Accepting Absurdity in 'The Brand New Testament'

Courtesy of Music Box Films

Courtesy of Music Box Films

Jaco Van Dormael’s latest film The Brand New Testament explores the overlap of fantastical realism, dark comedy, and existentialist thought. The result of these concepts clashing is an exceptionally witty and enjoyable film about God. In The Brand New Testament, God lives in Brussels, Belgium, in a high-rise apartment that he never leaves. He controls the world through an isolated PC in a room that no one is allowed to go in. He is abusive towards his wife and daughter Ea, and his son Jesus Christ, or JC, is now a small statue resting in the family’s home.

The film follows the narrative of Ea, as she rebels against her father and releases everyone’s death dates straight to their cell phones. As news breaks out about the times of people’s deaths, Ea decides that she is going to rewrite the New Testament and confides in her brother JC to figure out how to go about it. He tells her to choose apostles and that it doesn’t matter if they are random because nobody will know. Ea selects her new set of apostles from her father’s cabinets filled with cards representing every human alive on earth. After deciding on her six new apostles, she makes her way down to Earth, where she meets a homeless man who will be her scribe in creating the Brand New Testament.

The film’s style is heavily influenced by Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001), everyone’s favorite whimsical French love story. While The Brand New Testament is by no means solely a love story, there are many stories woven throughout the film. It focuses on the lives of each of the apostles, and as mundane and standard as they are, they become quite enthralling with the help of Ea. She brings light into their somewhat dim existences, reminding them that their life will one day end and that they should fulfill the desires they wish to achieve.

The Brand New Testament is a rich experience, one that not necessarily questions God’s existence, but laughs along with it and the ridiculousness of life itself. It is a film that asks a whole lot of why not? Meaning it makes the moves it wants to make and doesn’t seek for approval, because it understands its own absurdity. It goes where it wants to go and never takes itself too seriously. Enjoyable to watch, funny, and loaded with a talented cast, The Brand New Testament reintroduces what it means to examine and comment on a universal thought while managing to maintain a zany dream-like world that we all sometimes find ourselves wishing to live in.

Check it out in a theatre near you!

Sci-fi In Our Time: The Screening of Convergence

By Anna Brüner

Do one thing intent on propelling civilization forward.
Photo by Brooke Hawkins   Pictured: Actor, Producer Frank T.Ziede with Night's Host Noelle Kayser

Photo by Brooke Hawkins 

Pictured: Actor, Producer Frank T.Ziede with Night's Host Noelle Kayser

Hooligan Mag was invited to attend the screening of the first episode of new aspiring series Convergence. Our writer Anna Brüner was able to review the episode itself, while our photographer Brooke Hawkins explored the screening and captured this very special opening night. 

The series took 15 years to develop/produce and is a "lifelong passion project" for Corey and Curtis Gilbert. In Corey's own words he calls it an "ambitious project" and that "Netflix would be [their] goal". The series is inspired by the demands for renewable energy, as well as the larger issue of climate change. Help support the series via their Kickstarter and Facebook.

Photo by Becky Yeker   Pictured: Directors Corey and Curtis Gilbert

Photo by Becky Yeker 

Pictured: Directors Corey and Curtis Gilbert

1857: Oil is discovered along Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River.

2015: Children are going missing around the world. In all cases, they were last seen being led off into the woods by another child, before vanishing without a trace. The only connection between all of these disappearances? All the kids are the children of oil execs.

So sets the stage for Convergence, a sci-fi political drama series created by brothers Curtis and Corey Gilbert. Set against the backdrop of shady business dealings being carried out while more and more kids go missing, the story follows oil execs Jon Hill (John T. Woods) in Pennsylvania and Ernesto Sandoval (Wesley John) in Venezuela as both men and their families are affected by their companies and the mysterious disappearances. At its core, Convergence is the Gilbert brothers’ passion project packaged as an environmental Grimm’s fairytale. What are the oil companies really up to? Why are only the kids being targeted? Who or what is taking them, and why?

Set primarily in the isolated rural suburbs of Pennsylvania and Ohio’s rustbelt, the corrupt and money hungry leaders at the very top of the oil pyramid remain as ominous and faceless as whoever is taking their employees’ children. Miles away from their glistening corporate headquarters, down stretches of barren highway, teenagers wait to be picked up from football practice and sneak out into cornfields at night on 4-wheelers. Storms roll in over the horizon. An idealistic school teacher tries to convince his class that humanity is beginning to drift apart, and that “somebody’s gotta just storm the podium of the world’s stage and say ‘whoa, whoa, simmer down.’” Strange lights begin appearing in the sky at night. The impending sense that something is about to go wrong is palpable and imminent.

International intrigue, ruthless capitalism, political philosophy, family relations, and aliens...yup, ALIENS...are all equally at fault in the world of Convergence.  We find out that the aliens are definitely to blame for taking the kids, but there’s no shaking the feeling that it’s all connected in the same malevolent conspiracy. Everyone seems to be hiding something.

Convergence is incredibly complex, atmospheric, fast paced, and ambitious...and it’s with its ambition that it struggles the most. The first episode is shot beautifully, from gorgeous overhead shots of Jon Hill’s daughter Laurie (Maggie Scrantom) lying whistfully in a cornfield, to the mythical flashbacks to 1857, the visuals are haunting and add to the more horror feel of the story. The acting is solid, even with characters spouting monologues rife with heavy ethical concepts and corporation jargon in every scene. The writing is intriguing, fast paced, and finds a way to make sure no amount of information is overlooked. It feels like Twin Peaks, meets The X-files, meets House of Cards, and that’s where Convergence falters. It is trying to be, and say, so many things at once.

With so much going on in the plot, the story becomes overwhelming and cliche at times, but it almost has to be a little corny just to keep people from getting lost. Convergence has a really cool concept going for it, and that is the taking of children coinciding with the death of the planet. It’s a familiar theme in science fiction, but now it’s been stripped down to the basics and set in our very modern, very real times. Convergence is off to an entertaining and strong start. Here’s hoping it finds its right footing and continues to develop its intriguing story.

Photo by Brooke Hawkins  Pictured: Director of Photography Max J. Heiligman. 

Photo by Brooke Hawkins

Pictured: Director of Photography Max J. Heiligman.