3.1.15 Religious themes and death
How are Christian themes used in the film?
[lfr,jp] Christian themes are used in several ways. First, they are cultural reference points, used to place the story in a cultural setting--the value system and morals percolating through the story are consistent with a very British community, and the Church of England as a distilled representation of that society.
Second, they are used as parallel standards against which to compare the girls' visions of the Fourth World. This 'compare and contrast' type of analysis gives the viewer greater insight into the minds of the girls, and a quantitative measure of how much their sensibilities differed from those of their peers and how much their values differed from the values of their community.
Third, they are used ironically, in several places. Jackson uses the Church as a comic foil, while still managing to communicate some serious ideas and useful information.
What are the prominent references to real death?
- The portrait of the monarch in the school room is changed
because of the death of King George. This 'Royal' connection
with death and succession was not emphasized in the North
American version of the film, however.
- Both girls faced death as small children, and apparently
conquered it. And they have the scars to remember their
- Pauline falls off her bike in the "Donkey Serenade" scene and
says: "I think ... I'm ... dying!" Juliet orders her:
- The Port Levy revelation happened "on the day of the death of
- Pauline declares, when she is threatened with separation from
Juliet after Dr Bennett's exam, that life without Deborah
would be unbearable, and that "the thought of death is not
- Pauline at last puts words to her growing black feelings in
"the letter from old Stew" scene: "Suddenly, a means of
ridding myself of this obstacle occurred to me. If she were
- Finally, on the morning of the murder, Pauline wrote that she
was "writing a little of this up in the morning before the
death." Inbetween, she had referred to her mother's 'moider'
but she came back to the real, final word on June 22, 1954.
Wasn't Paul a Christian Saint?
[jp] Oh, yes. Eventually. After a life of sin, and a revelation.
Wasn't Jesus a carpenter?
[jp] And didn't Juliet ask Bert Rieper, after he commented he liked to make things out of wood: "Oh. Are you a carpenter, Mr Rieper?"
What did Dr Hulme think of religion?
[jp] According to Juliet, "Daddy thinks the Bible's a load of old bunkum." A quote from real life testimony, actually.
Are there other Christian symbols and references?
- Well, there is the location, repeated several times more than
necessary throughout the film: Christchurch. And the shot of
the Cathedral in the Prologue. (The Cathedral also figured
in a fantasy scene revolving around Diello's Coronation,
unfortunately cut for the NAm version.)
- There are two scenes in the Riepers' home at Christmas, and
we are told specifically that the trip to Port Levy occurred
at Easter, 1953. The Hulmes' home was "Christmas Cottage."
- The girls spent a lot of time bathing together, an allusion
to baptism. This is the moment when sin is washed away, when
a Christian is brought into the family of other Christians,
and the moment a Christian first accept the Faith and
teaching of the Church. We see Pauline plunge into the
waters of Port Levy just before she sees Paradise for the
- The day of the murder sees two meals, the scene in the tea
shop, especially, being a reference to the Last Supper and
to Christ's betrayal by one of his disciples. Judas Iscariot
was even brought up by name in the trial, believe it or not.
- The food we see most prominently in the Riepers' home is
bread (buttered by Pauline on the morning of the murder) and
fishes (brought home by Bert). And Weetabix, but I don't
recall Weetabix on the menu when Jesus fed the multitudes...
- The Garden of Gethsemene was where Christ was denied by
Peter, and where he had his crisis of faith before his
death. And then there are all the Eden references, the
expulsion of Satan and, eventually, the original lovers with
their stain of original sin. There are gardens everywhere in
this film, including the murder scene.
- Juliet commented that Honora seemed to know what the girls
had planned for her, and she didn't seem to bear them any
grudge. Another reference to Christ and the events of the
night before the crucifiction. (And to real-life statements
- The unicorn has often been used as a symbol of purity and of
Christ in literature.
- Jackson uses candles as religious artifacts and props in
- Juliet pointedly 'washes her hands,' like Pilate, throughout
the entire last scene before the death of Honora.
- The girls' concepts of Paradise and resurrection, despite
their protests to the contrary and a few pagan symbols
thrown in for good measure, are pretty much standard
Christian fare. As is their concept of Sainthood.
Overall, Honora is gradually converted into...
[jp] Something of a Christ figure by Jackson. We get the feeling that Honora's death comes to be seen, by Pauline and perhaps by Juliet, to be the vehicle for Pauline's resurrection and rebirth in Paradise--in her new life with Juliet.
Or, if not quite the Lamb of God, Honora is certainly converted into a sacrificial lamb.