Director: Jaco Van Dermal
Cast: Benoit Poelvoorde, Yolande Moreau and Pili Groyne
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: April 15th
An accusation often levelled against Christianity by the anti-theistic essayist Christopher Hitchens was that the word of their God revealed a jealous, insecure and petty character, abhorrent and misanthropic, unless one is to sing his praise daily. Dictatorial, down to the last of the commandments, Hitchens’ exemplifying of such laws led to his arguing that, owing to the myriad of sacred loopholes, and an equal lack of Lordly longevity, all signs point towards the evidence that man made God in his own image, not the opposite.
So it is interesting to see the basis of this idea rendered unto cinematic terms in Jaco Van Dormael’s latest feature The Brand New Testament, an existential comedy, which decides to say that yes God exists, and yes, he is the insecure tormentor described by Hitchens. Van Dormael rules that God is in actuality flawed. Furthermore, he is from Brussels, and lives in a sealed-off flat above a Laundromat, formulating an endless series of rules to drive humanity around the bend. He decided that the other line always moves faster, that bread always falls with the jam-side facing down and he wants you to suffer simply for the purpose of his own amusement.
Haggard, abusive and always wearing a tattered night-gown, he is the misanthropist often described by New Atheists. Married to a woman whom he forbids to speak, this unhappy pairing also have two children, both of whom detest him, although before this moment, we only knew about the son, referred to here as JC. The Brand New Testament introduces us to his daughter Ea, who has just recently become a teenager.
Disgusted by God, Ea, when we meet her is in her rebellious phase, and this shift into puberty gives her the motivation to sabotage God’s plan, inspired by her discovery that he is the person who not only engineers hate and widespread chaos, but revels in it. Her scheme is simple, she will break into his office, gather from his files a series of potential disciples, and afterwards, log onto his computer in order to drastically alter the course of humanity.
Leaking the exact time and date of every single human’s death, this act inadvertently creates the possibility of a grand utopia, wherein people actively pursue their dreams, as opposed flagellating themselves to appease the Lord. Whereas previously, he could rule without question, because people were fearful of the unknown, the world’s solid realisation of their own mortality undermines his authority, as people start doing as they please.
Thrilled by her act of rebellion, Ea flees the apartment to recruit the new disciples, and a scribe to write the Brand New Testament, not too different from ‘Humans of New York’. Never having been exposed to the world, she revels in this journey of newfound pleasures. Yet, on her trail is God, whose attempt to bring things back to the way they were leads to a wonderful subplot that can only be described as philosophical slapstick.
Life affirming in its take on mortality, free will and the twisted sexual fantasies of patriarchal power, The Brand New Testament will shoot you down, before encouraging you to embrace life soon thereafter. Cynical and optimistic simultaneously, it is a joyful humanist work, which states that the source of misery and hatred is religion or at least, religion as we know it.