolution plays out with a lot of doubt, misunderstandings, discussion and argument. Is Christ being called upon by God or the Devil? The story's central relationship, much like Jesus Christ Superstar, is between Jesus and Judas (played by Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel, respectively). Judas represents the physical; he wants to overthrow the Roman government with violence, but Jesus is still the harbinger of good news, isn't he? He'd rather change the hearts of men. No other film will get you thinking more seriously about faith and religion. The Catholic Church and Christian fundamentalists were upset about a scene where Christ and Mary Magdalene make love and have a child, but they had the wrong idea. It's not what you think.


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