Reimaging the Son of God
OK, first a confession: I have not seen the new film, Son of God. There is a pretty good reason for that: It has not yet been released in Australia. And I am not certain if I will see it when it does appear. So why write about a film you haven’t seen? There are three reasons for this:
First, I did see most of the first film these folks did (the ten-part The Bible TV series) and I was not impressed. I explain my reasons for that here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/08/20/assessing-the-bible/
Second, I do not mind taking the word of those who have seen it, and are those whom I feel are reliable and trustworthy guides here.
Third, I doubt that any cinematic depiction of the greatest story ever told can do it proper justice. No matter how gifted the filmmaker, the producers, the camera crew, and the others are; no matter how talented the actors are; and no matter how spiffy the special effects are, no film will ever come close to capturing what actually took place at Calvary’s hill.
Here I offer snippets from four folks who have seen the film and/or are well-placed to discuss it. The first is evangelical writer Tim Challies. He rightly reminds us that “we can’t expect a movie to do what God promises only the Word will do”.
He says we must distinguish between two related terms: crucifixion and cross: “I will allow David Wells to describe the difference: ‘The former was a particularly barbaric way of carrying out an execution, and it was the method of execution that Jesus endured. The latter, as the New Testament speaks of it, has to do with the mysterious exchange that took place in Christ’s death, an exchange of our sin for his righteousness.’ According to this definition, many were crucified, but only One went to the cross.
“Here is what I want to think about: A film cannot adequately capture the reality of what transpired between the Father and the Son while the Son hung upon the cross. If this is true, a film that displays the crucifixion but misses the cross might actually prove a hindrance rather than a help to the Christian faith. Even the best movie will still be hampered by a grave weakness….
“The cross of Christ is not less than the crucifixion, but it is certainly far, far more. Don’t believe you understand more about the cross by witnessing a dramatic recreation of the crucifixion. Before you line up to see Son of God, do at least consider what Wells says: the film leaves us with a biographical Christ, an incomplete picture, a half-told story. Those who see the film without being told the rest of the story may actually understand less about the person and work of Christ than if they had never seen it at all.”
That in itself may be enough to lead us all to be quite cautious about the film. But there are other concerns. Kyle Smith is clearly not too impressed with the film for various reasons: “It’s a film inspired less by the Bible than by a somewhat lesser guide to Christian precepts: ‘Jesus for Dummies.’
“A repurposed segment of last year’s History Channel miniseries ‘The Bible,’ the film stars Diogo Morgado, a Portuguese actor billed as ‘the first Latin Jesus.’ He makes for a sunny, can-do Portuguesus wandering the land with a miracles-on-demand service available to anyone who walks up to him. He seems oddly, disturbingly in love with himself as he dazzles the Israelites with his fluorescent, Brad Pitt smile.
“It trivializes Christian thought to reduce the parables to one-liners and the miracles to magic tricks, but the film was made with the entirely unsurprising input of Joel Osteen, the charlatan self-help guru who has advised his followers that prayer can help you snag a good parking space.
“‘Son of God’ is guilty of all the sins of the 1950s Bible epics, but without any of the majesty. The supporting characters lack depth, and the actors are blocky and silly, lugging around those half-British accents that supposedly indicate seriousness. The special effects aren’t good enough for the big screen — Jerusalem looks like it was created out of Legos — and the overbearing soundtrack turns what ought to be quietly transcendent moments into corn syrup. The Last Supper? Doesn’t need a lot of embellishment. It’s a profound moment. So why bury it under the rubble left by orchestral bombardment?”
Christopher Gregory focuses on the couple behind the film: “Roma Downey, a devout Roman Catholic, along with her husband, were heavily influenced in new age spirituality. Downey graduated from the University of Santa Monica, a private graduate school founded by New Age spiritual and self-help guru John-Roger, and will graduate with a master’s degree in spiritual psychology in June 2010.
“Roma went even further into her new age Catholic spirituality by teaming up with acclaimed psychic John Edwards and co-produced a CD for children to be used for meditation and enlightenment, while Edwards introduced the teachings of contacting the dead (necromancy)….
“Even further in regards to Ms. Downey’s position regarding spiritualism and her Catholic religion, Roma advocates the eastern mysticism teachings of Eckhart Tolle, another spiritual giant in the field of new age teachings, not to mention the connections Tolle has with Oprah Winfrey. But it’s fascinating to see such a connection that someone has to the world of the occult and then try to present a so called gospel message. Yet that’s exactly what Roma Downey and her husband are indeed doing, presenting another gospel, another Jesus.”
Finally, John Kirkwood does not waste any time in getting to the point: “The top three reasons not to see Son of God:
1. It was made by the same people that made The Bible mini-series.
2. They removed Satan from the movie because the Obamas complained.
3. Because a half-crazy, chain-smoking, recovering alcoholic can make a better movie about Jesus Christ than a cadre of New-Age, Deepok-Oprah occultists and shiny, happy evangellyfish….
“The great offense of Son of God is that there is no offense. In fact, it’s so sterile that you end up wondering just why they bothered to crucify this Jesus at all; he was about as threatening as a window-shopping Ashton Kutcher in his capris and flip-flops.
“This Jesus is no longer the ‘man of sorrows,’ so comely that the world wouldn’t recognize him, so non-descript that he had to be betrayed by a kiss; he’s the shiny-happy, smiling and waving Messiah, like Russell Brand walking the red carpet at Cannes! There is no emotional attachment in this portrayal at all. You don’t even feel it when Mary holds her son in the compulsory ‘La Pieta’ pose at the foot of the cross. It feels contrived, in an after school special type of a way.
“A flat, sanitized Christ, a disjointed narrative with a fuzzy gospel will hardly summon the demons in protest, and Son of God was so palatable that even the most ardent critic of the New Testament account loved it. Abraham Foxman said that Son of God will be, ‘the antidote to the poison that Passion of the Christ became.’ Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League went on to say, ‘It’s almost a disservice to Son of God to compare the two.’ And on that we completely agree.”
He concludes, “The old Nintendo ‘Quit Screen’ read, ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost,’ and this, my friend, is twice the witness that you’ll find in Son of God. An archaic children’s video game console is more doctrinally sound and spiritually courageous than the gospel according to Mark and Roma.
“A Jewish sage? – Sure. A martyr? – Most assuredly. A great moral teacher? – But of course. Though, the man who speaks more of sin, spiritual death and Hell than any other figure in the gospels is remarkably silent about those things in the movie based on his life and work.
“As C.S. Lewis so elegantly put it, ‘We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a great moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him. He produced mainly three effects – Hatred – Terror – Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.’
“As for staying power, Son of God is a one-fer. No one will stop back for day-old cotton candy. While I saw The Passion of the Christ three times at the theater and own it both in Blu-Ray and digital, I will never drop another dime on Son of God. The Gospel according to Burnett & Downey has all the sweep and majesty of a stick of Juicy Fruit gum – forty seconds in.
“But if you prefer Lite-Brite to the Aurora Borealis or Spaghettios to Del Posto’s Veal Agnolotti with Sugo Finto, then Son of God is just for you. You’ll be totally self-realized!”
Strong words. But when you are dealing with the most important person who ever lived, you really want to make sure that you get things right. And by the sounds of these four – and many others – the husband and wife team did not get things right.
Who knows, I may eventually break down and go see the film when it comes here. But based on the above, I won’t be holding my breath. Perhaps the best thing I can say about it is what I said about the earlier TV series: “If it gets non-Christians and nominal Christians to actually go and read the Bible, then it will be a good thing indeed. We can certainly pray to that end at least.”
5 Replies to “Reimaging the Son of God”
Are there any TV or film versions of the life of Christ made for mainstream audiences that are any good? I have a DVD of the Jesus of Nazareth miniseries that was made in 1978.
Ross, I think that “Jesus of Nazareth” was the best attempt so far. I took exception with some minor aspects, but the overall account and filmography was the most compelling I have ever seen. I have the DVD too and have watched it many times. (It is an Easter tradition and a test for me of it’s viabiliy) I actually saw “The Passion of the Christ” seven times in the theater. It was a visceral experience that I couldn’t replicate once I bought the DVD and tried to watch it at home. I realize that it was following the stations of the cross from the Catholic tradition, but I did experience the ‘exchange”, from crucifix to cross, that Bill refers to in this article…and the victory over Satan and death was palable.
Bill, I wouldn’t give one penny to the “Son of God” corporation. If I see it at all, it will be as a free lend-out from the library.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) – Pier Paolo Pasolini – its on you tube – english sub titles – every word spoken by actor playing christ is directly from the Bible – no additions to the text – just pure scripture
I didn’t see “The Bible” miniseries because I knew the sins of omission and commission would drive me bonkers.
The 70’s Franco Zeferelli “Jesus of Nazareth” was, by and large, okay. Robert Powell’s portrayal of Jesus (too pallid by half) seemed to owe a lot to Max Von Sydow, and the post-resurrection scenes seemed tacked-on. And then there was the whole subplot with a made-up Jewish scribe (ably played by Bilbo–I mean, Ian Holm) as the chief architect behind the Jewish leadership’s machinations against Jesus.
The version of “The Gospel of John” that came out a few years ago at least had the virtue of striving to be faithful to the text. And Christopher Plummer’s narration is always a plus.
On another film: This morning a film called “Noah” was mentioned on the radio about which some Muslims apparently got upset because it is about a prophet. But apparently some christian groups were said to have voiced opposition to it too but of course it didn’t tell us where they were coming from.