The Brand New Testament may have one of the best premises of any movie this year, especially due to how deftly it justifies the need for more diverse creators in all artistic worlds.
This Belgian flick re-contextualizes God in a modern setting as a manipulative writer currently living in Brussels who toys with humanity through his writing, which becomes an immediate law of (human) nature as soon as he puts keys to Microsoft Word document. As depicted here, he’s the representative epitome of the old guard in every way: brutish, stubbornly closed minded, and schadenfreude-obsessed. In other words, he’s the picture of modern-day misogyny. Since God wrote the Testaments without any feminism in mind, it would obviously create/inspire a world that cares little for women. Interpreted metaphorically, this connects to the notion that so much of modern society was lorded over by men for so long that women now live in cultures not made by nor for them.
God’s cruelty extends to his family life as well; he’s turned his wife into a powerless doll, and his daughter Ea could not be more miserable under the iron thumb of her father. To take matters into her own hands, she follows the lead of her long-lost brother (named JC – get it?) by visiting Earth in hopes of writing, ahem, a BRAND NEW TESTAMENT that’s somewhat inspired by her interactions with us mere mortals. Her mission is to craft new Gospels that – instead of being written by, for, and starring men – will actually properly reflect the experience of people from all walks of life. As such, her chosen apostles bear gender, age, and socioeconomic diversity.
These new Gospels take the form of slice-of-life vignettes – which provide the bulk of the movie’s duration – that work as proverbs to be interpreted in countless ways. Needless to say, they manifest themselves veeeeery differently coming from a young female than they would from a grizzled old man, and the movie’s endlessly quirky style reinforces this point. Replacing the cynical viewpoint of her father, Ea approaches life from a different perspective, one full of childlike wonder at beholding his creations for the first time as opposed to viewing them as just more of the same. Quite literally, she’s taking her father’s normative book of life and revising it through her particularly diverse lens. Her youthful feminine touch impacts not only the world of the movie but also its endearing tone, a breath of fresh air compared to the customarily stuffy vibe of most theological art.
Different types of creators will obviously create different works of art than the norm, which is why more and more art nowadays tries to promote the importance of diverse voices in the (artistic) creation process. And yet, many of these artistic achievements are considered insignificant contributions to the world because they never escape their liberal, artistic bubbles. Generally, there seems to be widely held skepticism that any art can facilitate TANGIBLE progressive change. Yet here too The Brand New Testament has a response, and it revolves around God’s wife, an allegorical representation of all systematically subjugated women who nevertheless wouldn’t dream of disrupting the status quo.
As previously noted, his wife begins the movie as basically a Stepford Wife who silently – and thus ideally – takes care of all the conventional housewife chores (even so, she still seems to endlessly piss off her husband because, again, he’s insatiable and thus insufferable). Lacking the rebellious spirit of her daughter – who allegorically represents the progress that the next generation perpetually symbolizes – she simply cannot envision a life – or even a world – different from the one to which she’s become accustomed; how can she realize the depths of her sadness if she can’t comprehend another alternative? Yet her daughter’s work on The Brand New Testament ultimately – and unintentionally – inspires her to literally change the world.
Since God dictated the world inside their home – in the same way that he literally dictated the world at large – adhering exclusively to his own mercurial whims, she finds herself disinterested in most of her surroundings…except, oddly, for baseball, a sport her husband loathes in favor of hockey. According to the movie, the reason there were 12 apostles was because there are 12 guys on a hockey team. When crafting The Brand New Testament, her daughter makes sure to honor her mother – and stick it to her father – by changing the number of apostles from 12 to 18, equal to the size of a baseball team. This small change allows her mother to finally connect with an aspect of the Gospels (and thus the world they influence), which had previously not been written with her – nor any women – in mind. Her daughter expands her worldview by showing her all the possible ways that women can create their own agency in world designed by and for men. The new pep in her step this inspires ultimately leads to her literally restarting the world and remaking it in and to her likeness, both figuratively and literally.
The relationship between the functional roles the mother and daughter play in this equation mirrors the way art can facilitate progressive change. The next generation will almost always be the ones who believe deeply enough in the need for change to make it happen, yet they always need to bring along the old guard as well for it’s their systems providing the bedrock that will be revised by and for subsequent generations. New world orders are not actually wholly new; they’re merely updates of the past, and thus a new world order cannot come into existence without the participation of the old order. Progressive change will never be an exact science, but by a progressive artist allowing their passion for change to dictate what they create, their artistic creations may end up inspiring their immediate forebears to adapt in and by unexpected ways.
The Bible is a prime framework to explore these issues because it’s the foundation of so many belief systems, and as such the blatant misogyny found within can be seen as the root of systematic misogyny today. Think of the Creation story itself: humanity’s original sin lies at the feet of Eve (a woman) for disobeying the commands of God and Adam (men). Throughout the last 2,000 years, people could credit the Bible as a legitimate source of their systematic misogyny through examples such as this one, which are littered throughout both Testaments.
And that’s why the 21st century desperately needs a brand new one. If the Bible – which secularists believe is a work of art – can so alter the course of human history, who’s to say a more modern work of art from a more diverse perspective that promulgates a more progressive worldview cannot achieve the same? The Brand New Testament may not be that work of art, but all such works that so creatively celebrate different perspectives should always be commended.
The irony, however, is that The Brand New Testament in fact is not the product of diverse perspectives; the director and both screenwriters are all male. But to me, this almost makes the movie’s message that much more poignant. Though some of the old guard will never tolerate change of any kind and thus must be cast aside – as God is here – a vast majority should try to understand what role they can play in progressive change. Men can, will, and should keep making movies, but given the limited number of short straws that others have long been forced to wrestle over, they should feel a responsibility to promote inclusiveness in their work. Granted, not doing so should not be penalized as it has been recently – not all art needs to be Art – but each representative of the old guard (AKA men) should task themselves with finding their productive place in a new world order.
Perhaps that’s why the person who actually writes The Brand New Testament here is an old, white, homeless man. Ea undoubtedly leads the charge by dictating every word of her vision, but since she can’t actually write because God saw no reason to teach a girl how to, she must rely on the old guard’s experience that simply wasn’t afforded to her. The image of an old man and a young woman working together to write a Brand New Testament that ultimately ushers in a brand new – but still familiar – world encapsulates the relationship that male artists and female artists, the old guard and the new guard, must strike to create new works of art as refreshing and enlightening as The Brand New Testament.
 I’d be remiss not to point this out: though extremely concerned with giving women a role in creation, clearly the creators of the movie didn’t care as much about racial diversity since every single one of the apostles are white. This isn’t necessarily a critique because not all artists have any sort of moral nor artistic obligation to be as politically correct as possible, but the creators nevertheless probably should’ve thought about that…