If I were a talented screenwriter, I might script a modern retelling of the story of Christ. I’d need a strategy for getting my script in front of a good producer. I’m afraid I’d need to rely on old fashioned divine intervention for that to happen, because I’m in no way connected to anybody important, and I’m too far along in life to start trying to make those connections.
Let’s say I fast and pray, and in response, a heavenly angel appears to producer and director Ridley Scott, and this angel tells him there’s a no-name screenwriter who lives in a swamp outside Tacoma, and this no-name has written the script to end all scripts, and Ridley Scott is so moved by this dream that his people track me down so I can immediately advance my script for his review.
Two days later, I find myself in Ridley’s office in England, where he’s brimming with enthusiasm over the idea of making this film. The conversation might go thusly:
“Let me tell you, son, I’ve been in this business many years; I know talent when I see it, and you have it.” Ridley says.
“Well, thank you, sir; I appreciate that very much. And may I say, you have an amazing office. Is that a real sword there on the wall?” I ask.
“Damn right. Used on the set of “Gladiator”, that sword was. Top notch piece, that one. You can’t cut corners when you want to make authentic films, you know.”
“Oh, I agree! That’s why I’m so glad God chose you to produce this project. I’m all about authenticity.” I say, trying to keep cool, trying not to stare at the framed photo on his desk of him and Russell Crowe on set – Russell clad in “Gladiator” garb, the photo signed,
Dear Ridley, “Are you not entertained??”
Thanks for the memories,
“Good, good. Sounds like we’re on the same page, as they say. First thing’s first – the Jesus character – love him. He’s got the quality of a guy who’s way ahead of the curve, though he’s still an underdog. Audiences love that shit.” he says.
“Oh, good! I really did enjoy writing the Jesus character.”
“So, let me throw a name your way, and tell me what you think: James McAvoy.” he says, leaning back in his high-backed chair with a proud grin on his distinguished face. He crosses his arms, awaiting my response.
“James McAvoy? From the X-Men?” I ask.
“That’s right! Think about it. Who’s wiser and more discerning than Professor X? That fella always knows what everybody in the room is thinking, just like Jesus does. You’ll have instant buy-in from your audience.”
“I know, I know. His ethnicity isn’t right, but that’s easy enough to correct. Get him to sprout a beard, throw a pair of brown contact lenses on him, and BAM! – a Jesus any moviegoer could appreciate.” he beams.
“Right, okay. I guess that makes sense.” I say.
Ridley taps a button on his desk phone. “Martha,” he barks. “Get ahold of McAvoy right away! Tell him I’ve got the role of a lifetime for him. This one’s got Oscar written all over it! Buzz me once you reach him.”
He leans back in his chair again, and his eyes go distant. “I can see it now. Jimmy Mac as Jesus. ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’ Maybe we have him touch his temple for that line, just like Professor X does. Damn, I’m brilliant.”
“I have to admit, that does sound really cool.” I say.
“Good, so we have that part figured. Now, we need to talk about tweaking your script a bit.”
“Tweak my script? How?” I ask. I begin to worry that Ridley Scott may not understand my vision for the story.
“Now, don’t get upset, son. I’m not interested in departing too much from the Biblical representation. I did that with “Exodus”, and ninety percent of the evangelical community shit a brick. I don’t feel like enduring another three weeks of ‘hashtag BurnInHellRidleyScott’ on social media.” he chuckles. “I’m fine with Jesus dying – remember, everybody loves an underdog, and you don’t get more underdog than dead. I’m even better with Jesus rising from the dead, because everybody loves an underdog who comes back. It’s just that, something’s missing…” Ridley resumes his far off look. He scrunches his brow and strokes his beard.
“What’s missing?” I ask. I’m surprised to find I’m nervous to hear his answer.
“Vengeance” he says in a hush.
“YES! That’s it!” he shouts, smacking his desk. The signed Russell Crowe picture jumps in response. Are you not entertained?? I hear Maximus’s voice in the back of my mind.
“Picture this.” he says, holding his hands out, the far off look never leaving his eyes. “This is a modern retelling, yes? So, what if we adapt the story of the Emmaus Road appearance? Say, these aren’t disciples walking down this road. Maybe it’s a couple of arrogant priests, basking in the afterglow of having murdered the Christ, when this mysterious stranger appears and starts walking with them.”
Emmaus by Janet Brooks-Gerloff
“Oh!” I interject. “I can see where you’re going, and I don’t––”
“Quiet, son. I’m in the flow now. Don’t interrupt me when I’m in the flow. Now, where was I? Ah yes! Emmaus Road – we don’t need to call it Emmaus, obviously; it’s a modern retelling. Maybe we change the name to Naqam Road.”
“Naqam – Aramaic for vengeance. That’s it!” BAM! Ridley pounds his desk. Russell Crowe jumps again inside his frame. “That’s the title of the movie, son!” He purrs, “Naqam Road” He stares off several seconds, then repeats to himself, “Damn, I’m brilliant.”
“So, what?” I hazard an interruption. “You want the Jesus character to kill these two murderous priests on the Naqam Road? Like, how? Lightning bolts from the heavens?”
“Sure, sure – lightning bolts, tongues of fire, whatever. We’ll get the visual effects guys to come up with some serious eye dazzling shit. People will love it!”
“I’m not so sure people will love it.”
“Then you don’t know people, son. I’ve been making movies a long time, and if there’s one theme folks never get tired of, it’s Vengeance. If you fail to deliver Payback, you’re going to have an unsatisfied audience. And don’t think the church crowd is any different. The church wants a Jesus who kicks some ass; that’s why they love talking about Revelation Jesus, riding in on a white horse, eyes like fire and all that. Maybe we’ll make Jimmy Mac’s eyes glow as he’s getting ready to take out those murderous priests – sorta like Superman when he gets pissed and prepares to fry someone with his heat vision. This ain’t your grandmother’s Jesus. This is Jesus 2.0, son.”
I sit there in Ridley’s office, slowly shaking my head, speechless and a little convicted. He’s right. Ridley Scott is right about what people want. We want vengeance. And no matter how many times we see it portrayed, we want it again and again. Right there, I begin to see the story of Christ – his death and resurrection – in a new light.
We’ve been told that Jesus gave his life in order to satisfy the wrath of a just God. I wonder if there’s more to it than that. It looks a lot like he gave himself to the wrath of an unjust people. Maybe God gave us what we wanted. We asked for blood, and he gave us blood.
Apparently, it wasn’t enough for us, because we’re still asking for it.
Happy Easter to my readers and friends. I pray we emerge from this season a little less vengeful, a little more like Christ – the 1.0 version.