In 2004 a very powerful and emotionally driven movie, The Passion of Christ was released. As the title alludes, the movie began with Christ in the garden and the betrayal of Judas. The movie received a lot of media attention and brought numerous discussions and debates on both the local and international level. This year, the movie that is drawing attention, but certainly not as much as The Passion of Christ, is Son of God. The release of this film is timely as the Christian world begins its journey to Easter/Pascha. I was curious to see what the movie was like, believing that some may wonder what I think, so I saw it and frankly came away with very little. There were some touching moments, and quite a few liberties taken by the director who seemed to have a bent on “modernizing” the story a bit.
Son of God, for me, was simply a bad re-make of Jesus of Nazareth, the 1997 film that started out as a television mini series. With its star-studded cast of Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, Anthony Quinn, James Earl Jones, and Stacy Keach, I think Jesus of Nazareth is clearly the better film. Son of God also seems to be just the first of a few new films coming out that have biblical themes. Another film that will be out by the time you read this article is Noah, starring Russell Crow, Emma Watson, and Anthony Hopkins. This film looks to be filled with a lot of drama and suspense, Hollywood style.
Another film, which does not yet have a release date, is God And Kings, the re-telling of the story of Moses. Preliminary word on the street is that Moses will be more of a warrior figure, a sort of “Braveheart-ish” figure. It also appears that this film is a re-make of The Ten Commandments (1956), with Charlton Heston.
Some other biblically based projects include Mary Mother of Christ (2015), a Mel Gibson film that is a prequel to The Passion. Goliath (2015), Pontius Pilate (TBA), possibly staring Brad Pitt, The Redemption of Cain (Summer of 2015) directed by Will Smith, Ben Hur (TBA), and a new Jesus of Nazareth directed by Paul Verhoeven. This particular film, Jesus of Nazareth, is reported to “strip Christ of his divinity and his mother, Mary, of her immaculate conception (an un-Orthodox teaching) by portraying Jesus as a product of rape and the son of a Roman soldier”. This sounds more like the movie prelude to the coming of the Anti-Christ!
On the one hand, it can be a good thing to have biblically based films come to the big screen. There is an opportunity to share with moviegoers, stories that can teach and inspire. On the other hand, it can also be dangerous when the stories being told are inaccurate and tainted with modernism, personal agendas, or flat out lies. Why do I go into so much information about modern movies on biblical themes? First, it is to show that for many it is the “only” source, outside of the Bible to learn about such stories. Second, it is to show that as Orthodox Christians this is not the case. We have such a rich treasure of sources in addition to the Bible that we can draw from and feed our souls.
When I think about all that we have at our disposal: hymns, icons, writings of the Fathers, lives of the Saints, liturgical worship, feast days, fast days, and more; I realize how blessed we are. I also see how deprived others are outside of the Church, both Christians of the various denomination as well as non-Christians. This thought should not lead us to simply be thankful and then return to the riches we’ve been given, it should cause us to move outside of ourselves and share what we’ve been given to others, to invest it! Otherwise, we will be guilty of “burying the talent,” a sin worthy of damnation (cf. Mt. 25:14-30). Since we have been given much, much will be required of us. This is not a threat but an opportunity. Why wouldn’t we want to share with others the treasure of our Faith? Why wouldn’t we want to be a part of the salvation of others? If God desires that “all men be saved and come to the knowledge of truth” (I Tim. 2:4), how could we want anything different?
While a portion of the world outside of Orthodoxy feeds on the Hollywood version of Scripture, we must heed the calling to share the pearl of great price to heart and remember our role as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Nothing comes close to what the Orthodox Church offers when it comes to feeding the spiritually impoverished. Mel Gibson’s The Passion was not necessary for Orthodox Christians, in the sense that it offers something dramatically new. We relive the Passion of Christ every Holy Thursday.
How can any of us not be moved to tears, and experience pain in our heart as we listen to the twelve Gospel readings, the hymns, and witness the procession of Jesus Christ crucified. He hangs on the cross before our eyes and we are painfully and joyfully reminded of the sacrifice He made for our salvation. Every year we walk with our Lord and His disciples from the events that took place in the Upper Room to His Resurrection. I have yet to see any film capture what Holy Week and Pascha portray. I have yet to experience such sorrow, pain and joy as I have during Holy Week. The hymnographers and Holy Fathers of the Church have given us an unprecedented and never to be equaled rendition of life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hollywood with all special effects and green screens will never match what the Church has passed down to us over the centuries.
As Hollywood attempts to give us a window through which to look and see God’s work in human history, we will continue to feed off of the age-old and timeless hymns, readings and teachings of the Church. It’s not that Hollywood’s renditions are without some good; it’s just that they will always pale in comparison. My hope and prayer is that we will once again enter into the treasure of Orthodoxy during this special time of the Church year, embracing Holy Week with a renewed focus and great intention to feed from the table that is richly laden in order to quench our parched tongues and satisfy our spiritual hunger. This time of year is like no other in the Church. Holy Week and the Feast of Pascha are the summation of Christ’s coming into a world of darkness, for the life and salvation of the world. May we enter into the glory of the Lord and give thanks to His holy Name.