PG-13 | | Biography, Drama, History | 28 February 2014 (USA)
They found him. The stunt-double for the glowing-eyed Jesus of a billion American refrigerator magnets. He was living in Portugal. Once that guy’s been found, you simply have to make a Jesus movie entitled “Son of God.” And so they did. Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, it was a fabulous casting coup look-wise—Diogo Morgado is definitely deserving of the Oscar for best-looking Jesus, ever.
The filmmakers clearly had the best of intentions, but unfortunately this is a paint-by-the-numbers, connect-the-dots telling; a strolling through the New Testament’s greatest hits. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that when dealing with such iconic, powerful stories, giving them such short shrift feels somewhat disrespectful.
Some say the only art that’s worthwhile for the good of mankind is works that depict gods. From that perspective, “Son of God” beat every other movie released in 2014, hands down.
Originally, theater consisted of mystery dramas and church services. Then it migrated out onto the church steps, and from there down into the villages where it turned into secular theater. Now we have horror and slasher films and endless pornography. These do not uplift humanity. But “Son of God” tries.
It starts with a quick, Old Testament greatest-hits prequel à la “The Lord of the Rings”: Adam, Noah, Moses, etc. Then we move on to a little bit of Genesis recitation from the Gospel of St. John, followed by the Three Wise Men.
Finally we get to Jesus. Diogo Morgado, Portuguese model-actor, born to play Jesus. That face! And there was much beatific smiling. And unfortunately sometimes beatific smirking. But not intentionally. He’s doing the best he can; it’s just that as a model-actor, he comes down heavily on the model part of that equation.
Here, Jesus is portrayed as a hippie rock star. Which is unfortunate, because when it’s mentioned that his presence will draw such a crowd it’ll overrun the festival (of Passover), it sounds like they’re talking about Jim Morrison coming back from the dead and headlining Bonnaroo, with all the alternative, large-gathering shenanigans that entails.
Jesus did, in fact, have just such massive star power. But when it comes to the St. Mark Gospel story of the sick man being lowered through the roof, all we get of that story is about three seconds worth.
Here’s the definitive rendition: British Shakespearean actor Alec McCowen used to recite the entire Gospel of St. Mark onstage. I saw it Off-Broadway 20 years ago. Just one man onstage with a glass of water and the King James Bible sitting on a chair, for purposes of, as McCowen put it, “just in case…” Absolutely riveting, like the best Shakespeare you’ve ever seen.
He brought vividly to life Christ’s outrageously powerful healing powers. Christ was constantly mobbed by a “fan-base” so thick that it was hard to get near Him, so when Jesus went into a house, the throng was so packed around the house, they had to rip the roof off, and lower a man down on a stretcher, to be healed.
Kind of a Shame
The above story is an example of the kind of in-depth insights into the mysteries surrounding the life of Jesus that are missing here. But, while it’s not a film for people seeking deeper answers, for those with an already solid foundation of faith, it should be affirming.
It’s a film made for believers, by believers, and a family film. It’s debatable, though, whether it should be seen by children under the age of 10. Probably Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” set the all-time record for most horrendous whipping-post scourging and cross-nailing violence. “Son of God,” however, is a close second. The Golgotha-bound, cross-bearing ordeal is perhaps even more painful.
Happily, also in comparison to Gibson’s movie, the Pharisees are not depicted in the same rabidly anti-Semitic manner. Here, it’s more from the perspective of an ancient order adhering to ancient laws, outraged about blasphemous new interpretations by this seemingly, in their eyes—random, unwashed hippie.
If you know your Bible, there’ll be no surprises. And if you don’t know your Bible, there’ll be no surprises either, which, as I said, is a bit of a shame. The narration is rather weak, the acting is largely pathos and bathos, and there’s generally too much crying. This may not bother most people but as a former actor, it rankles.
But in this darkest hour, in this dark year of 2020, with people depressed about transmittable diseases and the foundational rock of our Democracy eroding as we speak by possible fraudulent voting practices, “Son of God” is a much, much better choice for a family night in front of the TV, as opposed to, say, “Saw 8.”
‘Son of God’
Director: Christopher Spencer
Starring: Diogo Morgado, Darwin Shaw, Sebastian Knapp, Amber Rose Revah, Adrian Schiller, Greg Hicks, Joe Wredden, Joe Coen, Roma Downey
Run Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 28, 2014
2.5 stars out of 5