There have been several fictional attempts to explain, understand, and consider the way that Jesus may appear, interpreting the understanding of the ways that he will “come back” at his “second coming.” Contemporary Christian Music delivered the Hero rock opera; Colin Raye once sang, “What If Jesus Came Back Like That?” Now, H770 Films and writer/director Matt Dunnerstick deliver another interpretation of what it might look like, in story of a Los Angeles Latina named Mary and the machinations of a little storefront church to make Jesus appear, again.
The Custom Mary focuses in on Mary (Alicia Sixtos), who is recruited by the preacher of her church (Travis Hammer) and his father (Henry LeBlanc) to be artificially inseminated with clone DNA based on the Shroud of Turin. A devout Christian, she sees this as her way of helping the kingdom of God come, and agrees to the insemination. But in the meantime, she meets lowriding Joe (James Jolly) who she falls in love with but isn’t intimate with. Still, when the baby is born dark-skinned and unable to speak, the powers behind the plan to bring Jesus back find him incompatible with their expectations for Jesus.
The arrival of Jesus changes everything: it changes Mary’s own sense of herself (and her happiness), it changes her relationship with Joe, and it changes how she is received by the “church family” who put her into this predicament in the first place. What we’ve seen as we watched, the lack of actual spiritual direction by any of the men plotting this, the expectations of Jesus arrival tied to the end of the world, and the way that these men want to control Jesus’ appearance and arrival, all become apparent to Mary, and she’s devastated. But can she recover or will she just be more collateral damage in religious manipulation and fanaticism?
The movie is disturbing, not because it is violent, but because we could actually see this happen. We see it happen on a small scale everyday, how someone is welcomed into the church but then turned aside when they lack the necessary words or style that the “church folk” expect. We see people who are so driven to be holy or spiritual that they lose sight of the actual truths in their holy books, and become something twisted and dangerous. We see our own desire to control what we can of our lives, and recognize that we have “overreached” what we were called to be.
Now, let’s be clear: this is a modern day parable, but you may or may not agree with the Law of the Lowriders’ message. Whether you do or you don’t, this one is an interesting reflection on faith, fanaticism, and the way that we expect and anticipate change and growth in our world today. Ironically enough, Mary becomes a voice for being real, for having faith in the real things rather than the made-up things. Mary becomes a voice for women who now longer will allow manipulative men to control their religious fervor and their understanding of themselves.
The Custom Mary left me thinking, and led me to write, more to see if anyone else is reflecting on this one than recommending it. It’s a condemnation of judgmental church, and a call for real faith, but what does it leave us holding onto?