The Religious Affiliation of Screenwriter
Acclaimed screenwriter Paul Schrader wrote the scripts for critically acclaimed films including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Schrader was raised in a strictly religious home as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. Schrader, who was widely known in Hollywood to be a strict Calvinist Protestant Christian (or at least from that background), regularly infused his scripts with strong moral and religious viewpoints influenced by and sometimes seemingly antithetical to this religious upbringing.
Paul Schrader has been identified by some sources as a Lutheran, but this is not correct. Possibly this mistake has occured because Schrader is frequently identified simply as a "Calvinist," and Lutheranism, which is famously Calvinist in its theology, has far more adherents than the Dutch Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America. Some writers may simply have equated Calvinism with Lutheranism.
From: "prosthesis: technology and science" blog (run by a self-described neo-Calvinist), 1 November 2004 (http://prosthesis.blogspot.com/2004/11/hardcore-tulip.html; viewed 11 July 2005):
Paul Schrader has written some of the most (in)famous movies in the history of American cinema. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, and American Gigolo - to name a few.
Many Dutch Reformed Calvinists have a love-hate relationship with Schrader. Schrader graduated from Calvin College and went on to be a very successful movie director/writer, but at the same time he publically spoke out against the Calvinist community that he grew up in. Particularly of interest to many in the Dutch Reformed community is his movie "Hardcore," which was filmed in Grand Rapids, MI and the plot revolves around a Dutch Calvinist businessman who is looking for his runaway daughter.
From: Les Keyser, Martin Scorsese, Twayne Publishers: New York (1992), page 65:
Ironically, this superhot screenwriting talent [Paul Schrader, who was Martin Scorsese's frequent collaborator, on films such as Taxi Driver] had not seen a single film until his late teens. His youth had been spent in the austere bosom of the Christian Reformed church, a dour Calvinist sect that frowned on alcohol, dance, movies, and art as worldly distractions. Schrader enrolled in Calvin College, a seminary for the pious faithful in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but went AWOL to enroll in film courses at Columbia University in New York City. There, at an Upper West Side bar, the apostate Schrader quaffed beers with film critic RObert Washow's son Paul, who, in sodden bonhomie, introduced the wayward backslider to his mentor, Pauline Kael. Kael recognized Schrader's abilities and used her influence to have him admitted to UCLA's film program.
Erik Kristopher Myers, "Paul Schrader Speak!" (interview), on "The Bloody News" website (horror film fan site)
(http://www.quartertofour.com/bloodynews/interviews/schrader_erik.html; viewed 11 July 2005):
MYERS [interviewer]: How religious is your background? Going into a project like this [Exorcist: The Original Prequel], did you feel you had something relevant to say about the matter of Faith, which is the heart of the story?
SCHRADER: I'm not Catholic. I was raised Dutch Calvinist. I went to church schools, went to Calvin College and Seminary. For post-graduate I went on to UCLA. But I was raised in the bosom of the Christian Reformed Church, which is a Dutch Calvinist church. So yes, I had a religious background.
MYERS: You were thinking about becoming a priest at one point.
SCHRADER: Well, we wouldn't have called it a "priest" since we hated the Fish Eaters [pejorative term used by Calvinists to describe Catholics]. (laughs) We would have called them ministers. But I dropped out of pre-Sem, and that was that. If you're raised in a background of moral concerns, where actions have consequences where you will be judged at the end of your life, put on the scale and weighed. No matter where your life takes you, you never get away from that.
MYERS: You once described The Exorcist as "the greatest metaphor in cinema . . . God and The Devil in the same room arguing over the body of a little girl."
SCHRADER: Yes, it's absolutely metaphorical.
From: Richard A. Blake (S.J.), "Playing God, Bring Out the Dead" (review of Bringing Out the Dead) in America: The National Catholic Weekly, 1 January 2000, Vol. 182 No. 1, (http://www.americamagazine.org/MovieReview.cfm?articleTypeID=41&textID=479&issueID=261; viewed 11 July 2005):
Paul Schrader, who also wrote the screenplays for "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" (1980), created the script from the novel by Joe Connelly. He and Scorsese form a fascinating partnership. Schrader grew up in the Dutch Reformed tradition and even studied in a Calvinist seminary, while Scorsese put in a year in a Catholic minor seminary. Schrader's theological world does not pamper the fainthearted, and his scripts for Scorsese unflinchingly re-create a world corrupted by sin. While Schrader's Calvinist words suggest a universe beyond redemption without extraordinary intervention, Scorsese's Catholic images show sacred and sordid intermingled in the human condition. While the city streets teem with horrific victims and victimizers, Scorsese is still able to find a terrible beauty in the lights and shadows. While the police try to free a drug dealer impaled on a wrought iron fence, the sparks of their acetylene torches scatter into the night sky and blend with a lovely display of fireworks. For Scorsese's camera, terror and beauty become one. With cinematographer Robert Richardson, he literally turns this world upside down and sideways, as though suggesting that one must fight off moral vertigo while making the journey through highly ambiguous and uncharted terrain.
From: Ryan Mc, "Calvin's Taxi Driver" on "Subcurrents Coast to Coast" blog website, 27 February 2005, (http://blog.subcurrents.com/2005/02/calvins-taxi-driver.htm; viewed 11 July 2005):
Few people know that the movie's screenwriter, Paul Schrader, graduated from Calvin College in the sixties. Unfortunately Schrader renounced his faith while attending Calvin. He later earned a graduate degree in film at UCLA. (In fact his movie Hardcore was filmed in America's Dutch Reformed mecca, Grand Rapids, the place Schrader called home.) What strikes me is the influence reformed Christianity had on his mind, despite his rejection of it. Taxi Driver is a movie dedicated to the "T" in TULIP--total depravity. It's also about redemption--one man's (Deniro's) journey from humility to exaltation. The underlying themes of the movie are essentially Manichean: the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, the oppressed and oppressor, the lower class and respectable aristocrats. There is power in true religion, of which the unbeliever cannot escape. Schrader couldn't epistemologically cast off his religious roots. In the words of Marx, they weigh as a nightmare on the mind of the living.
From: Richard Scheib, review of "The Comfort of Strangers" (1990) on "The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review" website (http://www.moria.co.nz/horror/comfortofstrangers.htm; viewed 11 July 2005):
This is an interesting psycho-sexual thriller from Paul Schrader. Schrader was raised in the Dutch Reformed Church and perhaps understandably has a fascination with the tormented side of sexuality -- see also Hardcore (1975), Cat People (1982), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Auto Focus (2002), and his scripts for Taxi Driver (1976) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
From: Rose Pacatte (fsp, Director, Pauline Center for Media Studies), "Stuck between dying and dead...: Resource paper for film panel on Bringing out the Dead, Boston Faith & Film Festival, 10 February 2001 (http://www.daughtersofstpaul.com/mediastudies/reviews/filmbootd.html; viewed 11 July 2005):
While the film [Bringing out the Dead] visuals are Scorsese's, the words belong to Paul Schrader (though the script is based on a Joseph Connelly's 1998 autobiographical novel), a lapsed Calvinist (or former member of the Dutch Reformed Church). Here he once again (Taxi Driver, Last Temptation of Christ) collaborates with Scorsese and we get a glimpse of mankind's complete depravity, along with a hint of the irresistibility of grace; it's like a struggle with predestination or inevitability. Like Scorsese, Schrader seems unable to escape the mark of his formative faith.
...Bringing Out the Dead (and Taxi Driver) seem to give the message that the seven capital sins are alive and well, that Manhattan's glass is permanently half empty, rather than half full; that it's glass is smudged and you'll wear yourself out trying to see through it looking for the works of mercy and a tiny bit of beatitude. At one point, Frank says,
"You learn to sort of block it out, you know, like cops fence off a crime scene. But then something good will happen and everything will just glow" (Schrader, page 54).
Is this latest Scorsese-Schrader collaboration successful in terms of our theme of rebirth and resurrection? Are the characters reborn and resurrected? I think it depends on the lenses we bring to the film and the bar we set for ourselves for what makes a meaningful religious film, or a film that deals successfully with religious themes. Like other Scorsese films I have seen, this is a man's film and I wonder if it would take a masculine vision, even a masculine religious vision, to see through the darkness to find resurrection.
Taking a different approach, we can see the framework of the Apostle's Creed in the film: the descent into hell and after three days, a kind of resurrection that is rest and sleep. We, the viewers, accompany Frank through three days of hell, and by the end of the movie, we, too, are ready for rest and resurrection. In Bringing Out the Dead, the human experience and divine life are constantly visited.
I corresponded with Jim Wall, the Christian film critic from Chicago, about his take on Bringing Out the Dead, and here's what he said:
"One of the most winning religiously oriented films in recent years. Pierce wants to have the cup removed, 'fire me', but his boss says, 'maybe tomorrow, but tonight I need you out there.' Can't be more specific than that."
In this brief commentary on Bringing Out the Dead, I would like to focus on the following points:
* Fallen Away: how the traces of falling away from their original faith communities influenced Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader in this film
* Sacramentality and the Word
* Catholic Christian Beliefs about Resurrection
* Rose: Symbol of Innocence or Cinematic Device?
...I would like to return to the idea of religious 'after image' that Richard A. Blake, SJ takes as his theme in his 2000 book of the same title. Blake, like Robert K. Johnston in Reel Spirituality, also published last year (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids) both engage with Scorsese's and Schrader's approach to religion and film. Scorsese is a lapsed Catholic and Schrader is a fallen away Calvinist (or former Dutch Reformed). To tell you the truth, when I initially watched Bringing Out the Dead, I was intrigued by the writing and began to research Paul Schrader. I have not yet seen his autobiographical film Hardcore, but it's on my list.
After discovering something of Schrader as an individual and his religious biography I began to look at him as a collaborator with Martin Scorsese. How did these two come together, first on Taxi Driver, then The Last Temptation of Christ, and Bringing Out the Dead? Blake deals extensively with the Scorsese-Schrader partnership (and I recommend Blake's book to you) but Jim Wall summed it up well when he wrote to me:
"I think Schrader and Scorsese meshed artistically because both were raised in strict religious traditions, rebelled, but have never lost that early mark."
Craig Detweiller, a Hollywood screenwriter with evangelical roots, wrote the following to me on February 9, 2000, about the Scorsese-Schrader team:
"Shrader is certainly among the most complex writer/directors working out of a 'haunting' faith tradition.
Despite his best efforts to abandon his roots, they infuse almost every frame of his films. His UCLA film school thesis, TRANSCENDENTAL STYLE IN FILM, was an effort to understand how 'spiritual' film can be. He found Ozu, Dreyer, and Bresson as his three shining examples.
He's tried to remake Bresson films with varying degrees of success. AMERICAN GIGOLO is a retelling of Bresson's PICKPOCKET. It's amazingly spiritual and graceful despite it's slick, superficial sheen.
TAXI DRIVER is all about a trip to hell--New York City--with
all the sin and cesspool he experienced moving there. The
bloody, sacrificial ending was certainly an effort to cleanse
his (and Scorsese's) sins. They both became very dangerous,
scary addicts--Scorsese to cocaine, Schrader to alcohol (I believe).
His later work, since LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, has tried to reconcile with his past.
AFFLICTION and LIGHTSLEEPER were both strong, powerful, painful personal films, that nobody saw.
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD returned to all his themes, with the beautiful poetic ending taken from THE PIETA. Basically, it's a two hour trip through hell for one minute and moment of grace at the end."
...Scorsese and Schrader have transformed a work of non-fiction into a sleepless midnight nightmare saga of life and death, guilt and hope. How their particular points of view, experiences and ideologies color this film can be interpreted in many ways. Ultimately however, despite it's bleak, wet, lonely existence, everlasting life transcends hell and beckons us all.
We are all terminal and God is present and persistent. God will be there when we die and on the last day, we will be brought forth with all the dead, and we pray with all those who have died in the peace of Christ, including Scorsese and Schrader.
"As time went by I grew to understand that my role was less about saving lives than bearing witness. It was enough that I simply showed up" (Schrader, p. 56).
Richard Hell, "The Devil, Probably", text of talk given on 9 November 2002 at the YWCA Cine-Club in New York City prior to a screening of The Devil, Probably; reprinted on the "Robert Bresson" webpage on "Masters of Cinema" website (URL: http://www.mastersofcinema.org/bresson/Words/RichardHell_on_Bresson.html; viewed 29 June 2005):
Naturally Bresson resisted being classed as a Catholic artist in a way that pretended to explain his movies. There's an interview with Paul Schrader where Bresson gets very impatient with Calvinist Schrader's presumptions about him. But Bresson doesn't make a secret of his belief that life is made of predestination and chance.
From: Chapter 1 of: Richard J. Mouw, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport: Making Connections in Today's World, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan (2004); book excerpt posted on website: "Zondervan: ChurchSource: Equipping Church Leaders for Effective Ministry" (http://www.zondervanchurchsource.com/product.asp?ISBN=0310231973; viewed 11 July 2005):
[Catalog Description:] What do the Canons of Dordt mean to people in the Las Vegas airport--and does anyone there even care? In the movie Hardcore, a pious Calvinist elder tries unsuccessfully to explain the TULIP theology of his Dutch Reformed faith to a prostitute in the Las Vegas airport. This incongruous conversation demonstrates how Calvinism is often perceived today: irrelevant, harsh, even disrespectful...
[Excerpt, Chapter 1:] HARDCORE TULIP
I have been thinking about writing this book ever since I saw the film Hardcore. A movie with a title like that will not strike most folks as an obvious source of inspiration for some reflections on how to be a Calvinist in the twenty-first century, so I had better explain myself.
Hardcore was directed by Paul Schrader, who had graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, just before I arrived there in 1968 as a new faculty member. Even though Schrader had gone off to do graduate study in film at UCLA, he was still being talked about much on the Calvin campus--and the commentary expanded to legendary proportions during the next seventeen years I served on the faculty. Schrader's very public rebellion against his religious upbringing had already been in full swing during his undergraduate years, a pattern that had disappointed the college community. But for all of that, they monitored his successes with obvious interest, as he moved from doctoral work in film studies at UCLA into the Hollywood limelight as a screenwriter and director. You could even detect a kind of embarrassed pride in us Grand Rapids folks--and I include myself here--when some journalist would quote his comments about "the narrow-minded Dutch Calvinism" that had been such a formative influence in his youth.
We kept track of all of his movies--Taxi Driver and American Gigolo were two of his early successes--even though the content was quite racy for folks like us. But the one that created the biggest local buzz was Hardcore. Schrader filmed it in Grand Rapids, and that itself was enough to build the excitement. The film people borrowed a wellknown Christian Reformed minister's robe for the church service scene, and we all knew where the house was in which they shot the family dinner event.
I don't recommend Hardcore for people seeking spiritual edification. But there is one scene in the film that I have regularly pondered in my own theological reflections. Jake Van Dorn, a pious Calvinist elder played by George C. Scott, is sitting in the Las Vegas airport with a thoroughly pagan young woman named Niki. Jake's teenage daughter has run away to California and gotten involved in the pornography business, and he has set out to find her. His initial efforts thus far have failed, but he has managed to enlist the help of Niki, a young prostitute who knows his daughter. They have just followed a lead in Las Vegas, but having discovered that the wayward daughter is no longer there, they are moving on in their search.
CONVERSATION IN THE LAS VEGAS AIRPORT
As they are sitting in the boarding area, waiting for their plane, Niki informs Jake that she considers him to have a very negative outlook on life, and it is obviously connected, she thinks, to his religious beliefs. "What kind of church do you belong to?" she asks. "It's a Dutch Reformed denomination," he responds, "--a group that believes in TULIP." The conversation continues:
Niki: What the crap?
Jake: It's an acronym. It comes from the Canons of Dordt. Every letter stands for a different belief, like--Are you sure you want to hear this?
Niki: Yeah, yeah. Please go on. I'm a Venusian myself.
Jake: Well, T stands for "total depravity": all men through original sin are totally evil and incapable of good. All my works are as filthy rags in the sight of the Lord.
Niki: That's what the Venusians call negative moral attitudes.
Jake: Be that as it may, U stands for "unconditional election": God has chosen a certain number of people to be saved, the elect, and he's chosen them from the beginning of time. L is for "limited atonement": only a limited number of people will be atoned and go to heaven. I is for "irresistible grace": God's grace cannot be resisted or denied. And P is for the "perseverance of the saints": once you're in grace, you cannot fall from the numbers of the elect. That's it.
Niki: Before you can become saved, God already knows who you are?
Jake: Oh yes, he'd have to. That's predestination. I mean, if God is omniscient, if he already knows everything--and he wouldn't be God if he didn't--then he must have known, even before the creation of the world, the names of those who would be saved.
Niki: Well, then, it's all worked out, huh? It's fixed.
Jake: More or less.
Niki: I thought I was ****ed up.
Jake: Well, I admit it's a little confusing when you look at it from the outside. You have to try to look at it from the inside.
Let me say right off that I get the joke. Schrader is poking some fun at his tradition, and he learned his catechism lessons well. It is the obvious incongruity of the situation that makes it so funny: a puritanical Grand Rapids Dutchman solemnly summarizing the teachings of the seventeenth-century synod that met in the Dutch city of Dordrecht --often shortened to "Dordt"--to a theologically clueless, profane Valley girl.
HUMOROUS BUT DISTURBING
I see the humor--but I also find the scene very disturbing. It symbolizes a deep personal struggle for me. The beliefs that Jake describes are important to me. At the same time, though, I live as a twenty-firstcentury Calvinist in a world where Niki's way of viewing things is in the ascendancy. The struggle to connect the two ways of experiencing reality is a daily one for me. I believe that TULIP, properly understood, captures something very central to the gospel. And I want to bring that gospel to Niki and her kind. Because of that, Jake's conversationending observation that "You have to try to look at it from the inside" is not good enough for me. I want to invite people like Niki into that "inside."
Jake's way of responding to Niki exemplifies for me a typical pattern among Calvinists. We take seriously the apostle's mandate, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15). And Jake surely fulfilled the literal requirement here: the young woman asked him what he believed, and he responded with a straightforward summary of Calvinist doctrine. But in what seems to me an all-too-typical Calvinist fashion, he did not acknowledge the rest of what the apostle requires. The verse in question continues, "But do this with gentleness and respect."
While I sincerely subscribe to the TULIP doctrines, I have to admit that, when stated bluntly, they have a harsh feel about them. To articulate them "with gentleness and respect" takes some effort. Indeed, I am not convinced that summarizing the TULIP teachings is really the best approach to take in a situation like the one depicted in Hardcore. I think it would have been more effective simply to turn the young woman's question back to her, encouraging her to talk about her own spiritual interests. What about those "Venusian" convictions she referred to in her own way of viewing things?
Paul Schrader is listed on the "Famous Lutherans" pages at:
Faith Lutheran Church (LCMS), Groton, CT (http://www.faithlutherangroton.org/famous.html; viewed 11 July 2005)
"Famous Living Lutherans" webpage on the official website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) (http://www.elca.org/co/famous.lutherans.html; viewed 11 July 2005)
From: Clif' Warren, "Clif's notes: Paul Schrader's uneven 'Auto Focus'", Edmond Life & Leisure, November 21, 2002, Volume 3 Issue 24 (http://www.edmondpaper.com/detail.php?46189,3,24; viewed 11 July 2005):
When it was announced that writer/director Paul Schrader would bring the sad life story of TV's Captain Hogan - Bob Crane - to the movies the pairing appeared to be fortuitous.
After all, Crane, big time L. A. radio host and then well known star of "Hogan's Heroes (1965-1971), managed to trash his entire career by becoming a sex addict, even being murdered over his cache of sexcapades captured on video.
And hadn't Schrader, the strict Lutheran kid who grew up to be a UCLA-trained film stylist, been attracted to such edgy projects all the way back to his scripting and/or directorial stints ranging from "Taxi Driver" and Brian DePalma's "Obsession" to his own "Hardcore"and "American Gigolo"?
From: Frank Sanello, Spielberg: The Man, the Movies, the Mythology, Taylor Publishing Company: Dallas, Texas (1996), pages 65-66:
The first draft of the script [for Close Encounters of the Third Kind], which never got made, was written by Paul Schrader, the theology-obsessed writer-director of such ham-handed morality tales as Hardcore and American Gigolo.
Raised in a strict Protestant sect, Schrader wanted to graft the story of Saint Paul onto a visitors-from-outer-space story. In Schrader's version, his hero Paul Van Owen (after Saint Paul) is an Air Force officer assigned the task of disproving the existence of UFOs. Eventually, this doubting Thomas not only sees a UFO but is abducted by one and whisked away from the earth. The climactic scene re-creates the famous Biblical passage where Paul is knocked off his horse by God and only the becomes a believer. In Schrader's script, God is replaced by extraterrestrials.
The Schrader script was so off-putting, Close Encounters's producer Julia Phillips wrote in her acerbic memoir that she didn't even show it to David Begelman, then head of production at Colombia. She wrote that Begelman "has agreed not to read Schrader's first draft, called Kingdom Come, because I told him it would make him not want to make the movie. Certainly it was not a screenplay that Steven wanted to direct."
Julia Phillips... and her husband Michael... had such a good relationship with Schrader on The Taxi Driver, which Schrader wrote and they produced for Martin Scorsese, that Phillips felt he would be perfect for Close Encounters. Schrader explained their reasoning, which turned out to be way off base: "They felt that my sensibility, being extremely Germanic and moralistic, was the proper counterpoint to Steve's sensibility," Schrader said.
In fact, Spielberg hated the script, finding Schrader's injection of Calvinist theology laughable in what the director basically envisioned as an A-budget B-movie. The usually diplomatic director even was quoted as describing Schrader's effort as "one of the most embarrassing screenplays ever professionally turned into a major studio or director. Actually, it was fortunate that Paul went so far away on his own tangent, a terribly guilt-ridden story, not about UFOs at all, it was more about the Church and the State..."
The departure ponit for Schrader's script was a short story called "Experiences," written in 1970 by Spielberg when he was still a television director. Spielberg's concept was to combine a UFO encounter and a massive Watergate-style cover-up of the sighting. Schrader must have found some comfort in the fact that he did convince Spielberg to junk the Watergate cover-up plot and focus more on the mystical encounter with the spaceship. "The only thing I deserve a credit for is changing Steve's mind about doing the film as a UFO Watergate. I thought it ought to be about a spiritual encounter. That idea stayed and germinated," Schrader told author Tony Crowley in 1983.
Phillips also credited Schrader with creating the Dreyfuss character. However, Spielberg had otherwise so thoroughly rejected Schrader's script that the writer didn't even protest... when his name was left off the "screenplay by" or "story by" credits.
Spielberg received solo writing credit on the film, and his version bore no resemblance to Schrader's theological gobbledygook.
From: Pastor Wurdeman, "Easter - What's It All About" in April 2004 Newsletter of Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church (The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod), Zionsville, Indiana (http://www.adventlutheran.org/newslet/anl04-04.htm; viewed 11 July 2005):
Is Easter all about faith? Or is Easter all about doctrine? The question came to me when I read an article about how Paul Schrader, writer of The Last Temptation of Christ, was working on a film in Rome in the studio next to the one where Mel Gibson was shooting The Passion of the Christ. Schrader would stop by to talk with Gibson about his work.
The two films share the same subject matter, but took approaches almost as vastly different as one could imagine. Schrader emphasized that he considered Jesus "a metaphor" in the struggle to find God. He was not above showing his Jesus engaged in a sexual fantasy with Mary Magdalene that most Christians found blasphemous.
Mel Gibson, on the other hand, took a different approach. As many of you know from watching the movie, he demonstrated a high regard for the Biblical texts and presented Christ's work of humiliation in all its gory detail because of his desire that people see the extent of both the cost of their sins and the depth of God's love.
The distinction Schrader drew between the two filmmakers is that, in his words, he is "doctrine-driven," while Gibson is "faith-driven." We might well quibble with his evaluation of both his own faith and that of Gibson, but it is an interesting juxtaposition, and even more interesting as we consider the Gospel's accounts of Jesus' miraculous return to life. Is Easter "doctrine-driven" or "faith-driven?" Is Easter about knowing the proper theological terms for describing what happened to Jesus? Is it about being able to investigate other historical sources and proving the veracity of the Bible? Or is it about simply closing our eyes and ears to the critics and being willing to be a child who believes that Jesus rose simply because our parents and Sunday school teachers told us so?
I would submit that Easter is neither. Or, perhaps better, both.
From: Les Keyser, Martin Scorsese, Twayne Publishers: New York (1992), page 70:
...the existential dimension was never eliminated from the film. In fact, one of the few scenes written for Taxi Driver during its production provides the most heavy-handed example of European existentialism in the film. As it happened, Peter Boyle, the ex-Christian Brother who plays Wizard, an elder statesman cab driver whom Travis turns to for advice, had been part of the rat pack in the Phillipses' salon One afternoon he mesmerized the sandal set with an improvisation as Jesus Christ, the standup comedian in a tawdry Las Vegas piano bar. [Paul] Schrader and [Martin] Scorsese, two altar boys at heart, never forgot this semi-blasphemous display and wanted Boyle to work on Taxi Driver. Boyle chaffed at Wizard's limited lines, however, so Schrader wrote a new shtick especially for Boyle, a cut-rate philosophical rap positing that existence precedes essence.
Keyser, pages 121-122:
The title cards with which Scorsese chooses to end Raging Bull suggest that he did not feel equivocal about La Motta's salvation. The original script ended with images of Jake shadowboxing, a description of Jake as "still alive, still a condender, a forty-two year old man fighting for a shot," and a citation from St. John's Gospel, chapter 3, beginning with verse 3: "Verily, verily I saw unto thee except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." By the time Raging Bull was completed, Scorsese decided to change the citation to later lines in St. John's Gospel, chapter 9, beginning with verse 24: "So, for the second time, the Pharisees summoned the man who had been blind and said: 'Speak the truth before God, We know this fellow is a sinner.' Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know,' the man replied. 'All I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see'."
Scorsese was totally responsible for the new text. His collaborator [screenwriter] Paul Schrader maintains that it does not fit the film: "I had no idea it was going to be there, and when I saw it I was absolutely baffled. I don't think it's true of La Motta either in real life or in the movie; I think he's the same dumb lug at the end as at the beginning, and I think Marty is just imposing salvation on his subject by fiat. I've never really got from him a terribly credible reason for why he did it; he just seemed to feel that it was right" (Schrader 1990, 133).
In this new "now I can see" citation, Scorsese was commemorating Jakes' new understanding and peace, but as his title card went on to note, he was also "Remembering Haig P. Manoogian, teacher, May 23, 1916-May 26, 1980, with love and resolution, Marty." Those who knew Manoogian would recall that he challenged all his New Yyork University students to see and linked the idea of seeing with the essence of art and religion. As a headnote, for example, to his text The Filmmaker's Art, Scorsese's mentor had cited the Victorian critic John Ruskin: "The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plan way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, all in one" (Manoogian, vii). Scorsese found poetry, prophecy, and religion in La Motta's life and struggled in Raging Bull to make audiences share his vision.
Keyser, pages 142-143:
Paul Schrader, unlike [Robert] De Niro, found himself more committed to Last Temptation with each revision of the script. Schrader and Scorsese saw this version of Christ's life as the culmination of their trilogy of works together; falst saints like Travis Bickle and mystic heroes like Jake La Motta, they were sure, pointed the treacherous path to Golgotha...
Like Pasolini, Schrader focuses on the literal level of Christ's miracles. His drafts for Last Temptation contains one overpowering scene of Christ and his sacred heart, a motif much adored by pious and evangelical Catholics. As envisioned by Schrader, his Christ "reaches into his chest and pulls out his own bloody heart. He offers it at arm's length to his disciples..." (Schrader 1982, 45). The blood symbolism prepare saudiences for Schrader's literal presentation of the transubstantiation of Christ's body and blood at the Last Supper. In Schrader's conception the Eucharistic Offering was physically real. Christ offers his apostles actual flesh and blood in Schrader's version of the first Communion: "As they do [eat the bread], the bread and wine transubstantiate into flesh and blood in their mouths. Peter is the first to cough up the bloody flesh. The others, sickened, follow. They wipe their bloody mouths" (Schrader 1982, 73). Agape here is as real as it is symbolic; charity and the body of Christ are commingled.
Keyser, page 176-177:
In The Last Temptation of Christ Scorsese echoes traditional Christian dogma as he develops the themes of incarnation, atonement, and redemption. Scorsese, however, explores the concept of Christ's humanity more fully than most Christians, trying to fathom the essence of incarnation and to explore the psychological and theological implications of a deity made flesh, of a God in a man's body. These qustions of Christ's humanity and divinity, screenwriter Schrader declares, cut to the heart of Christianity and haunted the early church: "The two major heresies which emerged in the early Christian Church were the Arian heresy, from Arius, which essentially said that Jesus was a man who pretended to be God [ed: This is a completely inaccurate description of Arianism, which was, in fact, only considered a heresy by Athanasians who disagreed with it], and the other was the Docetan heresy, which said Jesus was really a God who, like a very clever actor, pretended to be a man. . . . The Last Temptation of Christ may err on the side of Arianism, but it does little to counteract the 2,000 years of erring on the other side, and it was pleasant to see this debate from the early Church splashed all over the front pages" (Schrader 1990, 139).
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