Son of God
Directed by Christopher Spencer
Starring Diogo Morgado, Amber Rose Revah, Sebastian Knapp, Roma Downey
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the recently debuted film Son of God is that it’s earnest. The actor portraying Jesus, Diogo Morgado, came off as a bit too heavy-handed, but still undoubtedly genuine. This depiction of the life of Jesus Christ feeds the viewers a highlight reel of miracles, from Christ walking on water to the resurrection of Lazarus without much storyline in between.
But I attended the screening wondering more than simply whether the movie was good: Can the meaning of religion be relayed through cinema? Are houses of worship, books, and quiet moments the best vehicles to relay the tenets of religion, or can we learn the messages of God while munching popcorn in front of the big screen? Do the heightened colors and enormous characters in movies help or hinder the sermon?
By courtesy of the medium, Son of God does something remarkably valuable — it allows Jesus to be embedded in messy human history, making his struggle real. Observing the political machinations of the Jewish power hierarchy and the Roman conquerors was my favorite part of the film. Additionally, while the scenery was an artistic portrayal, it was fascinating to see the beaches of the Mediterranean and the temples of Jerusalem forming the backdrop to the founding of a new religion — a visualization which books cannot duplicate. A swelling musical score functioned as an unseen shepherd for the watcher’s emotions, firmly marking moments of sweet hope and subduing moments of sadness with graceful instrumentation.
There is a sort of forced community inherent in the structure of the cinema which lends itself surprisingly well to religious pursuit. You have to sit very close to random people. And with Christ’s classic imperative to “Love thy neighbors” ringing throughout the room, you are offered the opportunity to see strangers as fellow humans, fellow travelers on a road to at least a metaphorical Holy Land.
So The Son of God succeeds in its enthusiasm, though is occasionally bereft of depth, as Christ’s story is reduced to a rapid series of miracles rather than a full, dynamic life. Less than a century ago, this story could only have been told with books and spoken stories. And while the story must adapt slightly to the media, the meaning — that love, charity, and faith can overcome all obstacles — remains the same.