Thursday, March 16, 2006

Messiah on the doorstep

See, if you're setting up shop as a messiah, you need a message.

A Messiah, you ask?

A messiah. You probably think there is only one, the Messiah, and either he's already come and gone or he's still on the way, depending on your position on the divinity of one Joshua ben David of Nazereth.

But Jesus was only a messiah. There are lots of others. There are messiahs among us today. One of them lives down in Texas. Brian B. He's the local messiah for the area within a hundred mile radius of his house.

Brian has gone into messiahing as the family business. He's fourth-, possibly fifth-generation messiah. His father was a messiah. His father's father was a messiah. His father's father's father...Messiahing is in his blood.

He just needs a good message and to get it out and then watch his smoke.

Brian B. is the main character of the mockumentary, The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah, an independent film directed, co-written and co-produced by Chris Hansen, a professor at Baylor University. Brian is played with nerdly charisma and a frightening monomaniacal focus by Dustin Olson. As Chuck Tryon wrote in his review:

the comedy...derives primarily from Brian's capacity for believing himself to be a messiah without delivering any of the good works or displaying any of the generosity that one might expect out of him. This is best illustrated in a scene in which Brian is so caught up in his own attempts to locate his "higher purpose" that he is oblivious for several days to the fact that his sister has left home (...these family dynamics might also recall Napoleon Dynamite, with which Hansen's film has some afinity).

It's not just his sister he loses track of. Brian is a husband and a father, facts about himself he doesn't like his wife to remind him of. And he bullies and browbeats his devoted brother, Aaron, the one person who believes in him as a messiah. But Brian is handicapped as a messiah by other things besides the lack of a message and un-Christ-like personality flaws. For one thing, he doesn't seem to have a clear idea of what religion is or what it's supposed to do for the people who follow it. He's nominally Christian, but his knowledge of Scripture is sketchy---his sister has to keep correcting him on little details about the life of Christ and the meaning of Christ's teachings. He admires Jesus, but as a successful colleague, the way a salesman admires another salesman who's made his quota three years running, with a mixture of envy and an eye to picking up tips and tricks of the trade.

Brian is sure God has called him to be a messiah. (His messiahship was confirmed by agents of the United States Government.) It's just that when God called he forgot to tell Brian his purpose as a messiah.

In The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah, an unnamed and offscreen filmmaker (played by Hansen) interviews Brian and follows him around as the novice messiah sets about discovering his purpose and finding a message. At one point Brian decides his job is to stand on the sidewalk and shout out tips on personal grooming to passersby. He goes to a local beach to offer baptisms, $1.18 for full immersion, exact change only, but gets no takers, except his brother, whom he almost drowns.

He goes door to door, trying to deliver his good news, such as it is, and collect some funding, but only one person lets him past the front steps, a cheerful and overly friendly lunatic played by Arrested Devolopment's Tony Hale, who has an immediate need for a messiah to drive invisible strangers out of his house.

At last Brian gets the idea to hold a rally, figuring that when he stands in front of an auditorium of new disciples God won't let him down. God will enlighten him as to his purpose and message at the last possible moment.

God, of course, doesn't work like that.

The rally does result in a miracle, one involving the supposedly unloaded gun Aaron, acting as Brian's body guard, is allowed to carry. It's not the kind of miracle Brian had in mind.

In what I expect will become a regular series of interviews with artists and authors and other creatures for the Arts and Leisure Suit Section of the Mannion Daily Bugle and Call, I talked by phone with Chris Hansen about The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah. Part 1 of the interview will be posted tonight. Part 2 will be up Wednesday night.

Who says bloggers aren't real journalists?

I have a calling.

Make sure you check out the American Messiah website.


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