35 user 23 critic

The Book of Life (1998)

Not Rated | | Comedy, Fantasy | 26 May 1999 (Belgium)
The end of the millenium has taken on a certain significance in modern day prophecies. What happens if Jesus Christ has second thoughts about the Apocalypse? It is December 31, 1999 and New... See full summary »


Hal Hartley


Hal Hartley (a film by)

On Disc

at Amazon


Learn more

More Like This 

Amateur (1994)
Comedy | Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

Isabelle is an ex-nun waiting for her special mission from God. In the meantime, she is making a living writing pornography. She meets Thomas, a sweet, confused amnesiac who cannot remember... See full summary »

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Martin Donovan, Elina Löwensohn
Henry Fool (1997)
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Socially inept garbage man Simon is befriended by Henry Fool, a witty roguish, but talentless novelist. Henry opens a magical world of literature to Simon who turns his hand to writing the ... See full summary »

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak, Parker Posey
Flirt (1995)
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

The same situation is played out in different cities (New York, Berlin and Tokyo). A lover has to choose whether to commit to a partner who is returning home. In each case there are other ... See full summary »

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Paul Austin, Robert John Burke, Martin Donovan
Comedy | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

A man returns to his home town after serving a prison sentence for homicide, and finds that the details of the crime have been forgotten and replaced with local legends and rumors.

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Adrienne Shelly, Robert John Burke, Chris Cooke
Simple Men (1992)
Crime | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

Bitter about being double-crossed by the women he loved, (and with the police after him to boot), Bill vows to seduce the next woman he sees, then throw her away. His brother Dennis, ... See full summary »

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Robert John Burke, Bill Sage, Martin Donovan
Fay Grim (2006)
Action | Comedy | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

A ten-years-later continuation of Hal Hartley's "Henry Fool", where Fay Grim (Posey) is coerced by a CIA agent (Goldblum) to try and locate notebooks that belonged to her fugitive ex-husband (Ryan). Published in them is information that could compromises the security of the U.S., causing Fay to first head to Paris to fetch them ...

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Parker Posey, Jeff Goldblum, Liam Aiken
Meanwhile III (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

The funny and moving tale of Joe Fulton who can fix anything for anybody but he can't achieve success himself. But maybe today will be different!

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: D.J. Mendel, Danielle Meyer, Pallavi Sastry
Trust (1990)
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

After being thrown out of her house, Maria encounters a married woman who complains of not having children. Maria ends up in an abandoned house, where she meets Matthew. When a baby is kidnapped Maria sets out to find the woman.

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Adrienne Shelly, Martin Donovan, Rebecca Nelson
Comedy | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

Jude, a college literature professor, falls for one of his students. She is more interested in the empirical experience of a relationship with a man whose life is ruled by the themes of the... See full summary »

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Martin Donovan, Matt Malloy, Rebecca Nelson
Action | Comedy | Sci-Fi
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.3/10 X  

A comic drama about a time in the near future when citizens are happy to be property traded on the stock exchange.

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Bill Sage, Sabrina Lloyd, Tatiana Abracos
Ned Rifle (2014)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

Henry and Fay's son Ned sets out to find and kill his father for destroying his mother's life. But his aims are frustrated by the troublesome Susan, whose connection to Henry predates even his arrival in the lives of the Rifle family.

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey, Liam Aiken
No Such Thing (2001)
Comedy | Drama | Fantasy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  

The story of a young journalist who journeys to Iceland to find her missing fiancée only to encounter a mythical creature. She eventually forges a relationship with the being.

Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Sarah Polley, Robert John Burke, Margrét Ákadóttir


Cast overview, first billed only:
Martin Donovan ... Jesus Christ
PJ Harvey ... Magdalena (as P.J. Harvey)
Dave Simonds ... Dave
Thomas Jay Ryan ... Satan
Miho Nikaido ... Edie
D.J. Mendel ... Lawyer
Katreen Hardt Katreen Hardt ... Receptionist
James Urbaniak ... True Believer
Anna Köhler Anna Köhler ... Hotel Clerk (as Anna Kohler)
Martin Pfefferkorn ... Martyr
Layla Alexander ... Waitress (as Olga Alexandrova)
Michael Ornstein ... Computer Wizard
Paul Albe ... Mormon Thug #1
Don Creech ... Mormon Thug #2
Joseph McKenna Joseph McKenna ... Man at Airport


The end of the millenium has taken on a certain significance in modern day prophecies. What happens if Jesus Christ has second thoughts about the Apocalypse? It is December 31, 1999 and New Year's Eve takes on new meaning when the Devil, Jesus Christ, and Christ's assistant Magdelina discuss and debate the end of the world, the opening of the seven seals, and the essence of being human. Written by Tracy <tjc217@is2.nyu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A darkly comic view of the Apocalypse. See more »


Comedy | Fantasy


Not Rated | See all certifications »



France | USA



Release Date:

26 May 1999 (Belgium) See more »

Also Known As:

Az élet könyve See more »


Box Office


$350,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


[about human beings]
Satan: It's amazing the things they do. They're inventing themselves now. Artificial intelligence and cybergenetics and so on.
Jesus Christ: It's impressive, I admit.
Satan: They're cross-fertilizing pears with apples and goats with sheeps, tobacco plants with lightning bugs.
Jesus Christ: Now that's just stupid.
Satan: Well, I agree.
See more »


Referenced in In a Savage Land: Cast and Crew Interviews (2001) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

The previous review does a disservice
14 November 2001 | by notatallmikeSee all my reviews

I just saw Hal Hartley's 'The Book of Life', and while not out-and-out my favorite Hal Hartley film, it has all the charm one can expect from his work.

Another reviewer complains of "predictable" and "unbelievably straightforward" (not sure what he means) jokes, and a plot that "rumbles on from one event to the next" (again, not sure how that is bad), but this is not a plot-driven or joke-driven film. It is idea-driven, and brilliantly so, as most of Hartley's films are. The film is only a few minutes more than an hour long, but it has more ideas contained within it than most feature length films. Even though he claims that "Hal" ought to have known better, and relays his experience that acting in Hartley's films is "peculiar", the other reviewer does not seem to truly be familiar with this director. If this person was, it would seem less likely that they would denigrate the performances in the film, which are quintessentially Hartley-esque.

Martin Donovan, who is a treat to watch in any film but particularly in his element when working with Hartley, plays a disillusioned Jesus, who has arrived in New York with his assistant, Magdalena, on the eve of the millenium to open the final three seals on the book of life, and reluctantly unleash the Apocalypse. Satan, played by 'Henry Fool''s Thomas Jay Ryan, is also lurking about in NYC, continuing to trap souls, and grousing about the coming apocalypse, albeit for different reasons than Jesus. Although Jesus and Satan are iconic characters, this film, as one would expect from a Hal Hartley scenario, chooses instead to base it's characterizations of them on their human qualities, placing them under, rather than outside, the influence of humanity.

I believe that anyone who appreciates Hal Hartley's work, or who appreciates smaller, more thought-provoking films, would find plenty to rejoice about in "The Book of Life".

3 of 3 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 35 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Recently Viewed