Monday, June 22, 2015

A good thing

First row only: Mary Magdalene (far left), John, Peter,
Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Judas Iscariot, Thomas (far right)
As if the world hadn’t seen enough mutations of the Message of Jesus Christ or splintering of the Church for the sake of earthly glory, the media community cannot be left out without adding fuel to the fire (yes, that’s where it is all heading, the fire). I had heard of a new film, Son of God, and as I wanted to check it out, I got a copy and watched it—after the first half, forced myself to watch the second half.

It started out in what I thought was a promising way. The opening verses of the Gospel according to John were spoken by the person of John the Evangelist himself, and it became evident that this film was going to be the life or meaning of Christ seen through his eyes. Jumping ahead, at the end of the film there’s even a snippet of Christ appearing to John on Patmos with His ‘final message.’

As I said, the film begins in a promising and dramatic way, showing Christ’s presence in many of the events of the Old Testament, such as the creation of Adam, the call of Abraham, and the story of Moses. It then moves on to a series of disconnected vignettes, into which the entire film is broken, starting with the birth of Jesus to Mary and the visitation by the magi, though only the black magus has an active role.

That was where I first noticed the subtle and gently gradual shifting of the historical account to what the film’s writers and producers must believe is their improvement on the Bible record. It is all done in such a natural way as to evade a notice of political correctness. The violence done to the Gospel in the form of replacing Jesus’ actual words and acts with merely something else caught me by surprise.

It never occurred to me that anyone making a movie about Jesus Christ would dream of taking such liberties, but these people take them with such ease and confidence and even authority, that the viewer, if Biblically illiterate, could have no choice but to accept what is shown in this movie as ‘the Gospel truth.’ But believe me, or see it for yourself, this new film is denatured Gospel at best, at worst, blasphemous nonsense.

Yes, I never thought I would say anything or anyone is blasphemous, not because blasphemy as a category of behavior is impossible, but because God is not harmed or even dishonored by acts of blasphemy. He is far above them. All that blasphemy does is strip the blasphemer of humanity and opens the door to further dehumanization. Meanwhile, God continues to be God, unaffected.

Leaving blasphemy aside, history itself is blasphemed, if the category can be reassigned. Not ignoring history, but rewriting it, a luscious, young Mary Magdalene is now the constant tag-along of the apostles as they traipse after Jesus, the call of Peter reduced to an encounter where Jesus offers him ‘to change your life,’ which once he accepts makes him almost the only visible apostle, irresistibly handsome.

The raising of Lazarus is depicted with perhaps the worst alteration of fact in the entire film. Jesus has the tomb entrance cleared of rubble, He goes inside and proclaims to the dead man ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life…’ and so on, while one of the sisters also in the tomb stands by. After his proclamation, Jesus squats down and buries his face in Lazarus’ thick curly hair and blows. The dead man’s eyes pop open, and he sits up. Jesus, during the whole scene is visibly close to weeping.

The near weeping of Jesus, ostensibly to show how caring and compassionate He was, is another subtle tactic of the film. In almost every scene where He has to say something unpleasant, the ‘Son of God’ looks as if He is overcome with pity or sorrow and about to cry, but He just never does. The overall impression is that Jesus Christ was trying to reform the world in the most pleasant way, and somehow knew it was just going to be impossible.

Almost every vignette of a Gospel event is altered, as if to improve on the original story, and the very few characters that are showcased bear little or no resemblance to the originals that we find in the Bible. Popular misconceptions are reinforced too. The Simon of Cyrene that is forced to help Christ carry the cross is a turban-wearing black West African, not a North African Berber or Greek.

The reason why Christ must be done away with, according to the story as this movie tells it, is that His followers are uncontrollable and might cause a disturbance during the Passover, and Pilate is threatening to close the Temple to the public if this happens, thus ruining the festival. As if he could. His gorgeous wife warns him that she dreamt about Jesus and that he mustn’t condemn him, but he says he has to, or he’ll lose his job.

The mother of Jesus, shown in her mature age, luxuriously long, curly hair framing her strong, feminine features beneath a perfect veil, everything in shades of blue of course, remains fixed in my memory along with Mary Magdalene as they wear identical expressions of dramatic grief during the trial, scourging and crucifixion of Jesus. Lacking any context, the Magdalene walking alone in a rocky waste seems to accidentally discover the empty tomb, and the resurrected Jesus standing outside and looking in, tells her to tell the apostles He is alive.

An attempt is made in the film to cover what its makers must have believed to be the essential points of the Gospel, though in such a way as hardly befits a cheap Sunday School instructional video. The main events are as visible as bumps in a road, the dialogs sometimes as jarring as pot-holes, but the road leads nowhere, and after viewing the film, I got the feeling that I had been cheated out of something.

Every generation needs to have ‘the greatest story ever told’ re-presented in their own way, if not in church, then at least in the media, which as an institution has replaced the Church as a magisterium for many, even for Christians. I understand that Son of God as a film is excerpted from a longer television series that attempts to be a video Bible. If the whole work is as limpid as this, Lord have mercy!

The fact remains, at least in this viewer’s mind, that this film is anything but a presentation of the life of Christ or of the Gospel. Keeping faithful to the Bible and to history, other film makers have provided us with reliable presentations that do what this movie tries to do by abandoning both. The result is boring and predictably unnatural, a disappointment on almost every level. At least, it may drive people back to read the Gospels themselves, and that would be a good thing.

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