Given the knee-jerk nature of the Internet, there will undoubtedly be hundreds of blog posts and articles over the next few weeks nitpicking every line and scene of the new “Son of God” film – questioning the moviemakers for taking license with this biblical tale here, paraphrasing Jesus’ words there and inserting a bit of interpretation or sinew in the story anywhere.
People are going to be sneer about how handsome the actor was who played Jesus, or how he looked like a smiling flower child teaching people like a wondering dope-stoked guru, or why Satan and the demons were omitted, or whether or not Mary Magdalene actually traveled with the disciples, or whether or not Jesus entered Lazarus’ tomb, or, or, or, etc.
That’s not the purpose of this column.
Here we examine worldviews, the thought behind the film and the impact of the film on culture.
And even though I have my own nitpicky criticisms, one thing is abundantly clear in the new “Son of God” film: The makers were clearly attempting to honor and be faithful to the story and words of Jesus Christ.
Absent are any Hollywood attempts to shoehorn a modern message into an ancient story; absent are overt political or denominational agendas; and absent are any twistings of Scripture that should be blasted as sacrilege or heresy (can’t say the same for the upcoming “Noah” film, however).
Yes, if I were making the film, I would have made some different decisions about how to condense years’ worth of Jesus’ life into two hours. And yes, there were some choices made that make me wonder how non-believing audiences, especially, will receive the narrative.
But none of that changes this reality: “Son of God” is a movie, made by well-intentioned folks, about a story and a Savior that is near and dear to them.
That said, I move into a fuller critique of the movie itself …
From an entertainment perspective, “Son of God” clearly transcends the typical, Christian film fare with big studio-quality camerawork, elaborate sets and costumes and lush locations. The acting, particularly from those playing Jesus’ disciples, is usually solid.
The movie does suffer quite a bit from its episodic nature, Bible story after Bible story in quick succession, often neglecting the telling of a coherent, flowing narrative. For example, Mary the mother of Christ suddenly shows up and grabs lots of screen time during the passion, while she was virtually a noncharacter for most of the film. It makes audiences feel as though they missed something earlier.
But “Son of God” does introduce a pair of strong themes – John’s reflections from the Island of Patmos and the conflict between the Jews and their Roman oppressors – which help tie together the bundle of loosely related vignettes.
The storyline follows the life of Jesus from birth (skipping his childhood), through several familiar tales of his teachings and miracles, to his crucifixion and resurrection. It’s a lot of ground to cover, and the filmmakers had to consequently cut a great deal of Jesus’ life out of the film. It also makes it difficult to truly understand the character of Christ, what motivates him, and why (at least in this version) he’s smiling all the time. But actor Diogo Morgado gives audiences a fresh look at the pain and heart of Christ in those moments when his character stops smiling and the conflict within him is played out across his face.
Better still is the vivid and gritty depiction of the disciples themselves, which admittedly lends itself more to artistic license (since the Bible itself focuses more on Jesus than the background of his followers), but still helped this Christian reviewer think anew about many of the stories I now realize were far shallower in my imagination than they must have been in real life.
For example, I was really touched by the depth of Matthew’s shame and repentance as a Jewish tax collector, by the joy of the disciples at the feeding of the 5,000, and the gut-wrenching agony of the 12 reclining around the table at the Last Supper when Jesus announced he would be leaving them.
The film also gave audiences a fascinating, original look at the motivations of the priests and Pharisees, namely Caiaphas and Nicodemus, as well as the interaction between the priests and the traitor, Judas. Admittedly, this is all extra-biblical speculation, but it doesn’t contradict the scriptural account and spurs some intriguing reflection.
Yes, I have my qualms. I thought, especially after the very life-like and tangible depiction of earlier scenes, the Upper Room scene following the resurrection was over-spiritualized, and I fear it loses the idea that the disciples were truly surprised to behold a risen Christ. The apologist in me wishes “Son of God” would have spent more time developing the resurrection and its stunning verification of everything Jesus said prior.
But I digress. Of the criticism of this film there will be no end – and that’s a shame. For “Son of God” hits many more right notes than foul, is an earnest attempt to communicate anew the love of Christ and is a film worth seeing and discussing.
It’s greatest value, perhaps, is not that it’s as rattling as “The Passion of the Christ,” for it’s not, nor as sweeping as “The Ten Commandments,” for it’s not, but that for many viewers the “Son of God” will drive them back to the Word of God – and that’s an endeavor worth praising.
- “Son of God” contains neither profanity nor obscenity.
- The movie is rated PG-13, however, for some brutal violence and bloodshed, not only in the passion and crucifixion, but also in scenes with Roman oppressors.
- The film has no significant nudity or sexual themes, though there is some discussion of adultery, Pilate’s wife shows a bit of cleavage, Pilate is given an oil massage across his bare back, and Jesus appears in just a loincloth when he’s being whipped and crucified.
- The film obviously contains an abundance of religious themes, but does not move into any occult territory, specifically as it leaves out depictions of Satan, demons or other spiritual beings freely mentioned in Scripture.