Film Portrayals of Jesus

With the release of the new movie “Son Of God” out this weekend (I haven’t seen it yet, but was very unimpressed with the few minutes I watched of “The Bible” which was produced by the same people and features the same actor as Jesus), I was reflecting on the various film portrayals of Jesus I’ve seen. I actually haven’t seen that many, but I can definitely name a few standouts.

Of course Jim Caviezal’s performance in The Passion of The Christ (2004) is a standout. He does a great job of acting, but there are several other things that make it stand out even more. First of course is the focus on the brutality of Jesus’ experience. It’s not that I’m a fan of watching people get beaten or killed (I can’t stand horror flicks or even UFC), but I think that we tend to forget, ignore, or overlook the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice. He didn’t just take a bullet for us and die quickly; He was beaten to a pulp and hung on a cross for hours. Whenever I watch this sobering film I find myself feeling how much I hurt God when I sin. And that allows me to appreciate His grace all the more.

The second thing I appreciate about The Passion of The Christ is it’s dedication to accuracy. They gave Caviezal a fake nose to make him more Jewish. But wow! They did the whole thing in Aramaic! No silly British accent here! Thank you!

And finally I like how this film really emphasizes Jesus’ humanity. I love the scene with his mother where he’s building a table. He’s a little goofy and playful with his mom. It’s endearing, and makes you love the guy which sets you up to hurt over his suffering all the more, but more important it reminds us that he really was a man. Which is a really important theological truth! If Jesus wasn’t fully human, his sacrifice would not have been the same. There’s a whole ‘nother theological discussion I’m not going to get into here, but one definitely worth having.

I have to admit that I haven’t watched all six and half hours of Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” (1977), but I dig the parts I’ve seen. Yes, Jesus is extremely white (!) and has a British accent, but those deep blue eyes sure do stare into a person’s soul! The love of Jesus shines through! Who doesn’t want to watch a movie that makes them feel loved by God?! Also, I appreciate the fact that they took six and a half hours so they could tell the story with some detail. This is not a story you want to rush through!

The worst movie I’ve seen about Jesus was “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988). Worst for several reasons, most importantly because it’s total fiction. I actually read the novel first (Nikos Kazantzakis) and enjoyed it if only because it caused me to spend many hours contemplating Christ. Also, I have to say it presented some interesting thoughts that I’d not considered before (like “at what age and in what way did Jesus begin to comprehend that he was God? He certainly didn’t fully understand his Godhood upon birth, as his brain would not have been developed enough”). I remember when this film came out and all the controversy about it. At least in my church the cry was “they’re saying Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene!” Which is actually not true at all. There is a dream sequence (or hallucination sequence?) while Jesus is on the cross, but it’s clearly not a claim that Jesus was actually married. However, it is a work of fiction. And I just can’t get over Jesus being played by Willem Dafoe, one of the most villainous actors out there. I really can’t stand that guy. He always plays the bad guy and does such a good job of being creepy that I can’t handle him in the role of Jesus! I also have a real problem with Non-Christians playing Christ, but so many of them are!

My FAVORITE portrayal of Jesus on film has to be from The Story (2012). It’s not really a full movie I don’t think – I have to admit I don’t really understand this…thing. It was built as a church-wide curriculum with sermons and bible study group notes and homework and accompanying videos. But check out this video below, essentially a music video for the Third Day song “When Love Sees You”. This is such a moving portrayal of Jesus. Talk about seeing the humanity of Christ. He comes across like…a real human… I love how he looks into the eyes of the blind man (starting at about 1:13)! You can see that he truly loves this man, like a father loves a son. And I can’t get enough of the blind man’s reaction as he begins to realize that he has been healed. That’s the kind of incredible, unbelievable joy that you would expect from someone who’s been healed of blindness!

Watch how Peter reacts when he makes eye contact with Jesus after denying him, and then the way Jesus presents forgiveness – with understanding. Like he’s saying, “yeah, Peter, you screwed up big time. And that’s no joke. But my love goes deeper.”

And of course I love that he actually looks Jewish. And it’s weird, but even the way he walks – he portrays an absolutely confidence (he’s not afraid of anything, he’s not trying to impress anyone, he is at peace) yet without a hint of arrogance. There’s just something in his eyes and his walk and his being that we don’t see in other people – for me I interpret it as the essence of being fully alive. In John 10:10 Jesus says “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” Jesus knew how to be fully alive like no one else has ever known. See the depth of emotion as he cries out for the demon possessed boy. Watch the way he laughs at the wedding feast (at 4:19) and the coy look on his face while preaching (at 4:28).

Watching this video really helps me to put myself into the story and imagine what Jesus must really be like. And that makes me want to worship! Watch it and worship with me:

Ok, I can’t resist. Here’s another great music video (for Phillips, Craig & Dean’s “Your Grace Still Amazes Me”) that I just love to watch. This one features scenes from Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth”, featuring the soul-piercing (though very Caucasian) blue eyes of Robert Powell. Let the love of Christ wash over you as you watch:

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