Jim Carroll’s Black Easter carefully set its store in the opening sequence. To the accompaniment of a bombastic orchestral score, baroque gold credits appear on screen – the first reading “Jason Castro as Jesus” – over the incongruously anachronistic image of a red car speeding along a road. “Stop, wait, time out, says protagonist Ram Goldstein (Morgan Roberts) in voice-over, and the image freezes and rapidly rewinds. After some introductory exposition from Ram, we cut to the Garden of Gethsemane in 33AD, where a kill squad – led by decorated war hero and grieving family man Brandt (Donny Boaz) – appears and shoots Jesus and his disciples dead. Sure enough, this is to be a madcap blend of time-travel sci-fi and postmodern passion play, as young, non-believing, surprisingly ripped science prodigy Ram must race through time to rewind the clock on a modern terrorist plot (led by Muslim extremists, although Ram expressly assures us that not all Muslims are extremists) to assassinate Jesus before the Crucifixion and Resurrection can take place – and this struggle for the very existence, let alone future, of Christianity will focus itself on one man’s reclamation of lost faith, and another’s discovery of forgiveness.
As its very title suggests, religion is heavily foregrounded in Black Easter. For while the film comes coded with the tropes of technologically driven speculative fiction, Carroll is not, as one might at first suspect, rationalising Biblical miracles as some sort of science-driven intervention from the future, but reinforcing the idea that Jesus was both historical figure and divine scion with God-given powers of his own. Not least amongst these, as numerous characters point out, is his paradoxical ability to communicate in the English language many centuries before the language existed or had travelled to the Middle East. Nonetheless, the terrorist leader Ahmed (Gerardo Davila) and his men (including the compromised Brandt) on the one hand, and Ram and his colleagues Amy (Ilsa Levine), Simon (Lamar Usher) and Felix (Cesar D’ La Torre) on the other, will all leave their retroactive imprint on the Greatest Story Ever Told, even as their present-day conflicts restage the most ancient of struggles. It is a peculiar dynamic, as daft action adventure serves as a palimpsest for The Greatest Story Ever Told™, with neither quite reading as expected.
Upon meeting Jesus, Simon warns that when he watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) ‘on bootleg’, he had to switch it off before the end because it was too gruesome. “I know what is going to happen to me,” Jesus replies, “and if you had finished my movie, you would know that I’ll be back.” “‘I’ll be back?'”, responds Simon, “That ain’t even your movie.” Yet the truth is that Black Easter has a lot in common with the Terminator films – which also, after all, feature characters travelling back in time to prevent the killing of a saviour figure (with the initials J.C.), and are similarly filled with acts of redemption and self-sacrifice. The difference is that the Christian ideology which was the subtext of James Cameron’s films is here placed front and centre. For Carroll’s film takes a circling whistle-stop tour of key scenes and locations from the end of the Gospels while reinscribing them with some twenty-first century perspectives. In a markedly progressive take on religion, here Christianity’s most sacred texts are not fixed, but flexible and always open to being rewritten to match the sensibilities of the present. As everyone here grapples in different ways with the Problem of Evil, Ram’s pursuit of scientific solutions to the world’s ills runs alongside the mysterious ways in which the Lord moves. A late suggestion in the film that all these events have been set up as a super-complicated test of Brandt’s faith involves the troubling implication that one man’s salvation justifies the death of many in various timelines – unless we are to suppose that they too can be saved by Ram’s subsequent time-travelling revisions, as he works in tandem with the divine will to create the best of all possible worlds.
If the characters keep leaping through space and time, the tone of Black Easter is similarly all over the place, with Ram’s goofy voice-over framing all manner of trauma and murder. These characters can, like Jesus, die and be born again – but only because they exist in a multiverse of parallel worlds. So here we find action thrills set alongside theological conundrums, and in the end it is the viewer who must suspend all disbelief and take the leap of faith required to accept the film’s more or less benign view of the world through a Christian, if unorthodox, lens. Black Easter presents a battle between good and evil that is eternal, even timeless – but it is also, for the non-Christian viewer, a cheesy, utterly bonkers dash down the wilder byroads of genre and through the kitschier aspects of faith. There is nothing quite like it.
Strap: Jim Carroll’s time-travelling adventure sends an unbelieving geek on a mission to save Jesus from terrorist assassination.
© Anton Bitel