Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Cruciform Pose in the Movies – Part 1

Film characters assume the same position of Jesus on the cross for different reasons. Sometimes it’s by necessity, sometimes it’s a flat-out allegory of the Christ story, but usually it’s because that character exhibits some Christ-like qualities. In his Dead Man Walking DVD commentary, director Tim Robbins insists the seemingly obvious position of Sean Penn’s Matthew Poncelet was only because the actual lethal injection machine places the criminals that way. It makes sense because Poncelet is hardly a Christ-figure, guilty of his crime and only remorseful when he faces death. If anyone resembles Christ in the film is Susan Sarandon’s Sister Helen Prejean.
Click below for more characters who assume the position.

In the DVD commentary of The Graduate, director Mike Nichols states the position of Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock is because the actual preacher of the church was worried he would break the glass, so Hoffman spread his arms. (Kind of like snow shoes dispersing weight so you don’t sink). Braddock is “saving” Elaine from a loveless marriage and an empty suburban existence and he is certainly antiestablishment but the Christ comparisons stop there.

Toward the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock strikes half a pose after he sacrifices himself and saves the Enterprise crew. He is “resurrected” in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Early on in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Garrett (James Coburn) apprehends Billy (Kris Kristofferson) who surrenders with the cruciform pose. Billy is antiestablishment and Garrett is a pretty good Judas Iscariot substitute.

Mel Gibson’s William Wallace is tortured at the end of Braveheart, sacrificing himself for freedom and living on in the lives of his fellow soldiers. There’s a pretty good Mary Madgalene (Sophie Marceau) though.

In one of Dances with Wolves first scenes, Kevin Costner’s Lt. John Dunbar is resigned to die and is essentially “born again” after certain death on the battlefield. He goes on a search for self-discovery and tries to save the Sioux people.

In Platoon, Willem Dafoe’s Sergeant Elias is introduced in the cruciform pose during the opening credits. He will go on to protect and guide the protagonist (Charlie Sheen’s Chris) through the Vietnam experience.

Platoon director Oliver Stone is less subtle at the moment of Elias’s death. Elias is betrayed and sacrificed.

Martin Scorsese was so impressed with Dafoe’s Christ-like qualities in Platoon that he cast him as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ.

In The Truman Show, Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank is nearly killed by Christof (Ed Harris) and is “born again”. He’s not much of a Christ-figure otherwise, only able to save himself.

But he does walk on water before ascending (up the stairs) into the clouds.

In The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins’s Andy Dufresne assumes the cruciform position and walks on water at the same time. Nice work, Mr. Darabont. Andy is innocent, convicted, reborn, and brings hope to the other inmates.

In part 2, I will discuss outright Christ allegories which are usually in the Science Fiction or Superhero genre.


Priest said...

interesting stuff. if you try to do all of them (like the twin towers) this is going to be a long series indeed.

Lawyer said...

You deserve a "Bloggie" for innovative and interesting posts. Odd that several of the poses you found are 'accidental'.

Doctor said...

After some deliberation, I'm now convinced the Dead Man Walking pose is certainly staged. They pull back the curtain, Penn is perfectly framed and there is a cop on either side of him (like the 2 other convicts who were crucified with Jesus).