Thursday, July 19, 2007


BARABBAS (1962, Richard Fleischer, Christopher Fry screenplay from Par Lagerkvist novel)

Where the other New Testament epics are based on best-selling religious pot-boilers (which I happen to like just fine, thank you very much), this one's got real literary cred: the 1951 Swedish novel bagged a Nobel Prize, and the screenwriting team included celebrated playwright Christopher Fry, shining light of the verse drama movement that put Christianity centre stage in Britain for a decade or two. BARABBAS doesn't aim to be as straight-forward devotional as as its para-Gospel siblings, for all their adventure movie ethos: here our title character, the criminal Pilate freed instead of Christ, is a bit of a brute, and we're not sure he ever quite figures out whether or not Jesus is God. Fry describes Barabbas as caught in "a battering conflict between his conscience and his passions, between half-belief and doubt, in which Barabbas becomes almost the archetype of modern man, with his groping for some meaning in life, with his perpetual questioning; and alternations between hope and despair." Fry's desire "to translate the bare, brooding atmosphere of the novel into film terms" is best realized in the remarkable crucifixion scene. Producer Dino De Laurentiis insisted it be filmed six weeks ahead of the scheduled start of production to take advantage of a total eclipse of the sun. ("Ready when you are, Dino!")



Peter T Chattaway said...

The funny thing is, there is no way the darkened sun at Christ's crucifixion could have been a mere eclipse, since Christ was crucified at Passover, which always coincides with the full moon! An eclipse must, of necessity, take place when the moon has turned its dark side towards the earth -- but Christ was crucified when the moon was at its brightest.

Ron Reed said...

Fascinating. That definitely adds a layer to the significance of the original event.

But of course, who could resist filming a scene where the sun went miraculously dark on one of those rare occasions when it goes naturally dark: I'm sure it was an eerie feeling on set that day!