When Matthew Modine won the Founders Prize for Best Short Film at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival he was asked, "Why did you title your film, Jesus Was a Commie?
His reply was simple: "Because I couldn't call it, Jesus Was a Capitalist."
The conversation isn't a question of whether Modine is against capitalism. (He's not.) Or, if he's a pro-Commie Red. (Also, no.)
"I am pro-integrity," says Modine.
He simply employs some old fashioned, uncomplicated common sense when crafting the thoughtful 15-minute short film/documentary/narrative. In "Jesus was a Commie," Modine examines the traditional ideas and interpretations of Jesus Christ and reveals an essence of communism in Christ's practices and philosophies.
"When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom' says Modine, quoting Confucius." "Liberal is one of those words that has been pushed into a political context. The root of the word is liber, meaning free, something we Americans believe we have a special dominion over. The word "liberal" has been transformed by "conservatives" and "Republicans" to mean: communist, weak, homosexual, immoral, and just un-American. Jesus, depending on how you personally feel about him, is another word, or idea, belief, or ism that has been hijacked for political purpose. If you take the stories of Jesus and look at them without evangelical glasses, you see a man that questioned and challenged the conditions of life in his time. And it can be argued, and has been by a lot of incredible people, that Jesus was a Utopian Communist."
The notion of Jesus being a communist may feel like a tough cross for some to bear. While wandering around different beautifully-shot Manhattan locations (the Jerusalem of the West) and musing (through voiceover, with Modine's soothing voice of reason) about what communism really means, it's interesting to consider what "Full Metal Jacket's" Private Joker has come up with.
The blend of archival live action footage, featuring the Berlin Wall falling, followed by images of Gorbachev are classic visuals America's definition of communism.
But Modine probed further and began reading about the fall of communism.
In the early 1980's, Modine was in East Berlin before the wall came down.
"I was at the Berlin Film Festival and had the opportunity to cross Check Point Charlie and enter into East Berlin. It was from meeting Russian soldiers that I realized the lies and propaganda about Russian people that I had been taught. Like many Americans, I was taught to believe that this Evil Empire was prepared to take over the world and destroy life as we knew it. After actually seeing it and being there, I saw that these people were no different than my brothers and sisters at home. They shared the same fears and desires, and many of the same likes and dislikes as people at home. Just people that want to love and be loved. Radio Free Europe was the tool that was educating the Eastern German and Russian soldiers I met about life in the west. Radio Free Europe had no borders. The music of the 1960s floated wirelessly, without borders, across the Iron Curtain and influenced a generation of people to want a change in their country. The Utopian Communism didn't exist or work. The songs of protest, the songs of loving, the songs of rebellion that define 60s music opened the minds of those listening to it and it transformed their expectations of living. Ronald Reagan and the Cold War, the Arms Race, coincided with this new generation of young people that were about to transform their homeland. The change in the Soviet Union happened from within. Not because of Ronald telling Russia to 'take down the wall.'"
There are plenty of less liberal thinking folk who will check out after testimonies like Modine's. Here's what he read in the dictionary: "The origin of communism is 'common' which is a word filled with goodness."
Based on Jesus' kind actions, says Modine, he's essentially a dictionary definition communist. Historically the world has never seen dictionary definition Communism thrive as the infamous communist leaders of the world have indeed been distracted by their greed and hunger for power. Modine is considering that Jesus and his followers are the minority of those who truly lived by the gentle meaning of communism.
"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist," Modine quotes, Brazilian archbishop Dom Helder Camara from the book Peace Behind Bars: A Peacemaking Priest's Journal from Jail.
Search words like "communism" and "Jesus Christ" when combined most certainly incite reaction in America, but Modine keeps his questioning relatively kosher. Instead, it's rather a complimentary piece for the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together movement spreading around the world.
"Occupy Wall Street doesn't have a single voice, a leader" says Modine. "It is an extraordinary demonstration of civil liberty and democracy. I do think that if there were a bearded, barefoot man speaking about peace, liberty, love, and turning the tables of the Wall Street Money Changers over, he would be "crucified" by the news media."
"Jesus Was A Commie" is an extension of Modine's ongoing quest for truth and philosophical answers to the questions he asks his friends and fans. Modine likes deconstructing words to question their meaning from the root and essence of the paired letters. Ultimately for Modine, communism is just a word.
The real conflict isn't semantics after all says Modine.
"The problem with many Christians is that they don't act like Christ."