On Inadvertent Politico-Theological Profundity

October 16, 2010

Harold Ramis’s Year One is not much of a film. It’s not as if the man can’t write, or the material didn’t have potential—there’s plenty of gags to be had in the caveman tropes of folk anthropology, and some of us make a living from trawling the Bible for peurile innuendo. But the former Leonard Nimoy impressionist and soon-to-be once-again Ghostbuster couldn’t quite get this one to gel. Even the likes of Black, Azaria and Platt couldn’t save the script. It’s as if Ramis hadn’t read the Bible since puberty, and returned to it with the same juvenile frame of mind, using smut to fill every hole, of which there were many. Some satire is attempted: there’s mockery of false remorse, and attempts to send up theology, but what might have been heretical a generation ago is no longer so today when blasphemy is imperative. And yet, amid the glut of foreskins and sodomy, Ramis did manage, perhaps inadvertently, to dramatise the religiosity of secular modernity.

The protagonists are a pair of banished hunter-gatherers who end up wandering through a bunch of biblical events before becoming embroiled in the priestly politics of Sodom. In the climactic scenes, they manage to talk themselves out of a stoning, entice revolution, impel sovereignty’s self-abdication, and bring about the sacrifice of the High Priest in lieu of his virgins. Lauded as the Chosen One, the character Zed (Jack Black) has the fortitude to resist the crowd’s adulation:

“You would worship me. [Crowd cheers.] Well don’t. [Crowd cheers.] No, I’m not saying don’t like ‘I’m the Chosen One so don’t,’ I’m saying don’t because I’m not the Chosen One. … I’m telling you you don’t need me. You know what? Maybe we can all make our own destiny. Yeah. Maybe we can all be chosen. You. Yeah you. You can be chosen. You. You. Way over in the back, you. …”

And of course it proceeds to rain, which represents the gods’ pleasure with events and indeed their answer to Zed’s prayers.

It’s hardly the “we’re all individuals” scene of Life of Brian, but unlike that satire’s typical Pythonian contentedness with ridicule, this speech manages a bit more than contradiction: it stages the departure of religion through religion, showing up liberal ideology as a democratised messianism in which every individual is interpellated as the chosen one.

If only there had been better gags.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the scene online, but in its stead I offer for your viewing pleasure Jack Black jigging it up on Yo Gabba Gabba—a scene with its own gripping spiritual intensity:

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