Warning: This post includes a few irreverent images from irreverent films.
Years ago, I used to say that if I ever made a movie about Jesus, I would include a scene in which he excuses himself to use the facilities (whatever they might have been in the first century), just to show that his humanity extended even to his “lower” bodily functions. I was reminded of that the other day when Bilge Ebiri, one of the critics who caught the Last Days in the Desert premiere at Sundance this week, wondered on Twitter if this was the first Jesus movie to have a “fart joke”.
The short answer is no, it is not the first such film.
In fact, Ebiri’s question reminded me immediately of the “international” version of the 1999 miniseries Jesus, which starred Jeremy Sisto as Jesus and Gary Oldman as Pontius Pilate. The second part of that two-part series begins with a scene in which Pilate and his friends watch a short play that mocks both Jesus and his Jewish opponents — and at one point, one of the actors does indeed break wind.
The incident occurs as the actor playing Jesus lowers himself onto the stage, and his rear end comes to rest on the head of Livio, an assistant of Pilate’s who is narrating the play (Livio is played by G.W. Bailey of Police Academy and Mannequin fame):
Livio turns to the audience and waves the smell away:
This scene stood out to me at the time because the late 1990s seemed to mark a rise in this sort of humour. At a time when the Farrelly brothers were becoming very popular, it struck me as interesting that both a Jesus movie and a Star Wars movie (i.e. The Phantom Menace, which also came out in 1999) had included a fart or two.
However, the North American version of the miniseries was significantly different, and among other things, it toned this scene down and removed the fart. So if you saw this film in North America, you probably didn’t see that bit.
There is at least one film in which Jesus himself passes gas, but it’s not really a “Jesus movie” in the strictest sense. That film is Holy Flying Circus, which concerns the controversy surrounding the release of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
While most of the film is set in 1979, it begins with a prologue in which Jesus walks up to the camera and says, in subtitled Aramaic, “Hi, my name is Jesus. Most of what you are about to see never actually happened. It’s largely made up. Like the Bible.”
A man who resembles Eric Idle then pops up and says, “That’s a bit controversial, isn’t it?” Jesus replies by turning around, bending over, and letting ’er rip:
Interestingly, though, I can’t recall there being any fart humour in Life of Brian itself — and I’ve seen the film many times. It has nudity, profanity and various other forms of rude humour, but I can’t recall any flatulence (except in one of the deleted scenes), and searching for certain keywords in the script doesn’t turn up anything.
Finally, on a related but slightly different note, there is a moment in the 1959 version of Ben-Hur — captured in the image at the top of this post — in which Charlton Heston is encouraged to burp or belch as a way of showing thanks for the food that his Arab host has given him. That’s not quite the same thing, but hey, gas is gas.
If I’m forgetting any other Jesus movies — or any other Bible movies, period — that could be added to this list, please let me know in the comments.
One last note about Last Days in the Desert: Film critic Diana Drumm noted the fart’s presence in that film and compared it to the bawdy humour of Geoffrey Chaucer:
LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT is littered with medieval sensibilities – Faustian dialogue, morality play, Chaucerian fart. #Sundance15
— Diana Drumm (@DianaDDrumm) January 26, 2015
So add that to the list of reasons I am very curious to see this film for myself.