Saturday, October 19

Apocalypse of St John, the Movie

Recently Reconciler had a viewing of the Apocalypse of St. John.  A movie released on Italian television several years ago.  The movie places the Revelation of John into historical context of the reign of the Emperor Domitian.

   Some of the history seemed a little off to my recollection of study of early christian history and late ancient Roman, the main instance was depicting "Christian" villages being massacred by the Romans under the reign of Domitian,  Also the acting wasn't always the greatest, and there was the requisite heterosexual love that made no real connection with any other aspect of the story line of the movie, which was a little distracting and a bit cheesy.  Yet for all that I found the movie touching and compelling.

The character of John the Apostle was well rounded with depth, and there was an interesting psychological interpretation of John, that he suffered PTSD from the events of the crucifixion of Jesus.  I don't know what evidence there is or isn't for such a psychological interpretation but it struck me as plausible, and gave an added dimension to the significance of John's visions recorded for us in revelation.  The visions as depicted in the film are revealed to John as much for his own faith and peace of mind as it was for the churches in Asia Minor to whom he wrote.

The film interweaves John's visions with depictions of life on the prison Isle of Patmos where John is in exile,, depictions of Christians in and around Ephesus, and Roman army and government under Domitian (which takes the more negative view of Domitian found in the sources that wrote after his assassination.)  What this does is show how the visions are a means to interpret life, not so much predict a future.  Domitian is subtly identified as the anti-Christ and beast by not showing these visions of the beast but showing Domitian declaring himself a god. (the perhaps more historical reality is that he revived the imperial cult and declared his relatives gods upon their deaths, still the imperial cult would have been something Christians would have refused to participate in, and the revival of it would have caught them in the consequences of refusal of participation.)  By placing the visions in an historical fiction about Christians in Ephesus and John's life of exile on Patmos, the film shows how the visions of John are a means to interpret life and history, from the perspective of Christ's victory over death through his life, death, resurrection and ascension.

It is this vision and interpretation of life that gives John the ability to love others, even love at risk to his own life.  Without this vision and interpretive framework, the unveiling of the meaning of history through the lens of Jesus Christ, mere belief in an historical person of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings is shaky ground for resistance to the autocratic and totalitarian tendencies in the Roman Empire under the emperor Domitian.

The Apocalypse of St. John, of course, is itself an interpretation, and has all the trappings of a Hollywood epic biblical film, though executed on a TV budget.  However, it does provide a radically different view of the book of Revelation of John, then found in popular Christianity in America, especially associated with the Left Behind series of books and movies.   It is also closer to how most many Christians have interpreted revelation in the past and continue to interpret it.