Kansas City – As a Catholic, whenever I think of the Life of Jesus the image of sitting in Mass when I was in 1st grade during the 1999-2000 school year springs to mind. Not only was the Church celebrating the new millennium, but also honouring the 2000th birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, at least according to the traditional calculation. For me, it still seems a bit odd to make a film about the Life of Christ, after all how does one find an actor to portray, well, the Son of God? In this way I do kind of agree with my Muslim friends and neighbours in using their arguments for not portraying Muhammad in art by saying that perhaps such a holy figure as Jesus should not be portrayed on film as He is God. However, Jesus was also a human being, and a fairly well-spoken one to boot, so in another way it does make good sense to depict his life on the screen.
To be brief, Son of God was not quite my cup of tea. I found myself laughing through much of the first half, between the corny dialogue, at times poor CGI, fairly unconvincing acting, and the fact that Jesus was wearing makeup. However, the film began to lose its serious tone when they introduced the characters by their modern English names. Yes, yes, I know, this film was made to be seen by the masses, much more so than Mel Gibson’s epic of 10 years ago, but at the same time it just sounds weird to hear a little boy running down a street in a small Jewish town shouting “It’s Jesus!” I feel that in this instance, as in any historical film, the best first step towards keeping the seriousness of the piece there is to keep the characters’ names the way they were in their lifetimes. So, rather than Jesus, call Him Yeshua (ישוע), or instead of referring to our narrator, St John the Evangelist, as “John”, why not call him Yovhann (יוחנן). I will say on that matter, that as an Irish speaker, referring to Jesus as Yeshua makes more sense as in Irish His name is Íosa. And while I’m on the topic of names, the whole “You are Peter, the rock, and upon you I will build my Church” loses its meaning when Simon Peter is referred to as Peter rather than Simon before that in the film. Also, I wasn’t aware that St Thomas was ginger until tonight. That must have made him stick out quite terribly during his mission in India.
My biggest complaint with the film is its directing. Firstly, we didn’t need the “hero shot” of Jesus and St Peter in the latter’s fishing boat just after making the big catch. After that is the repetition of captions whenever the scene changed to a different location. I think after the first time seeing the poor CGI overview of Jerusalem the viewer should be able to remember what they’re looking at, we don’t need reminding thereafter. Finally, there were some key elements of the Passion that were missing from this depiction: the Washing of the Feet, St Veronica fully enfolding Jesus’ face in her cloth, Jesus stopping to talk to the Women of Jerusalem, and the mixture of blood and water coming out of the wound pierced by the Holy Lance. Portuguese soaps actor Diogo Morgado gave a mixed performance as Jesus. Like the film itself, I found that his acting improved from when he arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
On the other hand, Son of God does a good job appealing to its target audience: Protestant Americans. I saw a few episodes of the original History Channel miniseries The Bible from which much of the footage in Son of God comes, and have to say that I was turned off of the show quite quickly by the fact that every time a commercial break came, along with it was at least one, though often two, ads for Christian Mingle. Honestly, the show’s creators did a good job at avoiding any major sort of controversy in this film, which is more than I can say about the miniseries, but in the attempted avoidance, so much of the reality of first century Palestine were lost.
For example, I find it hard to understand why there had to be characters of every racial background, except East Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Amerindians in the film. If the director was that concerned with avoiding racial issues, why not just make all of the characters, um, I don’t know… Middle Eastern? Then again, it might concern the core audience that Jesus and the Disciples were from a region of the world that today is by majority Muslim. After all, the present must be taken into account when portraying the past. Oh, and don’t get me started on some of the oddities involved in the film’s Romans.
In the end, I’d say if you want to go see Son of God, then go see it. It is an interesting film, that has a unique take on the Life of Christ. However, the full heart-wrenching emotion of the Passion simply is not entirely there in this production, nor is the true majesty of just how fully human and fully divine Jesus was. If you want to see that full emotion, my recommendation would be to watch Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.