Ever since I was introduced to Jesus of Montreal in a beginner's French class at college, I have been an avid fan of the movie. There is something poignant and touching in the whole story and its delivery.
The movie works on various levels. It is definitely a critique of crystallized conservative (not to mention stagnant) authorities that refuse to accept any change whatsoever to their established doctrines. In the movie, the Passion play was modernized and made upbeat with inclusion of the most recent findings of scholars on the enigmatic persona called Jesus of Nazareth.
This actualized play revived a mounting interest both in the man and the religion, but the Church authorities in the movie would rather have the play canceled and return to its overacted and pretentious traditional version. In this case, the actor who plays Jesus in the movie, a well-meaning individual on the quest for truth, is in conflict with the same forces that Jesus had to deal with over 2000 years ago; Jesus himself wanted to “modernize” the established cold laws and doctrines and infuse them with love and compassion and was criticized and put to death for it.
On another level, this movie also presents a criticism on the fake, harmful and sex-obsessed modern world of advertising. This had its climax when the actor portraying Jesus in the staged play turned over the tables and destroyed all the cameras to protect his fellow actress / model from exposing herself to this greedy and inhuman jury of so-called critics during the audition. Of course, there is a deliberate parallel with Jesus attacking the money-lenders in church.
What impressed me most about the movie is that a young talented actor who is offered the role of Jesus would become so immersed in researching and “updating” the portrayal of his “character” that willy-nilly he gets dragged into the same fate.
It is a kind of playing with fire by touching the higher powers and gradually being sucked into the same destiny. The most moving scene must be towards the end when he has sustained a hit on the head and is confused with reality and believes to be actually Jesus incarnate warning bystanders of impending doom.
According to one of the actors, staging a tragedy is a sign of bad luck and, in fact, everything does result in disaster. The motions that had taken place with Jesus remain the same and lead to its own lethal demise. The resistance of the clergy is embodied in the priest and his supervisors who frown upon the new version of the play which inadvertently results in the principal actor's death caused by an accidental fall of the cross!
The movie, in my point of view, shows how things have not really changed, and if Jesus returned, he would unfortunately have to encounter the same destiny as before. We would crucify him again because we have not really changed that much within and without.
In addition, Jesus of Montreal also makes an interesting statement about following into the footsteps of Christ. This resounds with another controversial work, The Last Temptation of Christ, where Jesus by being attributed more human characteristics becomes somewhat closer to us.
At least then, we can attempt to emulate him and strive towards a higher state of being instead of meekly and with heads turned to the ground be drilled the teachings and rules of Christ. In my view, Jesus would rather have us follow in his footsteps, like Buddha, than someone who just outwardly and blindly sticks to the rules but inwardly is selfish, like the Pharisee, who observed the rules but was inferior to the modest tax collector in one of the parables of Jesus.