Monday, March 3, 2014
Yesterday I watched the newly released and much-touted movie, “Son of God.” I watched it along with a crowd of folks from my church; we booked almost an entire theater for the Sunday afternoon matinee. The last time we did that was for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which came out about ten years ago. That film, of course, raised the bar considerably for faith-themed movies. I was glad to see this newest addition to gospel genre films, but it was certainly nothing like the caliber of Gibson’s work. It seemed to me much more like a “made for TV” movie escaped to the big screen. Some of the early footage was, in fact, taken right out of the “The Bible” miniseries which was specifically produced for television. That said, I enjoyed the film for the most part, and I am truly appreciative of the effort taken by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett to tell yet again what is truly the greatest story every told.
If you’re looking for a movie that portrays every action of Jesus exactly as the Scriptures describe it, you’ll be disappointed (the only movie that does that successfully is the “Jesus” film, released in 1979 and still the all-time best evangelism tool ever produced). Bible purists will no doubt be troubled by some of the depictions. Familiar events are featured but perhaps not in the way you’d expect to see them presented, and some of them are combined in odd ways. For example, when Jesus declares to his disciples that not one stone of the temple in Jerusalem would be left upon another, he does it in a playful way with a small child. “Jesus loves the little children” meets “Jesus the prophet.” I honestly found that a little disturbing, given the gravity of what Jesus was referring to, but I guess I fall in the “purist” category. When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the film shows him actually entering the tomb, definitely not how the Gospels record the event. Amazingly, Jesus is the only one not gagging from the stench. But Lazarus is raised, which is the point, and what we all love about the story. In the crucifixion scene, Jesus’ garment is torn from him by the Roman soldiers. The Gospels specifically tell us that whereas his outer garments where divided among four soldiers, the Lord’s seamless inner garment was not torn. Overall, scenes from the ministry of Jesus were not stretched beyond credibility, however. One of my favorite scenes was the calling of Matthew the tax collector to become Jesus’ disciple. I can’t say that it actually happened that way, but I can envision it happening that way; it sure seemed in keeping with the character of the biblical Jesus. The near-stoning of the woman caught in adultery was also very compelling. I won’t spoil those scenes for you, in case you want to see the movie for yourself.
To me, “Son of God” is sort of like what a child’s story Bible is to the King James Version. You can rely on it for the basic account, but not all the actual details or even the words of Jesus as the Bible records them are provided. Creative liberties were definitely taken by the film’s directors. But then they never intended for this movie to be a strictly by-the-book portrayal of the Gospel accounts, seeking instead to capture the spirit of Jesus’ life and ministry as they put his story to film. I’d say they accomplished their intentions. Honestly, I have yet to see a major studio movie on the life of Christ that was ever done to my complete satisfaction.
I genuinely liked several aspects about “Son of God.” For starters, someone finally cast an actor in the role of Jesus who looks like they could have grown up near the Mediterranean Sea instead of the Thames. The character of Jesus practically leaked compassion. The other principal roles seemed well cast, to me, and the actors’ performances were strong and believable. One of the better things accomplished in this film was the backdrop of the political tension of the times created by the Roman occupation of Israel and Jerusalem. I therefore understood Caiaphas, though I still despised him. I also thought the portrayal of Jesus’ arrest, beating, and crucifixion was sensitively done. The difficult scenes were realistic without trying to compete with “The Passion of the Christ,” which went way over the top in its depiction of Jesus’ suffering (I swear, I never in my life wanted a movie character to hurry up and die so badly as I did while watching “The Passion!”). I never enjoy this part of any film on the life of Christ, but I thought “Son of God” handled it well. I was moved afresh when the suffering and death of Jesus were recalled to me through this film. I also found the framing of the film’s beginning and end through the aging Apostle John both unexpected and refreshing.
“Son of God” is not the best film on the life of Jesus I’ve ever seen, but the good news still shines through, a testimony to the power of the Cross. The story of Jesus is still the greatest story ever told and manages to overcome the short-comings of this new film presentation.