Mark Burnett and Roma Downey get religion. At least they get The Bible. Their 2013 blockbuster television miniseries of that name garnered accolades while reaching huge audiences. Now they’ve adapted its “Jesus” portion with new footage for theaters.
Prolific television producer Burnett (Survivor, The Voice, Shark Tank) and his wife, actress/producer Downey (Touched by an Angel), explain: “We responded to an overwhelming demand for the greatest story ever told to be seen as a shared experience on the big screen. The result is a beautiful stand-alone movie…the story of Jesus for a whole new generation.” Twentieth Century Fox releases Son of God February 28.
This film has adventure, drama and passion. Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer created the orchestral score. The Middle Eastern locale is authentic; Jesus has dirt under his fingernails. Downey, as Jesus’ mother Mary, compellingly displays love and angst that likely will touch your heart. Tough but Tender Jesus is tough but tender, turning over moneychangers’ tables, forgiving an adulterous woman, welcoming children with a warm smile. He answers a skeptic with perhaps his most famous statement: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Believe in him and you will have eternal life.”
His suffering is realistically portrayed. You may cringe at his beating, gasp as the nails puncture his hands and feet, grimace as the spear pierces his side. Son of God? This film’s title appears no accident. Numerous script lines incorporate biblical claims about Jesus’ deity, among them: Peter’s affirmation, “You are the…Son of…God.” Jesus’ response to the high priest’s query whether he is the Son of God: “I am.” Accusing him of blasphemy, leaders said he deserved to die.
Was Jesus really God’s Son? Controversial question. What are the alternatives? If his claim was true, he would be the Lord. If it was false and he knew it, he was lying. If he didn’t know it was false, he had serious delusions, perhaps paranoid schizophrenia or paranoia proper. Jesus’ claim to deity sets him apart from great moral teachers. If the New Testament accounts of his life are accurate, he was either a liar, or a lunatic, or the Lord. Liar? Lunatic? Was he a liar? If so, he died for that lie. Few, if any, would willingly die for something they knew was a hoax. Would you? Both believers and skeptics have considered Jesus a paragon of virtue. Was Jesus a lunatic? His teachings are often used as a basis for mental health. He had a genuine concern for others, a cool response under pressure, and a great love for his enemies. As the film indicates, he said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
If Jesus was insane, what must we be? If he was neither liar nor lunatic, one alternative remains: that he was the Lord. Evidence for his resurrection – also depicted in Son of God – supports this claim. Producers sought to be faithful to the spirit of the Bible. They take typical movie-making liberties – combining events and condensing timelines – to represent the gist of Jesus’ life. Compressed narrative and dialogue skip some details and occasionally blur nuances. But the result is powerful cinematic storytelling.
Fave not-from-the-Bible lines: My favorite lines from the film that are not directly from the New Testament: Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who reluctantly ordered Jesus crucified: “He’ll be forgotten in a week.” Peter, at the empty tomb, after his friend John says Jesus is “gone”: “Gone? No. He’s back!” Back, indeed. And worth contemplating this Easter season and beyond. Son of God is a great place to start. Rated PG-13 (USA) “for intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence”