If you’ve heard anything about the movie Hamlet 2, it’s probably the ridiculously chipper chords of “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus,” the key number in the titular high-school-musical-within-a-movie. The song, usually taken out of context, has drawn the ire of Christians and earned the film the coveted “abhorrent” rating from the previously discussed MovieGuide.org.
Is the song—and, by extension, the film—actually blasphemy? Short answer: I don’t think so. Nevertheless, as the chorus constantly loops through my head, I’m still trying to keep myself from singing it.
To understand the song, you have to know the context, both the context of the film and the context of the groups of people the film is skewering (Christians are actually some of the least frequent targets of the movie’s barbs).
Here’s the film context: Dana Marschz (played by Steve Coogan, a comedian who is to the Brits something like what Steve Carell is to Americans) is a sad fool of a high school drama teacher who decides to write a sequel to Hamlet. “A sequel to Hamlet,” you say? “But don’t all the characters in Hamlet die?” Yes, they do, which is why Marschz inserts a time machine into his plot, so that the prince of Denmark can go back and save everybody else—and, for some reason, hang out with Jesus along the way. The whole concept is dumb. That’s the point. We are meant to laugh at Marschz and his narcissistic “art.”
Artists who create solely as a form of personal therapy are one of the prime laughingstocks of Hamlet 2. Marschz has written the play, ostensibly about Hamlet, as an expression of his own pain at being rejected by his father. This is also where Jesus comes in. At the overwrought emotional climax of Marschz’s play, Hamlet forgives his father, followed by Jesus on the cross crying out “Father, I forgive you.” Would it be blasphemous if the film were really saying that God the Father was in need of forgiveness from God the Son? Yes. But that’s not what’s going on. Instead, the moment is simply illustrating the grandiosity of Marschz’s navel-gazing. His obsession with his daddy-issues blinds him from encountering any story own its own merits; somehow, every character, even Jesus, has to be made into a metaphor for his own pain.
“Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” also clearly nods to a couple of other “controversial” musicals, most obviously Jesus Christ Superstar. As one character explains it, the song is imagining that, if Jesus came to earth today, he would have to act like a celebrity. Does that sound a little . . . familiar? Derivative? Again, that’s the point. When Marschz is proud of himself for courting controversy, he’s not even being remotely original. In the area of other musical parallels, IMDB proved useful in informing me that one of Hamlet 2’s main actors has appeared previously only in the Broadway cast of Spring Awakening, the 2006 rock musical famous for its frank portrayal of teen sexuality. Marschz’s play is doing nothing new here.
If you watch “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” in context, you know that you’re supposed to be laughing at Dana Marschz, not at Jesus. Hamlet 2’s studio, Focus Features, may be giving a different impression by promoting the song apart from the film, and I can understand why people might not want to support the studio for that reason, but I personally have never been a believer in punishing a film for the sins of its studio.
(If you decide to avoid seeing Hamlet 2 in the theaters, a more legitimate consideration might be that it’s not actually that great. It has some hilarious moments, many of them involving the high school’s baby-faced theater critic, but there are also dispensable plot elements that take up too much of the film’s brief 92-minute running time. Much as I admire Catherine Keener, her entire character arc as Marschz’s wife could have been left out, since it only exists to prove what a loser Marschz is. He could quite easily be a loser without ever having a wife in the first place. The movie is worth seeing on DVD, at least if you’re not offended by profanity—there is a lot of that, aside from the blasphemy issue—but probably not worth full theater price.)
As I mentioned earlier, though, I’m not entirely comfortable singing “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” myself. It may not be blasphemous in the context of the film, but I still feel like I might be taking the Lord’s name in vain when I sing it. On the other hand, I’m amused beyond all reason by Homer Simpson’s line “Save me, Jeebus!” and find myself repeating it in times of trial, so maybe I’m just a hypocrite.