Haven’t yet seen Whale Rider girl (Keisha Castle-Hughes) as the BVM in this year’s celebration of the season (The Nativity Story, quasi-authorized version, at hundreds of empty theaters near you), but the trailers weren’t reassuring: a little bit testy, a little bit glum, ever so slightly resentful at all the stuff being thrown her way: by divinity, parents, society, the boyfriend . . . Which apparently is how “conceived without sin” translates these days, under the peculiar rubric of “the natural”: just your ordinary teenage mom-to-be with a subliminal case of attitude. Think Parker Posey 20 years past in loose-fitting wraparound tunic . . . only this girl really means it.
None of which may actually prove out—I don’t know and probably don’t care. But it’s speculations like these that make you wonder whether Muslims didn’t have the right idea all along: no images of the sacred, no visual cues of any sort, save through words, symbols, abstract stylizations. Since all pictures do is concretize, in absurdly literal ways, what has to remain fluid and open in order to retain its transporting/transformative power: too solid flesh, enemy of the venerable and holy, the supreme, unspeakable alienness of “the divine.” Which is why I’d probably prefer Edith Massey‘s version of la vierge (in Multiple Maniacs) to the one being served up here, or Bette Midler’s, in a film I’d never heard of (The Thorn) till I looked it up just now, as a kind of nagging and kvetching ur-Jewish mom: slashing through predictable iconography to open up the interstices, the disavowed marginalia wherein, arguably, modern divinity lies.
But sadly I’ve seen neither, which leaves us with—what exactly? Song of Bernadette with Linda Darnell?