Jesus, From the Man Who Brought You Basic Instinct and Showgirls
Jesus Christ! No, really: As alluded to last week in this space, Dutch filmmaker and all-around cinematic provocateur Paul Verhoeven has a serious interest in the story of Jesus. So much so that Verhoeven has written his own scholarly work about the conceptions and misconceptions about the Lord and Savior of about 2.2 billion followers worldwide. But his book Jesus of Nazareth isn't just some Hollywood hobbyist's tract from the theological sidelines. According to Verhoeven himself, it's a "treatment" for a cinematic work that will finally keep it real about Jesus.
Verhoeven last week paid a visit to New York, where he spoke about his book and Christian myths after a screening of The Life of Brian. (Better Monty Python, I suppose, than Showgirls or Basic Instinct, his notoriously depraved efforts with coincidentally born-again screenwriter Joe Eszterhas.) But the 71-year-old director kept most of his Jesus-y powder dry for the new issue of New York Magazine, in which he explains his own mission to bring the ultimate (and ultimately accurate) down-to-earth Messiah to the screen:
"Jesus may have had an immense sense of importance or destiny, but he never claimed to be the Son of God." [...] Then why care about Jesus if he's not the Son of God? Verhoeven says, "Because of his ethics. His thought. It isn't because of the healings, because now humans possess the healing technology to do 100 times, 1,000 times what Jesus did. What we are left with is what he said, the parables, the moral thinking, because when you begin to study Jesus' life, as the miracles fall away as physical impossibilities, you learn that the quotes, the speeches, and the reasoning behind them, for the most part, are genuine."
As to how he came to write such a book (the notes, bibliography, and various indexes take up 87 of the 288 pages), Verhoeven, who grew up in The Hague during the Nazi occupation, smiles slyly and says, "You mean when I'm supposed to be spending all my time making another version of Total Recall? There are other things to think about, you know." [...] "Yet here I am trying to make a historical film in which some of the best-known action scenes will not be portrayed because they didn't happen. That gives me a lot of talking. I don't know if I can make a film with people standing there talking for five minutes at a time. Who wants to watch that? This is a dilemma."
Verhoeven sighs. One day, he hopes, he will figure out how to make his Jesus film, if for no other reason than to answer the picture of Jesus presented in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. "If that's God," Verhoeven says, "then we are really f*cked."
Whatever. I've been saying the same thing for years about Elizabeth Berkley's orgasm in Showgirls. Godspeed, Paul -- or whatever you want to call it.
· 49 Minutes with Paul Verhoeven [NYM]