Sunday, March 20, 2016

Movie Review: He Who Must Die

A Greek Passion for Easter

By Bob Boldt

I hope this thumbnail review will pique your interest in a nearly forgotten film by one of the great directors of the 20th Century.
    If Christ, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were to return to earth, it is of little doubt that it would be necessary to kill him again. I am convinced that our own beloved leaders would be the ones to drive the first nail.

    I will not live to see the end of this brave attempt by noble, authentic souls to unseat the Bush / Obama / Clinton Neocon Empire. With the election looming, Chris Hedges wrote a compelling article in favor of bringing the whole stinking edifice down [“America’s Electoral Farce,” Truthdig, June 16, 2015].
    And if I find trouble with the present electoral choices we face, imagine the uncommitted and disenfranchised voters!

I feel like a character in the last scene of the 1957 Jules Dassin film, He Who Must Die, based on the 1954 novel The Greek Passion, by Nikos Kazantzakis. The director is better known for two of his other films, Never on Sunday and Zorba the Greek.
    The story is set in 1920s Greece under Turkish occupation. As the Easter season nears, members of the community are chosen to play the roles of key New Testament characters. As the film progresses, the initially reluctant characters gradually become more and more drawn into the essential Biblical actors of the drama.

    The real conflict develops when a group of dispossessed neighboring people arrive in their village after having been ravaged by the Turkish authorities for “revolutionary activity.” They are starving and the wealthy, influential pillars of the community refuse to give them food and shelter out of fear of bringing the Turkish authorities down upon their heads. So begins this inspiring, revolutionary film by Jules Dissan.
    In contemporary life, where the struggles of power vie for our souls, I am constantly reminded of the passion that this film embodies. He Who Must Die has become the quintessential metaphor for our spiritual unfolding in the modern world.
    The final scene before the massacre epitomize the existential dilemma of our lives: the fight for freedom and authenticity that too often puts us at odds with the practical accommodations of our community and the laws enforced by our rulers. This battle on behalf of humanity often results in rout, and yet we fight on with a fulfilled heart, the love of our comrades in arms, and a belief in justice in spite of defeat and death. Chris Hedges said it best: “We fight fascism not because we will win but because it is right.”
    Jules Dassin was blacklisted by Joe McCarthy because he was willing to stand for his values. This film is perhaps his greatest acknowledgment of this struggle. Nikos Kazanzakis himself summed it up: “I fear nothing. I hope for nothing. I am free!”

Copyright © 2016 by Bob Boldt

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