Dave McKean’s 2012 film The Gospel of Us centers around a modern Welsh man who, after abandoning his family to live in the woods for several weeks, develops amnesia and stumbles back into his hometown of Port Talbot an empty slate. He believes that he can replace his life story by learning the stories of other people, but his own life story comes back to haunt him. He remembers glimpses, and even meets people who say that they know him and want to bring him home, but mostly the Company that oversees the town is suspicious of him. Is it because of his former/forgotten life, or is it the way he’s been treating people ever since he lost his memory? He rescued a woman from a terrorist called Barry and has gotten a slew of new friends and admirers out of it. Unfortunately, they are not good enough friends to stop him from being made an example of by the Company, who forces the townfolk to choose between the freedom of this man and Barry the terrorist.
Sounds familiar, right? Partially written by Michael Sheen, the star of the film, Dave McKean has recreated the story of the Passion in a unique and beautiful way. In my opinion, there are no films more beautiful than Dave McKean films and the world needs more of them in it. We move from subtle clues like a vaguely familiar half-drowning with a baptist in an incongruous pelt coat and walking stick to the more heavy-handed iconic Last Supper scene and the trek of the Teacher, as he’s called, walking down the street with the cross, crown of barbed wire cutting into his face. But we are never without dream sequences, drawings, and puppets. It feels like you’re inside a three dimensional, live action Dave McKean drawing. Gorgeous.
There are a lot of really clever rewrites to the story here, with references to Barabbas (Barry the bomber) and Lee and Jon (Legion). But I think what’s most interesting with this retelling is the introduction of memory loss into the story. The Teacher really is an empty vessel and you wonder if this is because he wouldn’t have been willing to sacrifice himself if he remembered his wife and daughter. It raises a lot of questions about humanity and roles within the world.
However, don’t go in expecting something as tight as MirrorMask. This film was shot in about a day or so in Port Talbot as an on-location play. With the exception of a few of the main characters, all the people you see are locals, not actors and not even professional extras. Dave McKean converted the collective art project into a feature film. It’s best to enter with no expectations of style–as a blank slate.