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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


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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 ... 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)
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Did You Know?


Edie: Are you really the Devil?
Satan: Yes.
Edie: Would you like some soup?
[Satan looks completely baffled]
Dave: She's a Buddhist.
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User Reviews

Another amazing Hartley film ...
24 March 1999 | by Miami-4See all my reviews

In The Book of Life, Martin Donovan plays Jesus, who shows up at JFK airport on December 31 to usher in the new millennium by battling with Thomas Jay Ryan (Satan) and deciding the fate of the world. There is also David Simonds (Kurt the accountant from Amateur) as a compulsive, homeless gambler.

As usual, Hartley creates a surreal world in which the beauty of the ordinary made strange and otherworldly flows through artfully-framed scenes and urban/industrial landscapes filled with dazzling light and shadow. As usual, he introduces seemingly incidental details early, then brings them back later in hilarious and unexpected contexts--the humor is simple, but giddy and irrepressible. Hartley has an amazing ability to build toward small and rapturous moments of the simultaneously mundane and outrageous. As usual, he creates a tone that is jaded and world-weary but at the same time, vulnerable, open, and honest. He moves within minutes from uproarious humor into language that is metaphysical and poetic-the kind of writing that is so dead-on and perfect that it's difficult to hold back tears despite the lack of obvious emotion. Another awesome and highly entertaining film. The Book of Life is shot (a digital camera?) with a blurry effect: a sense of the celestial hand-in-hand with impending doom and a hyper-awareness of the present as fragile and fleeting in it's last moments. All of Hartley's films have a way of prioritizing the present, but this unique effect compounds it as the images wash across the screen in a way that is at first jarring, but becomes increasingly beautiful as you settle into it. The final shot is spectacular. All this may sound precious, but the film is a comedy and it makes fun of itself even as it makes fun of the concept of Armageddon, Judgment Day, and `urbanity.' Although it is actually quite profound, moving, and life-affirming, it is for the most part lighthearted and playful. The acting is flawless in terms of the kind of the subdued tone that Hartley has developed in his films (a tone that some people don't get and that prompts them to judge such acting as hollow--the same people who have a negative response to Peter Greenaway). As always, there are bound to be people who respond to this film with cynicism and scorn-people put off by Hartley's abrupt shifts and what they see to be pretentious or mannerist techniques, but who has time to consider the opinions of such dull and callous fools? Anyone who is a Hartley fan will love this film-if they can get a chance to see it, that is. It's hard to say what it would be like on video.

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