The movie Son of God is taken in part from last year’s Emmy-nominated History channel miniseries, The Bible. The portions of Christ’s life that appeared in The Bible were augmented with more film that was shot at the same time, giving us the life of Jesus Christ.
I have never seen The Passion of the Christ because I can’t bring myself to watch what, by all accounts, are some pretty intense flogging scenes. Which means it’s been a long time, a really long time, since I’ve watched an on-screen version of Jesus’ life. In spite of some problems, I was moved by this adaptation, particularly the scenes of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
The movie admirably attempts to give a fuller context to Christ’s life by including a quick rundown of some of the Old Testament events. It’s an important gesture, as Christ’s incarnation is part of God’s overarching story. Unfortunately it also leads to a pacing problem and an overlong movie.
The initial Old Testament highlights reel starts the film off at a run. Then things slow down to a fast walk as the film moves from the nativity to Jesus calling the disciples, teaching, working miracles, and ruffling the Pharisees’ feathers. Holy week brings the movie almost to a standstill with lots of close-ups, slow motion, and dramatic music. I expect this is where the extra footage came into play.
Near the beginning, Pontius Pilate makes his way to his new post in Judea. Those first scenes make him out to be the Big Bad of the movie, a caricature. Later scenes during Jesus’ trial and crucifixion portray him as a more interesting, more fully developed character. His last scene in the movie gave me an idea of what the Bible means when it talks about someone’s heart being “hardened.”
One interesting aspect of Son of God is that the screenwriters mostly use Jesus’ own words from the Bible as dialogue. Sometimes you recognize that the words being quoted are from different stories, but it offers some cultural context for the words. I enjoyed the glimpse into the everyday life of people during Jesus’ time on earth.
Watching Son of God may enhance a viewer’s understanding of the political situation with which Jesus and his disciples contended as it shows the natural discomfort his teaching caused the Pharisees and the complexity of Jesus’ trial and sentencing.
There are moments where it is obvious that the film was made for television first—a scene fades out to allow for a commercial, but guess what? No commercial. Also, the images of the temple in Jerusalem, which might be impressive on television, are not terribly realistic on the big screen.
Beyond that, there is the typical problem of casting Jesus. While some of his disciples look like they could be from the Middle East, Morgado has flowing, sandy brown hair; he looks more than a bit like Brad Pitt (who, incidentally, played the modern cultural equivalent of Jesus—the man who saved Solomon Northup from his bonds in 12 Years a Slave).
It must be an enormous challenge to portray Christ. The Christ of Scripture is at once gentle and a man of unbelievable resolve, loving and righteous, meek and subversive. This particular portrayal offers someone with an unusual presence, but I’d have liked to see a little more spine. When he turns over the tables in the temple, he seems more sad than angry.
I wonder if the biggest difficulty of portraying Christ rests in the mystery he presents. Even his disciples were frequently left wondering what he was trying to tell them. In a typical Hollywood biopic, we are meant to get inside the mind of the main character in order to understand him in an intimate way. Jesus was, is, and will remain a mystery to us in many ways, at least prior to his return; it is a fearful thing to make assumptions about what he would say or think. That makes it hard to reveal anything more about him than he has already revealed.
Son of God is a worthy attempt at presenting us with the flesh-and-blood Christ. It does not have the cinematic quality of movies like the aforementioned 12 Years a Slave, but it prompted me to revisit the Easter story in a new way. And for that I am grateful. (20th Century Fox)