I must admit that I was a bit sceptical when I heard that there was going to be yet another Jesus movie. Are there not enough movies about Jesus out there? Wasn’t Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ not the masterpiece that put an end to future Jesus movies? Apparently not. What new things could they come up with that weren’t in the previous movies, anyway? In any case, this was my thinking until last Sunday night, when I went to see Son of God with a group of fellow Jesuits.
In short, I was very impressed with the movie. It is definitely not easy to make a movie when you have the likes of Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ looking over your shoulder. Nor is it easy for an actor to effectively portray the person of Jesus. Notwithstanding these challenges, they did a very good job.
The first thing that struck me as I was watching the movie on the silver screen was Jesus’ radiating joy. I haven’t seen Jesus smile so much in previous movies. It was something that immediately made Jesus very likeable. It was also evident from his joy that Jesus was certainly enjoying himself amongst his beloved creation. Along with his joy, there was an informal atmosphere about Jesus – a welcoming atmosphere into which everybody can enter.
Another unique characteristic of this portrayal of Jesus was his frequent contact with people. Everywhere he went, he patted people on the back, grabbed a hold of them, embraced them, kissed them, or even playfully dishevelled their hair. Indeed, the feeling I got was of God finally coming amongst his own and wanting to touch everyone’s life.
This Jesus was also full of confidence. He definitely had a bounce in his step – he was on a mission and he knew it. Even when the authorities confronted him, he maintained this air of confidence and authority. Yet at the same time, his confrontations with authorities brought a kind of sad smile to his face, as if he pitied their naivety and their rejection of him.
The movie also stirred the emotions, and it moved me to tears a number of times. This was especially the case during the Passion scenes and when the tender relationship between Mary – Jesus’ mother – and Jesus, was shown. Like Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, it didn’t shy away from showing the atrocity of the scourging and the crucifixion; yet, unlike The Passion, it did not draw out these bloody moments. These scenes seemed comparatively more moderate.
There is, however, one thing that the movie succeeded in awakening in me that other Jesus movies did not. It’s hard for me to describe this, so please bear with me. Most Christians are quite familiar with the Gospels and the key sayings of Jesus, such as “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. We know them very well because we’ve heard them many times before. We’ve prayed over them. We’ve discussed them in Bible study groups. So we take them for granted because they have become a part of us.
But what would it be like hearing these lines for the very first time? How would a pious Jew receive the words “Your sins are forgiven. Go, sin no more”? Most definitely, this and other provocative sayings such as “I am the Resurrection and the Life” would have been scandalous, or at least cause a strong sense of unease and surprise. When I heard these phrases in the movie, I had a very keen sense of how extraordinary they were, especially in a first century, Middle-Eastern, Jewish context. I kept asking myself: how would I have reacted if I were there in the crowd? Would I have so easily followed Jesus, or would I have joined the Pharisees and their protests? I’m not so sure I would believe right off the bat. The more Jesus used these phrases in the movie, the more I felt that this person is either crazy or really who he claims to be: God. How ludicrous it would be for a mere mortal to say, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”, or “Whoever believes in me will not die”! I felt the discomfort of the crowd. That is a mark of a good film-maker, one who can conjure such emotions in his audience.
In the end, the movie was a success because I left the theatre with a renewed love for Jesus. I was greatly edified. I was moved to be a better Christian, to continue to reform my life. This is definitely a great movie for the Lenten season as we prepare ourselves for the Paschal mystery. If you get a chance, check it out. I highly recommend it.