‘Son of God’ tells the ultimate ‘Survivor’ story
If you go to see the new movie, “Son of God,” and you have
paid any attention at Mass or in Catholic school or religious education, you
know the story. You know the stories – the Nativity and the visit of the wise
men, the calling of the apostles, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes,
the healing of the lame man, the Last Supper, etc. It is one thing to read the
Scriptures; it is another to watch the stories brought to life on screen.
Produced by the husband-and-wife team
of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the feature film is culled from portions of
the popular History Channel series on the Bible and from alternate shots not
used in the TV series, according to Downey. They pulled together the “Jesus”
parts of the Bible story.
“Son of God” is told through the eyes of the Apostle John,
as he has aged and looks back at how this man from Galilee changed his life and
changed the world. Through John’s eyes, we see the life of Christ from his
birth through the Ascension.
Downey is best known
for her role as an angel-come-to-earth
in the long-running TV drama “Touched by an Angel.” Burnett has made his mark
with reality television, including the various iterations of “Survivor.” With
this film, Burnett and company have made the ultimate “Survivor” story. Jesus
of Nazareth overcomes death by crucifixion and not only lives forever, but
brings everlasting life to those who believe in him.
This is certainly not he first cinematic look at the life of
the Lord. “Passion of the Christ” and even musical versions such as “Godspell”
and “Jesus Christ Superstar” each look at the historical Jesus from a different
“Son of God” excels in several areas.
The cinematography is beautiful. Shot primarily in Morocco
as a stand-in for the Holy Land, the film is rich in vistas of Jesus and his
band of early followers walking from place to place. Special effects – among
them the storm in which Peter starts to walk on water toward Jesus, but goes
under when his faith fails – impress.
Most of the actors bring their characters to life. Greg
Hicks and Louise Delamere, as Pilate and his wife, embody the struggle between
the Roman occupier and the dream she has that Pilate will have a role in the
death of an innocent man. In many biblical films, the high priest Caiaphas is
an imposing, bold presence; Adrian Schiller portrays him almost (but not quite)
as a weakling, essentially as a man concerned about the effect of the
rabble-rouser Jesus on the strained relations between the Jews and the Romans.
Nicodemus (Simon Kunz) displays the angst of a member of the Sanhedrin who
comes to realize that there is something different about Jesus that is worth
Downey herself portrays Mary, the mother of Jesus,
effectively emoting the anguish of a mother as her son is beaten and hung on a
cross. We feel her pain. Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado imbues Jesus with the
urgency of the call to the disciples, the playfulness of a friend, and the
power of a leader. By turns joyful in his teaching and disappointed with the
moneychangers, he powerfully brings the emotions of despair at Gethsemane and
Calvary to the fore.
Some of the characters are not as effective. For example,
the story seems to confuse Simon the Zealot (who is never mentioned here) with
Barabbas, letting Barabbas provide the viewpoint as one who seeks a messiah of
military might, as well as being the murderer whom Pilate sets free at the
urging of the crowd. And by necessity, as the years of Jesus’ life are
condensed into 138 minutes of running time, some timelines are compressed, such
as Jesus’ appearance to the Apostles after his resurrection.
This film is not for the young, or the squeamish. The story
shifts quickly from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the brutality of Holy
Thursday and Good Friday. Parts of the film are intense. There is an
appreciable amount of blood and gore, especially during the flogging, carrying
the cross along the Via Dolorosa, and – of course – the crucifixion. It may be
too intense for a child under 13 if the child was not mature or prepared for
it. Even some adults in the screening I attended averted their eyes during
particularly violent scenes.
And yet, the violence is a part of the story. As with “The
Passion of the Christ,” when Jesus is beaten and nailed to the cross, it is
hard not to realize that my own sins put him there, and that he died for my
salvation – and yours.
Like “The Passion,” “Son of God” has been marketed through
Christian and Catholic churches across the country, with churches being
encouraged to buy out screenings. Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori will
host such a screening in Hunt Valley March 4, the day before Ash Wednesday. While
it is a good way to bring together a community to experience the story, it is
also very effective at selling seats. That’s not a bad thing, if it gives more
people an opportunity to internalize the message of the Gospel.
As we begin Lent March 5, it is well for us to remember that
“God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.” In that context, this movie
can be an aid to your Lenten reflections.
more on “Son of God,” including a video interview with Roma Downey and scenes
from the film, see this story
from Catholic News Service. Also view their review of the movie
2/28/2014 12:01:00 AM
By Christopher Gunty