For over a century the moving picture has been a medium ripe for propagation or exploration of the story of Christ. Since the first wave hit screens in the late 1890s and early 1900s, the list of so-called “Jesus films” has come to number in the dozens. Given that Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2016 Hail, Caesar! sets itself up as a reprisal of such films, the question is how to interpret it. To explore this, interpretation of the film is framed by consideration of the Coen brothers' attention to religious themes, is set against the backdrop of the second wave of American Jesus films in the 1950s and 60s with which they appear to be interacting, and is informed by central themes from Deitrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison. Given the perennially beguiling nature of Bonhoeffer's posthumously published Letters—especially as it relates to their cultural-theological diagnoses of the modern "world come of age"—this article aims not only to open up a particular way of viewing the Coen brother's film, but also to open up a way of understanding Bonhoeffer's own intriguing suggestions. Given the lack of actual "Jesus scenes" in the Coen's alleged "Tale of the Christ," it will be seen how Bonhoeffer's observations about "secular methodism", "religionless Christianity", and "arcane discipline" offer a way of noticing how the miniature Jesus film within the Coen film actually manages to pervade the whole of it. In the process, Hail, Caesar! is seen to offer a challenge to the typical Christian use of media, even as it offers up three characters for consideration as possible Christ-figures.
"Hail, Caesar! A Jesus Film in Search of a Christ Figure,"
Journal of Religion & Film: Vol. 24:
1, Article 57.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol24/iss1/57