Christ as the Epitome of Psychological Normalcy

Christ as a psychologically healthy human being amidst a social environment of militant super-human pretensions (dogmatic/organized religion and secular political power)

Rossellini’s Christ personifies the destiny of modesty and disinterestedness in a world of feverish fight for power, wealth and social influence (which today, according to Rossellini, is basically the same as it was twenty centuries ago).

Christ’s last meal before the final ordeal. The readers are invited to determine where Christ is located in this shot and why is he represented like this.


Rossellini’s film represents a new democratic tradition of perceiving Christ without the dogmatic overload that has for centuries been accumulating on Christ’s shoulders. “The Messiah” joins with honor such exceptional achievements as Luis Bunuel’s “Nazarin” (1957) and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to Saint Mathew” (1963). If in Bunuel human being (Father Nazario) unintentionally repeats the existential logic of Christ’s way toward crucifixion as ultimate spiritual ordeal, if in Pasolini Christ is a popular leader and a teacher of truth and wisdom because he is moved by spiritual passion, in Rossellini Christ is a human being inspired by moral decency and oriented on empirical truth and refined common sense. With his exceptional – not distorted, not crumbled and for that matter not megalomaniacally inflated (through psychological compensation) human nature, Christ helps us to see that those who claim to either spiritual competence (Judaist religious leaders) or pragmatic wisdom (Pontius Pilatus) are in reality not just keepers and carriers of power and representatives of status quo, but are alienated from human normality and moral commonsense and are rather the personifications of extreme, marginal, morbid and maniacal condition, a kind of (grotesque) caricatures of human being.

We, Americans today, while observing in Rossellini’s film behavior of keepers of spiritual power over the Jewish population (who in frenzy demanded Christ’s death because of fear of losing their authority and social positions as a result of popular mutiny), and Pontius Pilatus with his pragmatically “liberal” rule (he yielded to the Judaist clergy’s demand while he himself was recommending for Christ only public flagellation), easily recognize in their political relations, the co-existence of the right-wing conservatives and the “pragmatic” liberal democrats in US today! American neo-conservative politicians are the new incarnation of the Pharisees of Christ’s times, while liberal politicians are Pontius Pilatus of the 21st century.

Rossellini’s Christ is a measure of psychological health of being modest and decent human being. When we see that the very appearance of Christ in a particular moment of history was preceded by the wave of popular longing for change, we again cannot refrain from noticing how similar the discrepancy between the official values and norms and the real human need for socio-cultural change is in US today. After two invented wars, multiple financial collapses created by the rich moneypulators for which the poor are forced to pay, and after openly expressed contempt for the population on the part of rich one percent and the neo-conservative leaders we find ourselves in the same situation as the majority of the people were in times of Christ.

The need for a Messiah figure and the appearance of a Messiah, according to the logic of Rossellini’s images, is an event that took place instead of socio-cultural change, it is a result of impossibility of the change and it can lead only to change in systems of beliefs, not in the norms of real life.

Rossellini’s Christ eats, works together with his disciples (even puts with them fishing nets) and instead of preaching, just briefly answers questions or makes a points in connection with someone else’s remarks. He became enflamed only after John the Baptist was murdered and only then starts to preach the truth about the injustices which the rich and the powerful minority inflicts on the population. He is rarely “excited”, he never gives himself to a rhetorical pathos, and only something in his gaze, a certain disarming straightness and innocence by choice, not by naiveté, connects him with Christ known in history. Rossellini emphasizes the contrast between him and John the Baptist – John is a rebel, he has a justified fury against the “deciders”, but Christ is modest, he, in his own eyes is just human, nothing else.

When at the end of the film, we see that Christ’s body has disappeared, and Mary falls to her knees and starts to pray – in that very moment existential Christianity ends and Christianity as a cult is born. Rossellini shows how in conjunction with Mary’s pray the theological sky appears with a new power, and that’s not a victory, it is rather a defeat of a psychologically healthy – existential Christianity. As soon as human condition is such as Rossellini shows it: when rich and powerful are in charge of life, Christ’s place is only above the sky and what is left on earth can only be hope instead of life.

Extraordinariness of Christ according to Rossellini is in his honesty, humanity, simplicity, and courage not to defend himself even when Pontius Pilatus mercifully gives him the chance to lie to avoid his destiny. Christ doesn’t want to cheat by trying to avoid punishment by death; he continues to be straight and simple in his answers (without any calculations). He lets reality to unfold according to its vicious logic. He marked torturers and murderers as they are. It is His, the innocent one’s ability not to play the card of innocence trying to save his life, makes him, according to Rossellini, god’s son.

Today Rossellini’s “The Messiah” joins “Occupy Wall Street” protest movement in many cities inside US and around the world.

Posted on Dec 11 2014 –   “The Messiah” (1975) by Roberto Rossellini  by Acting-Out Politics