Hail Caesar: A Tale of the Christ

hail caesar 3

2016; Coen Brothers; Josh Brolin, George Clooney; PG-13     IMDB Page

Beatrice Gamgee Writes: I’ve seen this movie reviewed in oddly different ways. As far as I can tell, it works if you can give it an uncynical viewing (and see it through until the end!), but if you try to read other things into it, you might not finish it. 😉

The movie is about Hollywood of the 1950s. Eddie Mannix (based on a real-life character) has a tough job at the studio holding together a cast of characters starring in various movies who are always getting themselves (and potentially the studio) into all sorts of trouble. With great artistry and a dry sense of humor, the story pokes fun at these various characters (and through them humanity in general) and their petty quirks and problems.

The main movie being produced during the story is an epic story of Christ that looks an awful lot like Ben Hur. The movie studio is anxious to not offend anyone’s religious sensibilities (which leads to a very witty conversation between Eddie Mannix and a group of religious leaders – a Catholic priest, an Orthodox priest, a Protestant minister and a Jewish Rabbi). Its production is unexpectedly halted by the disappearance of the main star, who has his own set of dramatic and intellectual adventures.

The story climaxes with a beautiful scene from the Ben Hur-like movie which is shown to impact not just the characters within that film, but also those involved in its production.

It’s a quirky movie – very different from anything else I’ve ever seen, but we really enjoyed it.

George Xavier writes: In his Pensees Paschal writes, “Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.”

As a self-proclaimed connoisseur and philosophizer of the art of storytelling in general, I have an ever-growing appreciation of stories which present, wrestle with and don’t necessarily try to answer an honest picture of the bizarre mess that is human nature and its fascinating juxtaposition of “greatness and wretchedness”.

Many stories have done this well, few have done it so nearly explicitly as Hail Caesar. It makes sense. It’s a story about artists, very messed up and often pretty stupid, who nevertheless produce beautiful and inspiring things. There’s a lot going on in Hail Caesar, a lot to be commented on, wrestled with, laughed at, etc. but the thing I found most striking on my first viewing was this commentary on human nature and beauty. (Ha, surprise! Of course I noticed the beauty part!) The juxtaposition of man’s messiness and the greatness he can aspire to, but also the worth of beauty at all.

The story is a day in the life of Eddie Mannix, whose unenviable job is to keep the ever-present scandals of Hollywood under control. One of the many sub-plots is a new job offer: a job that is of use in “the real world” and, so to speak, looks down its nose at this world of make-believe. And yet, throughout, you see this world of make-believe as half laughable, half deeply worthwhile. The movie doesn’t try to explicitly answer the questions that these themes raise, but rather leaves you to think them through on your own (which is usually the case in a good story).

The penultimate scene, however, *spoiler alert… of sorts* in light of this is especially tantalizing, tying off the Paschal theme quite nicely. The main actor of the sub-plot Hail Caesar (who has more and more proven himself to be a total idiot) delivers the climactic speech of the sub-movie. It’s a powerful monologue and even the crew, presumably very used to dramatic speeches, is visibly moved. The music swells, the words are glorious, and then the actor chokes. He forgets the concluding and climactic word, the atmosphere of the scene vanishes and we, the audience, dissolve into laughter. Our laughter, however, doesn’t negate the greatness of the speech before and… the word he forgot was “faith”. This concluding instance of the juxtaposition of absurdity and profundity running throughout, is caused by the absence of faith. Might sound oddly specific, but honestly, it seems kind of intentional (at least given, that most everything else about the movie seems very intentional) and seals Paschal’s quote as the best summary of my opinion of this hilarious, bizarre and ultimately thought-provoking story.

Aurora Parker Writes: There is no denying that this is a very weird and messy movie, but it also has unexpected goodness and truth in it. On the whole I thought it was a good movie.

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