Hail Ceasar!

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I once said that the only decent movies about God are made by Jews – two Jews to be precise, Joel and Ethan Cohen.

Turns out they are also the only ones making good movies about the Catholic Church too. Their latest, Hail Ceasar, can be enjoyed as an homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood, where the movie studio put on a grand production, adopted a paternalistic towards its talent, was both authoritarian and indulgent, letting the infantile actors run wild within certain defined limits, slapping them on the wrist when they crossed certain lines, and making sure everyone saved face in the end. Or you can look at it as an allegory of the church, which did all of the above for a few centuries.

The studio in Hail Ceasar is, like the church, attempting to tell a swords-and-sandals epic about Jesus Christ, which gets lost in the circus atmosphere. As James Joyce said about the church “here comes everybody”.

The Second Vatican Council was in part supposed to be about moving away from the paternalistic model, which is great and all, but so much of Catholic culture and cohesion was simply lost. “Here comes everybody” was an embarrassment to the smart set who suffered from Acute Protestant Envy (mainline, not fundie) and they replaced it with their own form of clericalism, the clericalism not of the rectory or chancery but of the theology department and Bishop’s conference. The contemporary church is not any better at telling (or living) the swords and sandals epic, in some ways it is worse.

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Interesting take. Don’t you think there’s institutional improvement, though? The price of absolute cohesion is too high. I think they gain more by going back to the study and discussion of ethics than taking the fire and brimstone approach of ignorant fundagelicals.

    1. Absolute cohesion would be indicative of a cult mentality. My complaint about contemporary church culture, at least in the West and in America, is that it is so thin, not really distinguishable from secular culture, banal, dumbed down, and infantile. There are pockets of healthy Catholicism that probably would not have been possible without the Council, not everything is bad.

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