I would rate the film overall as decent, but a few of its scenes are truly superb and manage to transcend the work, cinematically, dramatically, and thematically. The “day without death” scene near the end of the film is an excellent example of such a scene.
Direct, personal contact and communication
I thought the scene presents a powerful and memorable reminder of Jesus’s nature, and that contact and communication with Christ (or the Holy Ghost) happens on a personal, subjective level. It is contact and communication between Beings, not objects, things, or abstractions.
Speaking the heart
Upon hearing Clavius’s confession that he doesn’t even know what to ask, Jesus suggests the Roman Tribune “speak from his heart.” Jesus is uninterested in mining Clavius’s intellect and gently urges the Roman to tap a deeper, more authentic, direct form of knowing that extends beyond and challenges Clavius’s assumptions. At some level, I can’t help but feel that the scene somewhat unconsciously touches upon the necessity of what Bruce Charlton frequently refers to as “heart-thinking”.
Reconciling Christ with the known external world, death, and entropy
In response to Jesus’s request, Clavius admits that he “cannot reconcile all of this with the world he knows”, touching upon the spiritual problem of accommodating the gift Jesus offers with a natural, external world of death and entropy. Clavius’s “privilege” of having witnessed Jesus die on the cross and return to life is not enough to convince the Tribune of the truth he has experienced. Jesus addresses Clavius’s doubt as an eyewitness by asking him to imagine the doubt of those “who will never see”, revealing that what Jesus offers cannot be and is not contingent upon external factors. The commitment to believe on Jesus cannot and does not depend on empiricism, system, or theory.
Clavius divulges that what frightens him most is being wrong and betting all eternity on it, which reveals the essence of a deep and ingrained existential fear. Clavius is not a cowardly and fearful man. His position as a Roman Tribune requires that he constantly risk his life for the benefit of the empire. Yet his courage and stoicism veil a fatigued man burdened by the existential problem of death. Jesus’s only response to Clavius is “know Him”, which entails Clavius accepting the gift Jesus offers.
Sin and death
Clavius discloses that he was present at Jesus’s death. Not only that but he was directly involved in the execution. His pagan mind acknowledges and repents the nature of the transgression he has committed. Jesus responds by simply saying that He “knows.” He then proceeds to lay His hand on Clavius’s shoulder before asking the Roman Tribune what he seeks. When Clavius remains silent, Jesus quickly lists off two possibilities – certainty and peace – but the third, a day without death, penetrates. Clavius nods silently in agreement, reclines a little, and raises his eyes toward the night sky.
In my opinion, this part of the scene aligns well with the Fourth Gospel’s message of the deepest meaning of sin as death, not transgression, a meaning Bruce Charlton frequently addresses on his Notions blog:
And sin itself is - in its deepest meaning - death (including that which conduces Men to choose death). That is, death as understood as the severance of the (eternal) soul from the (dead) body; with consequent loss of our agency, our consciousness of our-selves - so that we would become witless, demented, discarnate 'ghosts'. When Jesus offered the possibility of saving Men from 'sin' - it was this condition from which he was saving Men.
Jesus offers Clavius –a Roman Tribune whose vocation and experience of life is mired in death – the possibility of being saved from death, despite the Tribune’s life of violence and many “transgression” sins, confirming the reality that Jesus’s offer of salvation is open to anyone and accessible to anyone in any era provided they want it.
I could go on, but I have addressed what I found to be the most significant “themes” the scene addresses. On a side note, what made the scene powerful in my mind was its depiction of the meeting between Clavius and Jesus mirrors how I often conceptualize meeting Jesus after death.
From that perspective, the scene offers a potential exercise in creative spiritual thinking:
Sit down and allow Christ to go over the following:
- Speak your heart.
- Still, you doubt?
- What frightens you?
- Know him.
- I know your “sins.”
- What is it you seek?