Any film that starts out with a character saying, “I’m looking for absolution,” tells you right away what the film is about.
This is especially true when the main character has a spear-like wound on his side and wakes up with his arms outstretched as if he is lying on a cross.
Why a good Jew like Steven Spielberg insists on being the executive producer, producer or the director of so many films about Christ is a mystery beyond human comprehension.
Jake – the Christ-like outlaw – wakes up with no memory of his past, but with a strange alien bracelet on his wrist that is mistaken at first for maniacal – indeed, the bracelet even looks like something ancient Romans might have created, although at it turns out, it is the weapon of space aliens that some men mistake for demons.
After the near naked Jake dresses in the clothing of the four villains he gave absolution to with their own guns, he rides into town – while not on a donkey, it is the symbolic equivalent of Christ’s arrival in Jereuelum. He comes into the house of the minister – perhaps John the Baptist figure – washes his face in a kind of baptism at which point the minister points a rifle to him and says “Palms to Heaven, stranger.”
If you remember your Bible stories, Christ was greeted with palms on the first day of Passover.
Although the town has a doctor, it is the minister that treats Jake’s wounded side, making a point to say this is not a gunshot wound. Christ was stabbed in the side by a Roman solider when hanging on the cross.
The minister asks Jake about himself, and comments that Jake can’t get forgiven for sins if he can’t remember what they were.
In many ways, the good and bad aliens in this film are too much like angels and devils for there to be any mistaking them – although we don’t realize who the good angel is until late in the film. Early on, the bad aliens – who grab up people for experiments in much the same way as the Nazis did – are mistaken for demons.
Jake, of course, must go through a kind of personal hell to make up for his sins.
The minister points out, “I’ve seen good men do bad and bad men do good,” but is uncertain which of these Jake will turn out to be.
Jake’s reformation, however, started earlier when he mistakenly believed that he could use stolen money to save the prostitute he loved.
Her name is Mary – just as was the prostitute in the New Testament and while it was pieces of gold, not pieces of silver, that led to her abduction and eventual death, the point is well taken.
“You have to take that back,” Mary tells Jake in one of the flash backs, “that’s blood money.”
The demons grab her, Jake and the gold, and proceed to experiment on Jake and Mary, and in a significant moment, manage to turn Mary to dust – with a shot of the accumulated belongings of others who had been turned to dust in a similar fashion. Jake accidentally acquires one of their weapons and flees, and wakes up later in the desert which begins the film.
Like Christ – Jake is betrayed and arrested, and put into jail. The good angel – who is the guise of a woman – clocks him on the back of the head just as the sheriff tries to arrest him. He wakes up to having a rich man’s son spitting on his face.
Like Christ, Jake is being sent to the authorities for trial – at which point, the rich man – played by Harrison Ford – arrives, and right behind him, the demon aliens.
The rest of the film is largely a chase film as a wounded demon flees and Jake, the rich man, the minister and others follow with the hopes of getting back loved on snatched by the other evil aliens.
The minister is killed by the wounded alien while trying to save a local boy – just as John the Baptist dies early on in the Biblical tale. The New Testament didn’t have Indians, of course, but it had a lot of bad guys, and in this tale Jake’s former gang beats him up for stealing the gold they stole, mocking him for using it to save the whore.
While this tale is largely about rebirth – especially for Jake – who must be reborn in order to be saved, we get the symbolic and literal death of the angel, who Jake tries to save from the aliens, but cannot, but who rises out of the flames at the Indian camp to help bring white man and red man together to oppose a common enemy. She becomes Jake’s guide into the underworld, a travel down into the darkness where they rescue those who were abducted – allowing them to be reborn, in particular, the rich man’s son, but at the cost of the angel, who must die so that other might live.