(1999) dir. Alison Maclean
I suppose with a title like Jesus’ Son, I shouldn’t have been overly surprised by a certain Christian subtext that this film contained, a subtext that wasn’t buried too deeply below the surface, at that. It didn’t strike me as overly pedantic or anything, but it actually has made me ponder really what this film is communicating and regarding its title as a potential site of signification,…but I am not too certain.
The story is narrated in partially broken flashbacks by a young man, who is often referred to as “Fuckhead” due to his knack for screwing things up, and follows him through his mishap-ridden life. Though it’s never explicitly indicated, it might not be too outrageous to assume that the title of the film refers to him in some way.
At different points in the film, Billy Crudup, who is very endearing as “Fuckhead,” discusses death with Jehovah’s Witnesses, gets splashed with holy water by Catholics as he leaves an abortion clinic, and develops a voyeuristic relationship with a gospel-singing Mennonite woman. The latter of these incidents has a somewhat transformative effect on him and is a site of a somewhat “magical” incident. Throughout the film, his character seems tuned into some sort of Christian spirituality, but out of touch with how to access it, much as he is out of touch with his ability to keep his life from falling apart.
Though the film’s tone tends toward a sort of sweet melancholy, it’s hardly pessimistic. This might also be tied to the film’s religious themes. In many ways, I think that the film’s meaning is intended to be fairly open for interpretation, which is maybe why its hard to get a specific read on it. Ultimately, the film does seem to pivot on “Fuckhead”‘s redemption and transformation by some type of religious epiphany. Though it is a less dogmatic, almost uninflected sort of spiritual experience, it does seem clearly a Christian (though perhaps non-denominational) one, since it is the main “spirituality” represented in the film.
The film is quite funny at many points and enjoyable. It’s a good American independent film, in my opinion. It might be an interesting companion piece/point-of-contrast with Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66 (1998) in its good-hearted, misguided sort of protagonist or Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy (1989) for its milieu.