The irony of going to the Coen Brothers’ movie Hail, Caesar! was that it was preceded by a trailer for a “religious” film coming out by Easter, Risen. The religiously-motivate Risen is about a Roman soldier, at the time of Christ, coming to terms with who Jesus is. I have been sorely disappointed with recent religiously-motivated movies. I tend to find “ordinary” movies present more spiritual insights. And Hail, Caesar! is one of those. Hail, Caesar! is a movie about the making of a movie in the 1950’s. The film-within-a-film is also called Hail, Caesar!, subtitled “A Tale of the Christ”. The film-within-a-film (now you see the irony) is about a Roman soldier, at the time of Christ, coming to terms with who Jesus is.
I think Hail, Caesar! succeeds in the wonderful, classic Coen Brothers’ style.
I do not want to present too many spoilers. There is a wonderful scene where Christian clergy and a Jewish rabbi are brought in to consult about how Jesus ought to be presented in the “A Tale of the Christ” film. Their discussion is a Christology course in five minutes.
In examining pieces of the movie shot so far, headings are given of what is intended to be put into this gap. “DIVINE PRESENCE TO BE SHOT” is one of those. Following this, Jesus’ face is never seen. At the end of the credits to the Coen Brothers’ movie is the disclaimer: “This motion picture contains no visual depiction of the godhead.”
In the filming, of the film-within-a-film, the actor for Jesus on the cross is approached for a breakfast order. “Principals” and “extras” receive different breakfasts. The actor playing Jesus is asked if he is a “principal” or an “extra”.
The soliloquy of the Roman soldier in relation to Jesus, and the reaction of those watching, is a classic.
This is a passion play – yes, the film-within-a-film is, in classical 1050s form, but the framing Coen Brothers’ movie also is. It is about (the historical person) Eddie Mannix. If you know anything (or check up on anything) about Eddie Mannix – this film does an Eddie Mannix to Eddie Mannix (he was well known for being able to alter the way historical events were perceived). The film begins with a shot of a crucifix. Eddie Mannix is a devout Roman Catholic with deep scruples. He is the Man of Sorrows, the saviour of the (movie) world.
All is presented, as I have said, Coen Brothers’ style – serious in humour wrapped in serious wrapped in humour. If religion has no space for humour in your life, this film may not be for you. If you find wisdom in jokes, and humour in wisdom, then this may be the best religious non-religious film you see at this time of the Church’s Year.