Jesus' Son Review
On the fantastic Velvet Underground & Nico album is a track called Heroin, in which Lou Reed sings about how shooting up makes him "feel like Jesus' Son". That's a strong statement indeed, but after watching the fantastic indie movie Jesus' Son, directed by Alison MacLean and starring Billy Crudup, you will feel as if you are closer to understanding what Reed meant.
Based on the extremely episodic novel by Denis Johnson, Jesus' Son presents drug taking in a way that has been rarely seen in Hollywood. This isn't Pulp Fiction or Trainspotting, and neither is this a film in which self-pity floods the screen alongside protagonists wallowing in squalor. It's dangerous to say this, but Jesus' Son is one of the most beautiful films to deal with drug taking, and yet it never once aims to glamourise or even promote substance abuse.
Set in the early seventies, Jesus' Son zips along different timeframes and narratives, as if its narrator is aiming to chronologically present his life but his memory has mishmashed certain events together. The narrator and main protagonist, is played by Billy Crudup, and is the typical no-name loser tagged with the nickname of Fuckhead by his friends and enemies. Essentially a collection of set-pieces, the film shows our narrator encountering many different people and situations. Jesus' Son is a road movie, but the road runs through the narrator's heart and the journey is towards enlightenment.
Chances are that most will have missed Jesus' Son, and this is unfortunate, as the film is magnificent, and presents a very original viewing experience for any audience. In essence, the film aims to tackle the controversial subject of why certain people feel the need for drugs in the first place. It's as if the drug users in the film all share a common desire to feel refreshed by life, and have therefore exhausted every type of experience possible and have turned to drugs as a last resort. Notice our narrator's romance with Michelle (played by Samantha Morton). They rush into sex, rush into what they call love and rush into heroin when they are not given what they desire from 'normal' life. It's Michelle's haste to find a better 'feeling' that proves to be her undoing, whereas our narrator, because of his ongoing dissatisfaction with drugs, seems much more drawn towards the quirky facets of life.
It's this fascination with life as opposed to a fascination with drugs that makes Jesus' Son so appealing. Rather than presenting a series of episodes in the film which contain crazy adventures told through a drug-fuelled haze, Jesus' Son has much more fun with the 'real'. The film has so much fun in fact, that there are times when it is deeply hilarious because of the surreal events it portrays. As a cameo, Jack Black has the most fun, and his ten minute appearance in the film borders on insanely funny levels from beginning to end. Black's character Georgie is so uncompromising in his volatile unpredictability that it's easy to see why our narrator feels compelled to hang around with him, since it seems that his escapades come to resemble more of a trip than any drug can bring. What's worrying is that both our narrator and Georgie happen to be employed by a hospital emergency ward when they encounter each other. The funniest line of dialogue belongs to Georgie, when asked "what he actually does around the hospital" by a nervous nurse after he nearly blinds a patient, he replies straight-faced "I save lives". Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper, Denis Leary and Will Patton all turn up and contribute kooky characters, and they each seem perfectly suited to the bizarre world of Jesus' Son.
Jesus' Son works solely because its director Alison MacLean refuses to throw in any element of self-pity towards her main character. Our narrator takes everything that happens to him in his stride with nothing but typical wide-eyed innocence presented from his facial expressions. He is never knocked off his quest for spiritual enlightenment, and he is never dismissive of any method if he thinks it will help him on his quest. This is the key to Jesus' Son, and the reason why it is so appealing whilst maintaining a bleak exterior.
The film looks and feels perfect for a movie set in the early seventies. The low-key soundtrack suitably echoes the narrator's apparent displacement from society with subtle musical cuts that are far from A-list choices. The cinematography by Adam Kimmel is wonderfully evocative of the Woodstock-aesthetic of the late sixties and early seventies, and helps set the tone of the film instantly.
Jesus' Son is a drugs movie first and foremost. It contains a loser protagonist who is addicted to heroin and who also appears to be addicted to situations that go hideously wrong. It's episodic in nature, and may be hard to follow on first viewing because of its zig-zag narration. However, stick with it, as rather then depress you with an anti-drugs downbeat ending, it aims to suggest that life itself holds more riches than any drug can provide. Any movie that can leave on an unsentimental yet very upbeat note, despite being filled with pain and anguish throughout, is fully deserving of a large audience, and Jesus' Son is that film.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1, the picture quality of Jesus' Son is very good, with a splendid colour range and decent sharpness in terms of image and clarity. For a film rich with subtle beauty and well-constructed visuals, it's a blessing to see the film in its full widescreen splendour, and fortunately the transfer complements the film admirably.
Presented in the film's original two track stereo mix, Jesus' Son incorporates a few elements of spatial channelling and directional effects, but is mostly confined to the central well other than the surround soundtrack of musical cues. Despite the lack of a dynamic range, the sound mix is still very good and recorded in a crisp fashion.
Menu: A moody, animated menu that is dark and mysterious, and doesn't really add to the experience of the film.
Packaging: The film maintains the original cover artwork and still has room to throw in Momentum's new Take One budget range, which is providing a host of underrated films at £9.99. Ignore the packaging that states the film to be 1.77:1, as it is actually framed at 2.35:1.
Original Theatrical Trailer: A good trailer that provides a good sense of the film's quirky and episodic nature and pushes home the comic feel of the film.
A magnificent, underrated film; possibly the greatest movie concerning drugs ever made, is given a barebones but technically competent DVD. Considering the RRP is extremely cheap, the lack of extras isn't detrimental to the overall package, as the film easily survives without them.