Jesus Lite in ‘Son of God’

Jesus Lite in ‘Son of God’

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by Teresa Limjoco

“Son of God” is an abbreviated retelling of the story of Jesus Christ’s last years, which opens with an older St. John the Evangelist recalling his years with Jesus.  The script draws largely on St. John’s Gospel, but also shows Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem followed by quick flashbacks from the Old Testament (Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Moses). The story resumes with Jesus Christ carrying out his public ministry, performing miracles, and fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies.

What we get in this film is a  “Jesus Lite.” Despite some moving scenes, the picture lacks a genuine passion in the figure of Christ. As Jesus, Diogo Morgado looks the role: he has kind eyes and a gentle manner, and he smiles often. However, there are odd incongruities, such as the scene in which a smiling Jesus playfully pokes a little girl in the chest as he threatens to destroy the high priests’ temple. Also, Morgado’s preaching Christ is less than compelling. At times his speech turns slow and soft, falling short of evincing the charisma of a wise teacher, much less a divine one.

There are odd incongruities, such as the scene in which a smiling Jesus playfully pokes a little girl in the chest as he threatens to destroy the high priests’ temple.

Thankfully, we are spared gratuitous gore in the torture and crucifixion scenes. Skillful editing and Morgado’s affecting portrayal evoke the desired audience reactions, as we feel pity and compassion for him as the suffering Christ in all his bloodied and weakened humanity.

There are sketchy portraits of the Mother Mary, of the apostles, and of Mary Magdalene. Of some note is Darwin Shaw as a sympathetic, repentant Peter who disowns Christ despite his earlier protestations. Equally credible is the believing Pharisee, Nicodemus, played by Simon Kunz.

More striking are the characters of Pontius Pilate and of Caiaphas. Greg Hicks gives us a dutiful if cruel Pilate who cares only about crowd control amid the fuss caused by this preacher named Jesus. Adrian Schiller’s Caiaphas elicits our anger, as well as pity, as the prideful high priest who feels so threatened by Christ and his following that he plots to have Jesus killed.

Produced by the same team responsible for “The Bible” series on The History Channel, the film appears to include scenes lifted from that program, with new footage added. (Editor's Note: ‘The Bible' was the highest rated US cable show of 2013.) The budget-conscious cinematography reveals itself in the computer-generated wide-angle shots that recreate the ancient cities.  The heavy use of medium- and close-up shots, more common in made-for-TV films, feels constricting and tedious.  (Also, I believe I spied Rastafarian dreadlocks amongst the cast in a couple of the flashback scenes.)

Attempts to present Jesus’s final weeks as a political thriller misfire, for the suspense never quite builds. The dialogue is bland and the narrative does not flow smoothly. Some of the scriptural text has been simplified, and words here and there are changed without apparent reason, diminishing the poetic beauty. (As it is, the Revised Standard Version for Catholics strips away much of the more reverent elegance of the language in the Douay-Rheims or the King James Bibles.)

Attempts to present Jesus’s final weeks as a political thriller misfire, for the suspense never quite builds.

A few discordant anachronisms also slip in, as when Peter asks Jesus early on what they mean to do in their apostolate, and Jesus answers, “Change the world!”

And yet, I don’t wish to dismiss the film utterly. You never know, it may just move a few towards a deepening of their faith.

Final rating: Three out of five stars.
Son of God, produced 2014 by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, was adapted from the 2013 miniseries, ‘History Channel, The Bible.'

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