First, I use the term "Jesus movies" kinda loosely cause some of my choices might not be your typical movies about Jesus. Right now they're all pretty traditional, but that could change. Godspell has its own page. That's not to say I like the following necessarily more or less than Godspell, it just has its own page.  However, I did end up adding a portion to this site about it since my site for it doesn't really say much about my feelings.  I don't really know much about movies and technical stuff but here's my opinion, anyway... Also, while this page was once supposed to be critical reviews of these movies, it's turned more into a way in which I hope to be able to keep all these movies separate. So just because a movie is here does not necessarily mean I like it nor does a short description mean I disliked it. I wrote just enough to keep things straight in my mind. Also, I added a sort of awards section. This, again, is just a means for me to remember what happened and what I particularly liked from each movie.

Update March 2011- To be blunt, Autumn 2010 through these first three months of 2011 have been really difficult for me.  I feel like I've grown and changed a lot, though.  This Lent, I have opted not to give anything up.  I think it's a great practice but it just isn't cutting it for me any more.  Instead, I'm going to try to do more for others and even for myself.  So as part of developing my spirituality, I'll be watching a Jesus film every week during Lent.  Because I'm nearly out of movies, in some cases it'll be one I've already reviewed here.  I will then reflect on my experience of the movie *now*... with a life that seems very different than the one I had when I first started this page. 

Update April 2015: So I'm doing *much* better than when I wrote the above.  However, I've not been doing so well with the Jesus movies.  I've kinda entered a "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" mode with a lot of the latest offerings.  But now it's almost Easter and a new lot has been rolled out.  I feel like I can't really proceed with this page until I've said my piece.  So check out the entry below entitled "How Not to Make a Jesus Movie" for explanation, if you wish.  Then I'm going to go watch Killing Jesus and hope that, if I do have the desire to throw things, it'll be from genuine on-screen frustration and not because I'm irritated with the movie-makers.

The Movies:

The Robe (1953)  The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
The Gospel Road (1973)

Godspell (1973) Jesus (1979) Cotton Patch Gospel (1988)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
The Visual Bible: Matthew (1993)

The Life of Jesus: The Revolutionary (1999)
Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999)

The Miracle Maker (2000)
Jesus (2000)

Jesus Christ Superstar (2000)
Mary Magdalene (2000)

Judas (2001)  Joshua (2002)The Gospel of John (2003)

The Passion of the Christ (2004) Judas (2004) !Hero (2005)

The Nativity Story (2006)Killing Jesus (2015)

How Not to Make a Jesus Movie


This is the movie CBS played in May of 2000. Three hours long and if not my favorite version then very close (I say that every time I see a new version.) I know some points were considered kinda controversial but I can't say I was shocked by anything. I just really liked seeing Jesus dancing, having fun, *smiling*. (Smiling is a big thing with me.) I also liked how Pilate was portrayed. Why does he always come off so pitiable? How do we know he didn't know what he was doing? In this movie, he is portrayed as the true villain and at least one scene is taken from a historical source outside the Bible, it demonstrates what Pilate actually did. In short, the supporting cast of Armin- Mueller Stahl, Jacqueline Bisset, Debra Messing and others is wonderful. Jeremy Sisto as Jesus depicts every emotion from delight to sorrow to empathy beautifully. (Disclaimer: Mr. Sisto is one of my favorite actors so I can hardly be expected to give an unbiased opinion. Still, I thought his was a very human Jesus, with out downplaying the divine aspects.)

This was a movie about a man who truly loved life and people. My one complaint? CBS didn't show the original ending! Apparently, Jesus in jeans was too much for them. But if we're gonna see Satan running around in modern suits to show that he's ever present shouldn't Jesus, too? This starts with Jesus already around 30 and shows his previous years via short flashbacks only. Keep an eye out for some foreshadowing.

Mary, Mother of Jesus

This was my favorite for a while, too. Christian Bale (Jesus) is one of my two favorite actors (Colin Firth being the other one, just FYI). Favoritism aside this had its good points. It was nice to see the story through the eyes of one who was there when Jesus took both His first and last breathes. Pernilla August portrays Mary and does an excellent job, in my opinion. Unfortunately, this also had some drawbacks. Since the movie is through Mary's eyes we don't get a lot of the usual Jesus movies' staples (Gethsemane, the Last Supper). Also, if you're like me and prefer a Jesus who seems happy then you are forewarned, Bale manages to smile only around 4 times. That aside I'd still recommend the movie. When we see Mary's grief at losing her own son, the child she raised, we are reminded of how much love it took for God to sacrifice His Son for us. This also does a good job of depicting Jesus' life from birth 'til death. It also has really good attention to detail in what props they use. (What I mean by this is meaningful objects used early on reappear later in the movie so naturally your mind wonders to the first time you saw the object and the juxtaposition of the two scenes is often emotional.)

Jesus Christ Superstar

This one once topped my list of favorite movies. What a surprise! Time's gone by since then and I still love it. However, I've gone a little bit more in the realist direction since I first saw this. It has served as a really good way for remembering verses from the Gospel. Story-wise this is fairly late in Jesus' preaching career and He seems a bit cynical. Of course, later when I saw it performed live with Ted Neely starring again it didn't seem that way so much, who knows. In any case, it managed to attract its fair share of controversy. Maybe being born at the time I was I just don't grasp it as much because I've been watching this since I was a kid. In any case, I love this music. It just never quite leaves you. ("Superstar" is running through my head right now and it's been months since I last heard it!) It's definitely a different way of looking at the story! I guess you would expect that from a rock opera about Jesus that seems to be through the eyes of Judas Iscariot. It also features a highly pitiable Pontius Pilate. However, if at all possible, I'd recommend seeing a live production. While the scenery is fantastic here, nothing beats seeing it live. I'm not even talking about a big touring production. I saw it at a small, local theatre and was extremely moved.

The Miracle Maker

I guess this was ABC's answer to "Jesus" and "Mary, Mother of Jesus". And it was a good answer. This time we see the story unfold through the eyes of a young girl, Jairus' dying daughter. Generally, I'm not a claymation fan but this story can succeed almost anywhere. Actually, it's not entirely claymation. Flashbacks, parables, and dreams are depicted in animation. It's pretty amazing how complete this seems even though it only lasts 1.5 hours. Also amazing is the voice of Jesus (Ralph Fiennes). It amazes me that the same voice that drives such horror into a person ("Schindler's List") can be the voice of Jesus. This is probably one of the best versions for kids. If you really enjoy this and have a DVD player, I'd suggest getting the DVD. It has a documentary on how they made it that was completely amazing. It seems to have been painstakingly and lovingly done.

Update 2011- So this is my first Lenten movie.  I actually wanted to watch Jesus Christ Superstar but had a sense this one would be better for me to see tonight.  It was.  I needed to see a resurrection.  This version offers three.

First, I'm really glad this take on Jesus' story depicts Mary Magdalene as mentally ill... not a prostitute.  Scripture supports the former much more than it does the latter.  Few movies would give you that impression, however.  Also, for some reason, I love that after Jesus heals Mary; they do not speak.  You see them embrace and then part and that's it.  It's beautiful and somehow perfect.  Dialogue would have ruined it.

I still really love how flashbacks and altered states and the parables are rendered in cartoon animation.  I think the most effective one for me comes when Jesus enters the tunnel leading to the Temple and flashes back to Himself as a boy.  Suddenly, His anger takes on a new dimension.  I've no doubt His outburst was largely due to the moral compromises being made there.  But it's also easy to relate in the sense that, as we grow older, disenchantment can really hurt.  How many of us have entered a place that once had such intense meaning to us and found it wholly unlike what we left behind?  That's tough.

This is such a small thing but sometimes Jesus' clothing looked patched and threadbare.  It's wonderful because His clothes probably weren't immaculate and whole as they often are in film.  For an animated movie, sometimes this one seems more real than life action ones.

I don't recall many Jesus movies including the scene of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof.  This one does and it's really great.  The hemorrhaging woman is also left out often but here she is!  That's really an amazing part of the Bible and it's good that it gets its due here.  That woman would have been regarded as extremely unclean.  I mean think about how grossed out guys get about women's health issues even now sometimes.  And here Jesus doesn't rebuke her or act offended.  He praises her.  It's brilliant.

I come to this film still kind of in a place of grief.  In this past year, two people who were to varying degrees part of my life died suddenly and far too soon.  Prior to this period, I'd only experienced one other death of a young person.  Everyone else was into their seventies and beyond.  I certainly grieved when my grandfathers and others died.  But the evidence of their long lives was everywhere.  This has been wholly different.  It's tragic and heartbreaking to see parents mourn their children.

I think this accounts for my first emotional reaction to this.  It comes right before Jesus leaves behind his carpenter gig and sets out.  Mary sits nearby as He sleeps and strokes His hair.  As she does, she flashes back to the Nativity.  It's such a beautifully sad moment.  How many parents, facing saying good bye to their children, have similarly retreated into memory?  I think sometimes we get so caught up in the (albeit very important) religious meaning of Jesus that we forget He was someone's son, friend, role model, etc.  This film doesn't let us do that.  It's a film about Christ but also about a very loved man who, eventually, is grieved intensely by real people.

Jesus Himself is shown grieving.  His body racks with sobs after He's told John has been killed.  That really got to me this year.  Jesus truly did become one of us with all our heartbreak and sorrow.  He, too, could only weep and cry out to God as those He loved passed on.  We've all been there and, because of the Incarnation, we have a God who has been there, too.

When Tamar (Jairus' daughter) is taken aback by Jesus failing to go to Lazarus, He tells her "There is a purpose to our grief."  I felt like He was speaking to me cause I feel like I've spent all these months trying to find a purpose and wondering if there is one. 

The final moment that just wrecked me was after Jesus had died and they do a short montage of Mary Magdalene grieving.  At one point, she goes back to the cross and is clinging to it and sobbing.  That moment seemed so intensely human and real to me.  She went back to the last place she saw Him.  In a way, it seems perverse.  Why would you go back to a place with such painful memories?  Why go back to a place that you know will make you think so overwhelmingly about them?  I don't know.  But I find myself going back, sometimes only mentally, to the last places I saw those I've loved who have gone to Heaven.  The connection is so intense that even in its pain, it's somehow comforting. 

Then, of course, Jesus rises from the dead.  And there is immense joy and laughter.  I've no doubt His followers kept that joy in their hearts their whole lives and that it remains there still in the house of His Father that He's shown speaking about so often in this film.  And yet, where I am now, I'm left to wonder: were there times they still mourned the loss of His physical presence?  Did Mary miss stroking His hair?  Did Tamar ever reach out for a hand that was no longer tangible?  Something tells me they did.  And, in that, we can find in them kindred spirits.  They knew grief and longing, too.  Now they don't.  And one day, we won't, either.  We'll be in His Father's house, too, surrounded by love.

The Life of Jesus: The Revolutionary

I'd never seen this before but it was on sale so I figured why not? I didn't really expect much but surprisingly this version was very good. At not quite two hours it covered more parables and healings than any of the others. The one thing I was a bit confused by was the organization of the scenes. The DVD was split into two programs. Side 1 seemed more concerned with the teachings of Jesus and Side 2 the miracles. Side 1 had a crucifixion scene and Side 2 the trial and a crucifixion lasting maybe 1 minute. As to why they didn't put the two together for just one movie I have no idea. All I can guess was that Side 2 was supposed to be geared towards younger audiences. This rivals "Jesus" as most representative of how I view Jesus' personality. It also has some haunting foreshadowing. (Yes, I love foreshadowing.) Watch what game Jesus plays with the children. While not depicted on screen it reminds one of a later "game". John Kay Steel as Jesus does an excellent job and proves a very dramatic storyteller.

Jesus Christ Superstar (2000)

This was certainly a surprise! I'm used to waiting months from the time I first see a preview to the actual airing of the movie. Here I saw a preview for JCS before "Meet the Parents" (I had no idea they were making this version) and two weeks later I was sitting down to watch it for the first time! Of all the movies on this page I prolly started this one with the most trepidation. For one I still liked the old version and for another I'd heard the old one called "the Disneyfied version" in comparison to this one and I already thought the 1973 version was dark!

Apparently the idea behind this one was how would we react if Jesus came today? The answer? The same as our ancestors 2000 years ago. Well, except for some added paparazzi, cargo pants, and machine guns.

I guess the best way to explain this one is how it rates compared to the 1973 version. I still like the singing better in the original but found this version's acting to be more realistic. Granted, some of the facial expressions are over-emphasized (these are mostly stage actors). The changes in Judas' (Jerome Pradon) character I was especially impressed with. He comes off as being the one who most loved Jesus and even most recognized His true message (which didn't entail going after the Romans, heavily armed). But he's not made to look like a trapped saint either (witness his interaction with Mary). I felt the interaction between Jesus and Judas in this version was more meaningful and touching.

Now as for Jesus (Glenn Carter)... I've read several opinions of the movie and Carter seems to be most criticized. I'd definitely disagree. In this version I found Jesus to be far more personable (His interaction with the lepers is a lot more patient and loving than in the 1973 version.) He also seems a lot more vulnerable to some of our more unwelcome states (tiredness, distress, loneliness, etc.) I suppose that's either a plus or negative, depending on your viewpoint, but I thought it stressed how dear His sacrifice was.

In any case this version is like its predecessor in that it is most definitely not your typical Jesus movie!

Update 2011- I'm surprised at how little I referenced Mary Magdalene in my original review of this.  Huh.

So I watched this again last week and here are just a few aspects that I especially found myself focusing on this time around:

1.  I really like JCS but am still bothered by the transformation of Pilate.  The dude was not nice.  He was not sympathetic.  Further, this piece has only one female role with any substance.  It woulda been nice to retain Pilate's wife as the dreamer.  It's the dream itself that I found myself focusing on.  What did she see in it?  How did she cope when, even in telling her dream, the inevitable still happened?  I've had dreams that have come true and it's just so devastating when you feel like you may have been able to stop harm from occurring but didn't.  I wish we knew more about her.

2.  I feel really, really bad for Mary Magdalene.  She's left with a ghost and a dead body.  Nonetheless, she faintly smiles up at the sky at the end.  It's beautiful and inspiring.

3.  The close-up on Jesus' death warrant still hits me hard.  It's just so systematic and awful.

4.  Jesus looks very peaceful in death.  Like He knew exactly where He was going.  I guess I needed to see that so I'm glad I watched this version.

5.  I feel so bad for Mary when Judas kisses her after she's bared her soul for Jesus as He slept.  You can tell she wants Jesus to do something.  He does not. 

The Robe

This telling of Jesus' story comes from the Roman tribune who crucified Jesus and won His robe. The tribune, Marcellius, is sent from Rome to Jerusalem and arrives, with his slaves, in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He is briefed on the story of "the Fanatic". His newly acquired Greek slave, Demetrius, makes eye contact with Jesus and knows there's something to this claim of His Messiahship. Demetrius learns of the plot against Jesus and goes to warn Him. Unfortunately, he arrives too late and the next time he sees Jesus is on the path to Golgotha. When Marcellius wins Jesus' robe, Demetrius honors it for what it is, the robe of God. Marcellius demands Demetrius give him the robe to cover himself when the heavy rains start after Jesus' death. The minute Marcellius touches the robe he cries in pain and Demetrius grabs it back, cursing Marcellius for killing Jesus and running away.

Marcellius returns to Rome and is unable to go on with his duties because he believes the robe bewitched him for he finds himself unable to remember Good Friday with out losing his mind. Therefore, he is sent back to Jerusalem by the Caesar to find this cursed robe and destroy it. Along the way Marcellius finds himself in Cana, a small Christian community. He grows to love its people but harbors the awful secret that he killed their Lord. He also finds Demetrius and learns that the robe has no power, only his guilt does. Simon Peter visits the village and tells Marcellius his own story of denying Jesus and teaches him that Jesus' cry "God forgive them." was meant for all of them. He joins Peter and Demetrius in their mission and finds himself back in Rome where he faces the ultimate test: Deny his new faith and live or die as a martyr.

I thought this was a really interesting movie. I'd expected the typical staples of miracles, parables, the Last Supper and the rest. This movie only showed Jesus twice (and never His face) and He only had two lines. Obviously it had some historical inaccuracies but if you can get past that there's some excellent teachings like what does it mean to be healed and the beauty of giving and the power of God's forgiveness.


This is not the same as the CBS version. The version is a lot more "by the Book", in fact it tells the story as related in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus was well portrayed, smiling and laughing, sad and angry. There was also some foreshadowing (!). Prolly what struck me most was how idyllic and peaceful the many scenes of Jesus and His disciples walking around were. They just generally looked like a group you'd want to hang around with. Unlike the other versions this one also had a narrator which was kinda interesting. It also had a bunch of scenes that I'd never seen in any other movies like the near-assassination of Jesus in Nazareth, the angel's appearance in Gethsemane, Simeon's blessing on baby Jesus. Those scenes were interesting to see.

It did an excellent job of depicting Luke but I really missed the other Gospels. Gone was Lazarus, no wine into water, etc. But naturally when you make a movie you have to make choices about what to keep and what to take out so that's okay. It was really hard to not have Mary at the Crucifixion, though. The Crucifixion itself was very reverent but it seemed to be missing something. It just didn't have the impact the others generally do. It almost looked too easy. The Resurrection scenes seemed more complete than usual, however. In general, I liked it mostly because it featured events often ignored by the other movies.


What do you get when you take a beloved book, Patrick Swayze's traitor-friend from "Ghost", Salieri from "Amadeus" and put them together? It's the movie version of Fr. Joseph Girzone's book "Joshua", which became an entire series. If you're hoping for a very by-the-book dramatization, this is not for you. The Jewish characters that were plentiful in the book have been narrowed down to one guy. Large sections of the book are skipped, new parts are added, and all flashbacks have been excised. However, I think the spirit of the book remains intact. Joshua still stands up against the church hierarchy. He stills changes the lives of the citizens of Auburn and, naturally, does the whole carpenter gig.
Some of it's corny, some of the minor characters aren't exactly Oscar-caliber performers but it's a good film. I was concerned when I heard Tony Goldwyn (Carl from "Ghost" and Creepy Rapist Guy from "Kiss the Girls") would be playing Joshua but it works. He comes off as really sincere, really human, and by the end of the movie really something beyond human. F. Murray Abraham is interesting as Fr. Tardone. He reminds me of way too many actual priests... It's a good performance that could have easily turned cartoonish but is kept real.

Cotton Patch Gospel

Okay, in short, "The Cotton Patch Gospel" seems to be "Godspell" gone South. Not that I have any real reason to believe "Godspell" was composed and/or conceived in the North but I tend to associate it with Broadway and Canada so... They're both really minimalistic as far as props and scenery. CPG takes it one step further making it a one-man show plus a four man chorus. The story is basically what if Jesus had been born in modern Georgia instead of Israel 2000 years ago?

Jesus is born to Mary and Joseph Davidson (haha) on their way to an IRS tax audit. He's born in an abandoned trailer. Three scholars visit leaving him a Gold Mastercard, peach scented candles, and a fancy bottle of cologne. Word gets to Governor Herod who has a bomb thrown into a nursery, hoping to kill the baby. By this time Joseph and Family have fled to Mexico. The show then follows the family on their trip to Georgia with young Jesus, his departure to start his ministry, and finally his lynching and resurrection.


This gets the Best Massacre of the Infants scene. A macabre award, for sure. You don't actually see anything since this is just a stage with five guys on it. But the Narrator (who turns out to be Matthew but who plays everyone) talks about the doctor explaining to women that their children died and Harry Chapin wrote two really good pieces of music that are sung against each other. One is "I Did It" sung by Herod and Crew which talks about the dirty deeds carried out in the name of political glory. At the same time a lone guy sings "Mama is Here", a lullaby. It was really poignant for a scene that is often glossed over in other interpretations.

The next "award" is the Best Wine into Water scene. The story is Jesus is at a wedding where the bride is the daughter of a man who supports Joseph's carpentry shop. They run out of wine Joseph suggests that Jesus might... get some. So Jesus goes off alone and asks his Daddy to help. It was cool that he used Daddy in this one cause Abba is usually translated into "father" but most everything I read said it was a more familiar term like "daddy" or "papa". He tries snapping his fingers, he tries concentrating really hard, he tries doing a jig in front of it, finally he relaxes and gives up and... it changes. It was just cool to see Jesus' own surprise at his abilities. Generally he seems really cool and collected in other depictions of this scene.

Okay, next was the Best Raising of Jairus' Daughter Scene. I might actually have to check on that one, though. "The Miracle Maker" is the story told through the eyes of Jairus' daughter so you'd think that might be better. Then again, since I don't remember that scene maybe not... Anyhow, Jairus informed Jesus he was returning to his home and was going to bring his four year old back to life. He was very definite. So Jesus went into where the girl was lying and started to sing "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Jesus sang the first part and then you heard this smaller voice join in, the little girl (although it was actually a grown guy). The whole time the camera was positioned so that you were seeing what the girl would have seen. It was a really beautiful scene.

Then there was what I think was one of the best depictions of the first prediction of the Passion. I have a vague feeling there's another movie that I also think does a great job here but I can't recall right now. Anyhow, Jesus announces they will be going to Atlanta for a Bible Convention thing. Where he will be lynched. The song "Going to Atlanta" is part the disciples celebrating with a loud, happy song with a much quieter, sad Jesus singing "What does Atlanta mean to me?" The two parts just really added potency. That was the end of the first act.

My first favorite part in the second act was the song "You are Still My Boy" sung by Mary and Joseph after Jesus has turned away from his hometown which has rejected him. It's just a really sad and beautiful song. Probably my second favorite Jesus Returns Home scene. It's edged out only slightly by "The Greatest Story Ever Told". What I liked about the CPG version was that it dealt head on with Jesus' apparent abandonment of his family but with out either party looking bad.

And there was the best Who Do You Say I Am? scene. Peter struggles with the answer. Doesn't know... doesn't know... keeps repeating it and then has a moment of clarity and says "You are the Son of God!" and Jesus answers "You are beautiful!" It was funny and sweet at the same time.

The betrayal scene was very sad. I thought all the "villains" were well characterized. Judd aka Judas was pathetic with out being totally acceptable. Pilate originally appeared to be nice, as proven by the song title "Thank God for Governor Pilate". That was another instance of great government-related irony as happened with "I Did It". Pilate chooses to send Jesus to a prison, just until things quiet down and he can get a fair trial. This makes everyone happy. The chorus sings about all the great things Pilate does while, secretly, Pilate is making a call to his uncle. He gives him the exact route Jesus' transportation...

Matthew explains what happened on Friday, when they got the news of what happened. Thursday night the tires of the truck had been shot out. Jesus was being transported by only 2 guards. They were easily over-powered by several members of the Klan. He was whipped 39 times and lynched.

But this movie had a Resurrection, unlike the "Godspell" movie. That was really cool. I mean there weren't any special effects or anything. It was just really well-written. Then they ended with Harry Chapin's "I Wonder What Would Happen to This World" and a medley. I was kinda worried when I first popped in the tape. I'm not a country music fan. And I'm really not a bluegrass fan. But maybe I've been converted... The songs are all ready getting stuck!

Update 2011- I really don't have much to add as my original review was pretty thorough.  But I'm really glad I watched this today.  All in all, I think this is the Jesus movie that makes me happiest. 

First, it's a recording of a live performance so ya kinda feel like you're there.  (In 80s gear!) And live theatre is such an invigorating experience for me.  So if I can't actually be at a live performance, this is the next best thing.

Second, "When I Look Up" was the stand-out number for me this time.  As I wrote when I started these updates, I'm going through a rough patch and this lil song is so filled with hope.

Third, I really love how much Jesus does NOT know in this.  He's depicted as a man of incredible faith who very much believes in His Father.  But he has his doubts.  Which also means he's incredibly and rather sweetly amazed when miracles happen.

Fourth, I'd been trying to remember what version it was in which Jesus repeated variations of "Live my life!"  It's this one.  Such a beautiful idea.  We continue to live the lives of those who touched us.

If someone was feeling down, I think this is the version I'd be most apt to recommend. 

The Gospel Road

Traditional story line, only an hour long so some things were dropped, obviously. Johnny Cash narrates the whole thing and had the only speaking role save his wife, June Carter Cash, who was Mary M. So instead of Jesus saying "I am the Way", Cash would say something like "And Jesus said many beautiful things like 'I am the Way'". At first this was kinda boring but I got the point later. I think maybe he was trying to maintain the fact that Jesus did not speak English. This become clearer during the "Cast the first stone" scene. During the part when Jesus is writing in the sand, he was writing in either Hebrew or Aramaic.

While the movie was only an hour long but it didn't really feel like any *major* events were sacrificed for time, any more so than other movies. It probably would not be a good movie for people trying to get an in-depth understanding of the Gospels, though. The highlights of his teachings were covered but there weren't actual teaching scenes. There were a couple interesting "crowd scenes". During Palm Sunday and the Way of the Cross you could hear crowds but only see Jesus wandering down abandoned roads.I'm not sure what to make of that. Maybe it was trying to say that mentally Jesus had to walk those roads alone. I don't know, it was just kinda jarring to first see when you're so used to huge crowds.

I did like that the movie respected Jesus' culture and religion. Cash outright states that "Jesus was born a Jew." That seems like a stupid thing for me to harp on but it is true and too often forgotten, IMO. If everyone really seriously thought about that then maybe anti-Semitism would die out, or at least take a major hit.
The music was pretty good, I don't particularly like the style but that considered there were some down-right catchy tunes.


First, best use of flashbacks in a Jesus movie. This was particularly effective twice. First, when Jesus was playing with kids and there's a flash of Jesus as a little boy. Second, when Jesus was being crucified and again their was the flash of him as a boy and another of him as a man, a nonbeat-up man. Flashbacks always make me cry...
Second, this wins for grooviest camera work. Triple takes, changes in perspective, etc.

Third, best scene of Jesus making sandcastles. Okay, well, maybe the only scene of Jesus making sandcastles but that makes it cool. It was during the scene of Jesus and the children. I liked that a whole segment was devoted to that aspect instead of a brief "Oh look! Jesus is holding a baby, aww!!"

Fourth, best scene of guy getting his sight back. I just really liked the song Johnny Cash was singing during that part.

The Passion of the Christ

I guess it only makes sense I should pipe up with my take on this much-talked-about movie. So here goes...

I liked it. Didn't love it. Didn't come out feeling like I'd just had a life-altering experience. It was what it was. Which is a movie. As for the violence... crucifixion is violent. It was bloody, it was disgusting, it was degrading, it was painful. I went into the movie expecting that, having read several articles looking at crucifixion from social, anatomical, and faith perspectives. So I was not shocked. As for charges of anti-Semitism, I can see where that comes from. I do think it was a poor decision to have the Temple destroyed. However, I can't say I think it was any more anti-Semitic than you could say JCS is. At least in this version Gibson depicts a high priest protesting the treatment of Jesus. JCS doesn't even have that. I think it's a case of seeing what you want to see. I believe anti-Semitism is a sin so this movie did not cause any of those feelings in myself. If others did take that away from the movie I think that's very, very sad.

I thought the movie was beautifully acted. Though, gotta say I was most captivated by the actress playing Mary of Nazareth (Maia Morgenstern). I only cried once during the movie and that was during the scene where Jesus falls and she flashes back to him falling as a boy. And her eyes as she held his dead body are haunting. This is not to say I thought Jim Caviezel wasn't great. He definitely was. I give credit to anyone who takes on such a physically demanding role and learns a dead language! But what I tend to focus on with movies is what sets them apart. And I think what we got here is a very real Mary which isn't all that common, I don't think.

I do think the demonic stuff was a lil... Stephen King TV movie-ish. No one I know has yet to satisfactorily answer for themselves what the heck Satan was doing holding a demonic baby. It seemed random and, I thought, distracting. As for Satan, I thought that character was very well done. Very creepy but also more "natural" looking than the demons. I guess one would hope an actual actress would look more natural than animatronics or computer animation or whatever the heck the demons were. :-)

There was one point that I'm still unsure of what I think. That's the role of women. The women in this movie almost seemed to be magical. Which I'd like to think women are, personally. Mary knowing where Jesus was. Pilate's wife gliding in to comfort the two Marys. Veronica gliding in... But there was something about it that didn't quite strike me as right... Maybe it's just that with Jesus incapacitated for much of the movie, the women were really the only positive characters. And that's more than a lil scary to think about. Anyway, it's been a month since I've seen this movie and will maybe revisit this if I ever see it again. So now, the awards:


First, best use of psychic connection. While the other "magical women" elements may have bugged me, Mary sensing Jesus' presence in the cell beneath her really got me. I loved that.

Second, best use of flashbacks *sometimes.* I was really moved by the one of Jesus as a lil boy, as mentioned before. Others I thought were more distracting and seemed randomly placed but that was really good. I also liked the flashbacks to Jesus meeting Mary Magdalene.

Third, best attempt at linguistic accuracy. Whatever else may have been wrong, I gotta give Mel Gibson credit for putting a lot of the movie into Aramaic! Yikes! The whole Greek-Latin confusion I'm not sure about so I'll let that slide. That being said, I wish he'd extended that accuracy to hiring actors that looked more appropriate. But it was well-acted and I suppose we can only ask for so much realism from Hollywood.


Wow... What can I say? I'm sure there was a lot of love that went into this and I'm sure they were really trying to do something moving and interesting. But I started to get curious the minute they started showing promos for this. The only movie told from Judas' perspective? Definitely not true. "Jesus Christ Superstar" anyone? Or there was a slightly older Judas movie that aired on Pax. But promotion problems aside...

I thought the guy playing Judas was pretty good. And I wish he'd played Jesus. Or that someone else had! No offense to that actor but... Good gosh! In my opinion, it's never a good sign when you're watching a Jesus movie and feel the need to "Awww, poor baby!" Jesus repeatedly. Jesus was a leader. And apparently a pretty strong one to have inspired so many people to the point they would later die for him. But this guy... I'm not sure I'd feel confident following him to the grocery store. He completely lacked confidence! And apparently the followers he drew to him were much the same. St. Andrew... Good gosh. I wanted to sit that guy down with a blankie and some cookies and milk.

I was just... dumb-founded. Anyway, in an interesting note: I think some of these sets were from the 2000 Jesus movie. I'd heard this movie had used sets from a previous Bible movie and I'm thinking it was definitely that one. In a way, that made the movie even worse. I mean the 2000 version may not be the most accurate or greatest thing out there but this movie did not benefit from the comparison.


Best Jesus movie to watch if you just want to go "Ummm, what the heck?" repeatedly.


Before I get into this I'm gonna clear up a couple misconceptions I had about this that others may also.  First, the press seemed to suggest this was Jesus' story as if he'd been born today.  I didn't find that to be true.  Cause last I checked there wasn't a worldwide government and New York was not a police state.  I think the point *may* have been that the world might have come to that with out Jesus' influence 2000 years ago.  I guess when I heard the phrase "If he came today..." I envisioned a story with a more realistic setting.  This came off as futuristic which was fine.  I'm just saying the press I read/saw didn't give that impression.  Second, I always thought a rock opera (which is what "!Hero" is called) consisted of only sung dialogue.  Like Andrew Lloyd Webber's "JCS", "Evita", and "Joseph".  "!Hero" has lots of spoken dialogue.  Which, again, I had no problem with.  It's just didn't fit my definition of a rock opera which, I admit, may be totally incorrect.

Anyhow, now that that's done the basic plot is thus: a child is born to Mary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  She names the boy Hero (and Jesus, I didn't entirely follow whether Hero was his nickname or his name was Jesus Hero or something).  Hero grows up and at some point moves to New York City.  It's there he begins to spread the message of God's love.  He first tells Petrov and Judd who become his followers (think Peter and Judas).  From there he travels to Spanish Harlem where he meets a prostitute named Maggie (Mary Mag, of course).  And we get running commentary through all of this from a spy, Hunter, sent by ICON (the global government).  The typical Jesus movie staples follow with modern twists (Hero shoots food out of those hot dog guns at a stadium instead of multiplying fish on a hillside, Hero raises a drive-by victim from the dead).  Judd falls in with ICON.  Hunter and Maggie fall for each other (a plot line I found grating and distracting).  But mostly Hero does cool stuff and rocks out.


Best scene of Jesus addressing the AIDS crisis- I'm a total sucker for this part.

Best Gethsemane song since "Gethsemane"- I went through a period where I'd listen to "I Am" several times a day cause it made me feel good.

The Last Temptation of Christ

Boy, I really put off watching this one!  Not because I thought it was immoral.  I suspected there wasn't gonna be any thing in it that would run against my religious beliefs.  Basically I just didn't want certain mental images.  But, alas, the temptation (ha ha) was too great after I saw the 2005 film The Heart of the Beholder which was about the onslaught of abuse video store owners faced for carrying this film.  And also, truth be told, I figured if I could watch John Dye (portrayer of my nearly decade long crush, the angel Andrew) in a loveless sex scene, I could probly handle Last Temptation.  So when it came on the Sundance Channel this week I taped it and viewed it over the course of a few hours (had to go to sleep about a third in since it was nearly 2 AM).  Here's my thoughts for whatever they're worth!

First, I gotta admit this was the single most difficult movie for me to watch and see characters, not actors.  I'm willing to admit that's probly a deficit in my imaginative powers but, to be honest, I think some of the casting and may be even acting was just plain off.  I kept expecting Judas (Harvey Keitel) to pull a tommy gun from his robe and start offing people.  Similarly, sometimes when Jesus (Willem Dafoe) smiled it took every ounce of will power to not giggle and cry "It's the Green Goblin!"  But other than that strange impulse, I enjoyed his performance (though Dafoe looks about as Galilean as my pasty Irish self but I've learned not to expect realistic appearance).  

Anyhow, so here's the plot as I interpreted it (there are varying thoughts).  If you've not seen the movie and plan to, you should probly bow out now.  Cause if I'd known a certain thing about this movie that I intend to talk about here, I certainly would have felt cheated going in.  So, now's your chance... 

Okay, so the movie starts with Jesus building a cross.  Freaked the heck outta me.  Turns out he's commissioned by the Romans to do so.  (More on this later).  Enter Judas who is livid that his old buddy is aiding them.  So we have a very troubled Jesus.  He sets off first to seek forgiveness from Mary Magdalene.  What I understood was that they were childhood sweethearts and possibly betrothed at some point.  Jesus broke it off because he was starting to get the idea he was the Messiah.  Mary M. was hurt and angry and became a prostitute (don't entirely get her train of thought there but let's move on).  So Jesus does all the typical Jesus stuff.  Goes into the desert, seeks out the Baptist, works some miracles, causes a near riot in the Temple, goes to Gethsemane, is arrested, tortured, and crucified.  Then this movie goes where (to my knowledge) no Jesus movie went before.  While on the cross, Jesus looks down and sees a young girl.  She tells him she was sent to guard him, that God says his work is done, and that he can get off the cross if he wants.  Here starts the eponymous "last temptation."

So he's off the cross, comes to a gorgeous valley, and marries Mary M.  And we all get to watch the honeymoon.  It was a lil weird watching that but, IMO, tastefully done.  I didn't feel like I was watching porn in other words.  Mary gets pregnant and... dies.  Jesus mourns and gets angry.  I sit there and go "What the heck is going on?!"  So that's all very sad and then the angel says something to the effect of "There's only one woman in the world just with many faces."  So off Jesus goes and seems to marry Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha.  That's a lil hard to take and you have to keep in mind polygamy was accepted then.  Children follow and Jesus lives the life of a carpenter and family man.  Then when he's on his death bed, in come the apostles including an angry Judas.  Judas decries him for being a coward.  He was supposed to be the Messiah and now here's the ancient, dying man.  Further, Judas tells him his "angel" is no angel but Satan.  Jesus' eyes are opened, he pulls himself off the bed and begs for forgiveness.  And then... 

Jesus is on the cross.  He cries "It is accomplished" triumphantly and dies.

So what happened?  My personal thought (and what I've heard Scorcese says) is that a dying Jesus basically becomes George Bailey.  He sees life as it might have been had he chosen the easy (and wrong) path.  By the end of his vision, he knows he was  on the right path and returned to it.  So, I do not believe Jesus got to live two lives in this film any more than I believe I'm pals with Det. Stabler from Law and Order: SVU just because I dreamed I was last night.  Basically, I don't believe the Jesus this film portrays sinned in any way.  I believe he was tempted many times and didn't succumb to any.  That's my take.  I'll probly return to this if I get a chance to see the DVD and hear the commentary.  There's lot's more I'd like to say but this will suffice for now. 

However... I do, like Judas, have issues with his building crosses.  That, to me, seems an example of social sin.  Taking part in a sinful societal system.  Yet, I don't know enough to know whether he was compelled to make the crosses under duress or the wider political implications.  Quite possibly had he refused to make the crosses, that would have made him a zealot and by extension part of a social structure that embraced violence as a political tactic also.  In any case, I thought this was a thought provoking movie.  It made me really appreciate the sacrifice Jesus made. 


Best Jesus movie to watch if you want to have an existential crisis.  Seriously, I have no idea what I'm doing with my life.  Watching this I kept thinking "Ah!  In 10 years I'll be 33 like Jesus there and I haven't done anything important!"  But that could just be me at this stage in my life.

Best non-singing music in a Jesus movie.  Really, I liked the Peter Gabriel soundtrack even if it seemed really 80s-ish at points.  And the world music was awesome.

Film ending most likely to lend itself to myriad interpretations and discussions.  Sorta reminded me of American Psycho (another Dafoe vehicle) and One Hour Photo insofar as both left me thinking "Did that really happen or was it in his head??" 

Jesus movie that most lends itself to sudden, unwarranted memory flashes of Jimmy Stewart.  No seriously, I kept thinking of It's a Wonderful Life.  In fact, I almost dug the movie out of our Christmas movies box to watch it afterwards.
(Reviewed 9-21-05)

The Gospel of John

This had sat on my bookshelf, unopened, for far too long.  Seeing as today is Palm Sunday, I wanted to watch a Jesus movie and went with this one.  I should say right off the bat that this was not an ideal movie-watching experience.  I got interrupted and distracted numerous times (not by choice).  So what I say may not be 100% accurate.

First, I really liked the actor (Henry Ian Cusick) they got to play Jesus.  He was very personable and smiled a lot.  He seemed to really like people.  I know it probably seems like those should be no-brainer qualities for Jesus but in some films he seems too serious and emotionally distant.  But this guy interacted really well with the other actors, I thought.  His smiles seemed downright contagious.  Sometimes he even smirks which was pretty endearing, especially in the scene with Mary, his mother, at the wedding.

Jesus also seemed to passionately believe and even love his own teachings.  This may also seem like a "duh" thing but here he was so fired up and excited during some of his longer monologues.  Sometimes Jesus comes off as a little too low key in movies.  I also think the actor hit the right notes with the not-so-pleasant emotions of Jesus.  He seems genuinely disappointed that people don't believe him, hate him, and want to stone him.  I'm gonna guess most people watching this movie already feel an emotional bond to the real Jesus.  But if not I think this depiction might aid that more than some others.

I also really loved some of the technical aspects of this film.  At times the lighting seemed like it came from a magical realism sorta film.  I'm thinking especially of the fig tree scene with Nathaniel.  Other visual tricks I thought were cool were just random shots like falling coins, horses' hooves, etc.  I also liked how a few times they'd start with a full body shot of someone, then close into their face, then close in even further to just their eyes.  This happens in the Temple destruction scene and was really effective.  Another good use of imagery was Lazarus' healing.  Showing his shadow first really built up the anticipation.

The sound editing seemed really strong, too.  The swooshing of the whip and the falling coins in the Temple really stood out.  Of course, sometimes it was really unpleasant.  I actually jumped when you heard them break the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. 

I'm a little torn on the Narrator.  Christopher Plummer did a great job and it was cool to bring in the more lyrical, beautiful passages that don't really lend themselves to visuals.  But at times the narration seemed redundant.  I don't think we needed to hear "he straightened" or "he spat and made mud" when we either already saw it happen or very soon will.  I also really, really disliked that instead of seeing "Jesus wept" we only heard it. 

Because this was based on the Gospel of John, we get to see a lot of scenes that are often left out of Jesus movies.  Here are a few that stood out for me:
  •     Jesus' exchange with Nicodemus about being born again.  As much as the phrase "born again" gets used, you'd think this discussion would make it into more of the Gospel-inspired films.
  •     Jesus' meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well.  The eagerness she had to hear him and her enthrallment with what he was saying was compelling to watch.  (And seeing Jesus later holding her child was a nice bonus.)
  •     The soldier whose son Jesus heals.  It seems like more films show the healing of Jairus' daughter than this.  I like including this because it demonstrates early on that Jesus' message will go beyond the Jewish community.
  •      All the angry crowds.  In most films you don't get much of a hint of Jesus angering anyone but TPTB until right before his death.  Here we see many of the times he angered random people, even nearly getting stoned.
  •      The arrival of the Greeks.  This so seldom gets mentioned that I'd completely forgotten it even happening.  Guess I should go reread the Gospel of John.
  •      Jesus comparing the feelings of his followers regarding his death to childbirth.  I've just always liked that comparison.
  •      Jesus questioning Peter 3 times about if he loves him.  I've always been partial to this scene as I see it as Jesus giving Peter the opportunity to set aside his guilt for denying him.  It's really beautiful.
I liked the way Jesus and his brothers were depicted prior to the festival.  Just something about them buzzing around, another behind him also working on carpentry touched me.  And it also made me think: did Jesus not go to the festival with his family because he was trying to distance himself from them for their own well-being? 

I couldn't help but compare this to The Passion of the Christ since they were released so closely together.  I have to say I prefer how this film showed the beating and crucifixion.  For the scourging you only see the Roman, not Jesus.  So when he reappears it's shocking and horrifying.  When last you saw him he looked normal, then suddenly he's torn up.  To me, *this* is more effective than the uber-violence of The Passion

The dividing of Jesus' clothes is always a macabre part of the story.  But for some reason it seemed even more so in this film.  Grotesque, really.

I was a lil bummed by Mary Magdalene's silence up until the very end.  But given this is going right from the Gospel of John they couldn't have rightly given her more to say.

Beautiful scenery.


Great visual interpretation of the healing of the man born blind.  One of the older movies also has a version of this I love though right now which one it is escapes me.  But I really like this one.  First, I think it's good to show that Jesus didn't equate illness or disability with sin.  Even today some people still do.  Second, I really like the reaction of the blind man.  He shakes.  He shuts his eyes.  I think this is far more realistic than him immediately rejoicing.  After all, the man *never* saw.  I would think for a while overstimulation would be an issue.

Another great use of flashbacks.  I'm a sucker for them.  And sepia is a good hue.  The ones they show during the final dissertation made me all emotional.  And I thought that was the extent of it but then they did the "May they be one" montage and that was gorgeous. 

Most "Tour of Duty" like image.  There was a shot of Jesus and Co. going over a hill and it was from far away and you could pretty much just see their silhouettes.  It made me expect to hear "Paint It Black." 

Random Questions

Okay... maybe this is a weird thought to even have but how did the crowd of 5,000 eat that fish?  When they pan out I didn't see any fires going.  Did I just miss them or was the fish already cooked (didn't look like it to me)?

Has anyone else seen a lot of Jesus movies and started to think some of the same actors are involved?  I can't decide if some of these people were also in the CBS Jesus or if after a while bearded, long-haired men in white robes just start to resemble each other to me.

Is it just me or did this movie kinda make Caiaphas out to be a sort of prophet?  I just thought it was a little odd how they explained his "it's better that one man die for the good of the people" line.  I think Caiaphas was being pragmatic but not necessarily any more than that.

This is sooo not important in the scheme of things but why make the robe the Romans put Jesus in red when the narration is saying purple?
(Reviewed 4-5-09)

Mary Magdalene

I saw this years ago and remembered liking it though I didn't recall much about it.  So when I saw the entire "Close to Jesus" set on sale on, I ordered it.  I can see what I liked about this movie although some parts of it grated on me this time around.  But first... the story:

I appreciated that the film went a route completely different from the usual Mary-as-prostitute story.  Right off the bat we see her as a rich man's loving wife, working on her lands, and healing people (as a doctor, not a miracle healer).  However, they've not had a child and so her husband divorces her and sends her away.  She departs with a Roman soldier who she comes to love and conceives a child with (guess the barren one wasn't her).  At this point my feeling that this was rather like a biblical Lifetime movie (of the "men are evil" variety) really grew.  In the course of the next thirty minutes the following occurs: Roman soldier beats Mary, she's then gang-raped by his men, she miscarries, and then she attempts suicide.  (This film is not for kids!)  So it is somewhere in between a Lifetime movie and a soap opera.  But if you can make it through that then things do get interesting on a less violent and overwrought level... after the (yes, I'm totally serious) makeover scene.

The movie covers Mary's rise through the ranks as a servant in King Herod's home, her romance with a second Roman soldier (this one infinitely more promising), her friendship with John the Baptist, her devotion to Salome, and, of course, her eventual meeting with Jesus.  I was not overly struck by Jesus in this.  However, right towards the end when he smiles up at Mary and holds his hand out to her... the actor won me over.  So I look forward to seeing him in at least 2 of the other films, I believe.  Just a heads up, though: after the feet washing scene the film fast forwards in a huge way to about 10 seconds of the crucifixion so don't watch this film if you're looking for much on Jesus' ministry.

This more than other Jesus films deals with gender politics and the instability of power, I think.  Herodias is just a bundle of sadly realistic bits of advice like "Love is power" for women.  By which she makes it clear she means sex.  She follows it up with a depressing sentiment: "Love is a luxury.  It's denied to women."  Makes a person realize how few options women had.  And sometimes men do no better...  More than one character in this film goes from riches to rags or lives in constant worry of it.


I think, despite its soapishness, this film really does have its good points.  I like that Mary's complex.  She's angry at God for all that's befallen her yet spiritually searching.  She wants desperately to be loved but she's also jaded.  She misses her wealth and power yet comes to see the horror that can come from power.

I think this may be the best use of Salome.  Who knows what the girl was really like but it's not as if she had an easy time of it.  Her mother was morally suspect and controlling.  Her uncle's also her lecherous step-dad.  And, as this movie reminds us, she was at a difficult age.  I'm not convinced she deserves the villainous role so often given to her.  I think it was interesting to have Mary befriend her (first in helping her through her first period and on through her desire to marry) and actually see how badly placed this girl is. 

I really like this John the Baptist.  I was impressed with the way he was presented far more than I was with Jesus here.  Although, to be fair, Jesus is hardly in this.  But something about the guy playing John really grabbed me.  And he has my favorite non-biblical line in the whole film.  Mary asks him where God's love is in the midst of war and misery.  Moved, John answers: "God hides Himself from us.  So we find Him through longing."  That speaks so much to there here and now, I feel.

This film gives John's story more attention than Jesus' which may disappoint some.  However, as I have a whole shelf of Jesus movies, I found it moving to focus on John's sacrifice and struggles.  The way he tears up when he foretells his own death was stirring.

By focusing so much on the politics of the time, characters from many different backgrounds are introduced.  I loved seeing so many different costumes.

I liked the Vitellio character (hope I got the name right, he was the 2nd Roman soldier).  I thought he saved this movies from being a total "all men but the holy ones are evil!" rant.  Granted, he did some bad stuff as a soldier but I think he really loved Mary.  At their parting he wishes that she finds what she needs.  Massive improvement over the first lout.  So I'll give an award for a compelling non-biblical character.

Random Questions

I thought the apostles fishing Mary out after her suicide attempt was a lil unrealistic.  But I think the scene does suggest an interesting theory about the nature of the demon possession so many people had.  In this Mary freaks out because she's surrounded by these men who make her flashback to the rape (understandably).  Makes a person wonder how many of the "possessed" people actually had PTSD, schizophrenia, etc.?
Reviewed 4-26-09)

Judas (2001)

This came in the same boxed set along with Mary Magdalene and two others.  When the set arrived, one disk was floating around in the box.  I couldn't recall whether it was MM or this one.  So I basically watched this movie just to ensure the disk worked.  Given that less-than-thrilling justification, I actually liked this movie.  IMO, it is leaps and bounds better than the 2004 telefilm of the same name.

First, this movie did at times call Jesus Christ Superstar to mind which is probably not surprising given JCS was the first movie I ever saw to depict Jesus' story through Judas' eyes.  But it's more than that.  The film starts on Palm Sunday so it all takes place in that last week of Jesus' life, as with JCS.  However, it was the electric guitar in the score that really put me in mind of the rock opera.  I wonder if it was intentional?  Because I really don't recall electric guitar being featured in the MM film.  It was especially attention-grabbing right after Judas kisses Jesus in the garden and there's a riff.  JCS all the way!

The plot is basically this: Judas have been cast out of his family for joining Jesus.  The trip to Jerusalem brings them back to his hometown and Judas tries to reunite with his family... and his girlfriend, Rachel.  Judas, a former Zealot, fully embraces Jesus' message of non-violence.  The same cannot be said of Rachel and Judas' former friends.  Rachel tells Judas that her brother, Disma, has been arrested and she needs 30 pieces of silver to get his name on the list of prisoners possibly to be freed on Passover.  Judas ultimately agrees though he struggles with the idea of taking the silver from the money he manages for Jesus and Co.  Unbeknownst to him, Disma is free and part of a plot to kill Pilate and that's why Rachel needed the money.  When Judas realizes the betrayal of Rachel, his world shatters and he loses sight of who he can trust.  Meanwhile, the Romans trace the silver to Judas and think Jesus is somehow behind the plot.  They take hostages and threaten to execute them unless Jesus is handed over.  A now completely muddled Judas turns Jesus over thinking it'll force his hand and Jesus will, at last, take power. 

Despite the rather money and political-driven plot line, I thought these characters were rendered as very human with their family concerns, romantic entanglements, etc.  The overall impression I got from this was how intertwined everything and everyone is. 

Yet money is a big theme through out.  Both the Romans and Judas see the vital importance of the merchants.  The Romans try to force the merchants to blacklist Jesus and Co.  Judas, in turn, tries to win their support.  Reconciling with his father (a merchant), Judas arranges for him to get the merchants to support Jesus.  However, no sooner is this agreement made than Jesus storms through the Temple, overturning tables.  And shortly after that display of anti-consumerism, Jesus gets anointed with super expensive oil as Judas looks on in dismay.  You can kinda understand why Judas starts to crack up. 

Just come random thoughts: 

First, if I ever make a Jesus movie, I'm dressing my Jesus in something other than white robes.  Just because I somehow doubt that Jesus only ever wore white. 

Second, if I had the crown of thorns and robe scene in my film and a character said the robe was purple... I would make it purple.  Not red.  It makes me think there's something wrong with my TV. 

Third, while I think the whole hostage thing but have involved taking excessive liberty with the story, there was something stirring about seeing the hostages freed as Jesus is on the way to Golgotha.  It was like a literal interpretation of his freeing everyone with his death.

Fourth, at one point Peter assures Judas that "one day we will understand him [Jesus]."  I couldn't help but think that it's been 2,000 years and some of us are still arguing about what Jesus meant.  But I agree with Peter... one day we will understand.


I like that the people look at least closer to Middle Eastern than they do in most Jesus films.  Glancing at the credits, I'd say the bulk of the cast was Italian (not surprising for an Italian film) so not truly accurate casting but, again, less WASPy than usual.

This movie drips with irony.  There's the tragic irony of Judas, early on in the film, uttering the sentence "Take my life.  You won't take the Messiah," to a Roman soldier.  We know, of course, that Jesus will be killed by the Romans (with the help of Judas) and that Judas will then take his own life.  Later, Judas emphatically tells Rachel that he cannot betray Jesus by taking the 30 pieces of silver from the community money.  Yet he does...  And Rachel betrays Judas.  Finally, Judas betrays Jesus by taking the money thinking he's saving Disma.  However, that act then leads to Disma's real arrest.  And who is the criminal crucified alongside Jesus in this film?  Disma.  The whole thing kinda seems like a Shakespearean tragedy.

I think this film does the best job of fleshing Judas out.  I still prefer JCS just because of its style but my heart definitely goes out to Judas at parts during this.  And I think that's a much more compelling story arc to explore than just "He was a selfish, power-hungry villain."  The part where Judas goes back to his family home and remarks that "every thing's just the same" in his room was really touching, as was his cuddling up to his dying mom.  Which leads me to...

Judas' mom is my favorite non-Biblical character in this.  There's a part where she and Judas are talking and Judas remarks that lately Jesus has gotten things totally wrong.  His mother says "maybe he sees things you cannot see."  So we have the follower of Jesus distrusting him and the non-follower better seeing Jesus' plan.  I'm not so sure that doesn't happen with some regularity today, too.

There are a couple shots of the cross taken from the ground with the sun behind Jesus that are pretty dramatic and stirring, IMO.

I think this is the most depressing ending to a Jesus movie, at least that I've seen.  There is no resurrection scene, the last we see of Jesus is dead on the cross.  But it doesn't start or stop there...  This whole time Judas has gone completely delusional.  He grins through the trail (still believing the people will support Jesus) the scourging, Way of the Cross, and through the crucifixion.  Peter even comes to Judas and tells him Jesus will die but Judas keeps on.  He believes the whole time that he's merely forced Jesus' hand and that Jesus will rescue himself and Disma and come to power.  He even tells Rachel that Jesus can't die...  She insists that he's mad and needs to ask Jesus' forgiveness before it's too late.  Judas remains steadfast in his belief that all will be will.  And then Jesus dies.

Judas runs away with Peter (who was also at Golgotha in this version) trailing him.  Peter keeps screaming for him.  But Judas kills himself just as Peter reaches the tree.  So Peter not only witnesses the suicide right after witnessing Jesus' execution but also misses the chance to intervene by mere seconds.  He clings to Judas' body and that, except for a view of three empty crosses, is it.  It's not exactly the most uplifting of the Jesus films.

Random Questions
I'm a little shaky on how Judas goes from thinking Jesus has betrayed their hopes to, again, believing whole-heartedly that Jesus will save them all.  At points it was like sane Judas started to surface and then would be taken over by deluded Judas.  Like when he was smiling as Jesus was carrying the cross then stops, starts screaming Jesus' name, falls to his knees, and asks God to send an angel to free Jesus.  For a moment he seems to grasp the reality of the situation but then at Golgotha is right back to thinking all will be well.  Is this an accurate portrayal of someone losing their mind?  I dunno.  It made for interesting viewing, at least.

The Nativity Story (2006)

Jesus pretty much just gets a cameo in this movie... obviously.  Nonetheless, it's becoming one of my favorite Jesus movies.  Of course, this is only my second viewing.  I watched it for the first time this past Christmas Day and then wanted to watch it again sometime before the Christmas season ended.  That didn't happen!  So here I am watching it on Valentine's Day.  I thought that seemed weird but, watching it again, it actually seems really appropriate.  Joseph and Mary are a really inspiring, moving couple.

Plot-wise, the film starts with the Massacre of the Infants and then flashes back to Zechariah learning of John's pending birth.  Then we meet Mary, her family, and the town of Nazareth.  The movie is very attentive to the struggles of its characters: poverty, powerlessness, and a brutal leader (Herod).  It doesn't take long for it to become apparent that it's a very, very scary time.  The scene of Mary's young friend being torn from her mother as payment for taxes due is heartbreaking.  Honestly, at parts this movie is way more difficult for me to watch than Passion of the Christ.  While Jesus' crucifixion was horrible and makes for gut-wrenching viewing... He chose it.  There was a purpose.  But it's hard to see much purpose in murdered babies or enslaved young girls.  Not to mention all the other crucifixions we glimpse in this film.

Yet, this is NOT a depressing movie.  Nor is it a movie that makes everyone pale next to Mary.  There are so many rich portrayals in this film.  Mary's parents, Elizabeth, and Zechariah are all very nuanced, I feel.  And I really like that Gabriel looks like a Nazarene and not the usual, polished, fair angel stereotype.  And the magi!  I'm glad they were in this because they lent some much needed humor to the film.  I especially like when Balthasar laments leaving behind the comforts of home.  I also get a kick out of the two magi assuring themselves they don't miss the third when it's pretty obvious they do... and then he shows up!  And then there's Joseph... more on him later.

From there, the plot's in the Bible.  The angel visits Mary, Mary visits Elizabeth, she returns and the village is scandalized, Joseph has a dream, the census is called, they journey to Bethlehem, and Jesus is born.  But the way the movie shows all this... it's beautiful and profound and somehow exciting even when we know the story.

The socio-economic realism and fleshed-out characters made this movie for me.  As did just random, tiny little things as simple as Joseph's friend brushing paint from his face when Mary's approaching.  Quirks like that that are just so universally human!  In other Jesus films, I find myself just sorta waiting for all the Nativity stuff to be over so that the real, dramatic, poignant story can begin.  It's why it took me well over 2 years to finally sit down and watch this.  I really didn't think I'd much like it.  But in this movie, the Nativity *is* real and dramatic and tear-inducingly poignant. 


I'm gonna hand this one the Best Joseph award.  Well, assumedly that would go to the real Joseph but for fictional Josephs... I'm giving it to this guy.  He had me at buying back Joachim's donkey and telling Mary to say it was left behind in order to save the man's pride.  Not only that but... they were going to kill the donkey!  So Joseph saved him and Mary's family and it was awesome.  And then later when he gives Mary most of their last bit of bread and then shares his lil portion with the donkey... seriously.  I know I'm Catholic and we have the whole perpetual virginity of Mary thing but... if Joseph was really like that then I really hope his descendants are still around.  And I really can't seem to get myself worked up into a tizzy thinking they could be Mary's, too. 

All that being said, Joseph wasn't depicted as some dreamy, ethereal paragon.  He gets angry.  He gets bitter.  He's not initially inclined to take Mary back.  But, to me, that made him more relatable and real.  He was prone to heartbreak just like any of us.  He just didn't get bogged down in it, he had faith, and he had enough love to not care about all the wagging tongues or even his own pain.  One stand out part for me is when he and Mary are headed to Bethlehem and that woman tells him "To see yourself in a young face... there is no greater joy."  Even though Joseph is totally behind Mary at this point and knows the child is God's, the words sting.  Joseph wanted his own child.  It's a complex and endearing portrayal.

Finally, I was really struck by Joseph lamenting that the Temple is "meant to be a holy place."  Shades of You Know Who there...

I really, really thought the portrayals of Mary in both Mary, Mother of Jesus and Jesus (1999) were well done.  But I think I'm gonna have to give this Best Mary, too.  And not just because Keisha Castle-Hughes was actually an appropriate age and look for the part as opposed to the other films' Marys.  I was just really taken in by this Mary.  Again, she seems real.  She plays, she gets upset with her parents, she worries about her betrothal, and she can speak up for herself... and do it very well.  She seems like someone you could know.  Even more like someone you'd look up to but not in a completely distant, untouchable way.  And the look on her face when she first feels Jesus move in her belly... that's a moment to stick with you.

But I think my favorite aspect of this movie is watching her feelings about Joseph change.  I can honestly say I never gave much thought to what Mary must have felt about him.  But this seems like a good hypothesis.  She's reluctant to wed him.  After all, she barely knows him.  It's obvious he's in love with her but it doesn't follow that she must reciprocate.  So she feels the unfairness of it and voices that.  I like thinking she didn't just unquestioningly accept everything that happened to her... even if she did have to abide by it.

So I know this is probly just my modern mentality showing but I liked that the film doesn't set this marriage in front of us and just assume both parties were thrilled.  That's not realistic to me.  And it doesn't inspire much.  Instead, we actually get to watch Mary fall in love with Joseph.  We take that emotional journey with her.  And that makes it so touching to realize these are the people that raised Jesus: people who may not have had the best start but forged a strong, deep, loving bond.

So we get these sweet little moments where Mary smiles at seeing Joseph feed and talk to the donkey.  Or, my personal favorite, clasping his hand when the woman's comment about their baby hits him.  Or when she washes his feet and tells the not-yet-born Jesus that he'll have a good man to raise him.  Frankly, I want to believe that Jesus was raised by two people that loved each other an awful lot and this movie makes ya think that just might have been how it was.

Best Use of Sarcasm in a Jesus Movie- Joseph deadpanning "They're going to miss us" as he and a very pregnant Mary depart Nazareth amidst townspeople giving them the evil eye is just plain fun.

Best Use of Christmas Carols- I like "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" at the start but "The Carol of the Bells" when Mary's contractions begin gives me goosebumps.

Best Shepherd- I cry when that fellow is so reluctant to reach out and touch baby Jesus then finally does at Mary's prompting.  That guy really did deserve an award.

Random Questions
I'd never thought of this before but around Christmas I was reading a newspaper column about the Gospels.  The author pondered why Zechariah was struck mute for questioning God.  Yet, Mary does the same and is exalted.  Why?  I mean I actually like that Mary questioned Gabriel.  But the different reactions the two get does make me wonder.  Perhaps it's because God understood that a young girl was bound to be more frightened and astounded than an old man... especially when she's going to end up carrying the Son of God.  Pretty astounding and amazing when I think that, at 14, I could barely handle schoolwork and friends issues...
(Reviewed 2-14-10)

Godspell (1973)

I think I just need to ramble on this one.  Weirdly, I wound up choosing Godspell for this weekend after discovering that I still remembered that Victor Garber's birthday is March 16th.  My inner monologue went something like this: "It's March 16th.  I know that's somehow significant but how...  Wait...  I think it's Victor Garber's birthday!"  And, sure enough, it was.  I can only assume that bit of trivia got lodged in my brain when I was watching Godspell so often during high school.  So... it only seemed right to watch it this weekend after that experience.

Godspell is really its own thing.  It's hard to compare it to the other Jesus films here.  There's not really a great deal of character development.  It more glides from parable to parable and song to song than tells a cohesive story.  And yet... I get sucked in every time emotionally.  I believe these people care about each other.  I want to hang out with them!  I share in their awe of the hippie Christ.  Watching this movie makes me feel like a lil kid again... something Jesus valued.  There's such joy in it!  How can you not sing along with "Prepare Ye" and "All Good Gifts" and, really, all of them!?!  And yet...

I found with this viewing that the experience has become somewhat melancholy.  Watching Godspell is like getting a postcard from a simpler time.  I miss watching this and not feeling a pang of grief when I see the Twin Towers.  I miss having no clue what the apostles felt at the end: mourning a peer, mourning the man who taught them about God. 

From "By My Side" on, I was pretty transfixed.  And I still feel this suffocating sensation when they return to the park at the end and Jesus starts removing their make-up.  When Jesus says his "heart is ready to break with grief"... My God.  And watching this I realized that seeing Jesus die, even just fictionally, has actually gotten more difficult the more deaths I've experienced.  It's become more real somehow.  And yet how much more grateful I've become...  If I didn't believe in Heaven and Him, I think each death would have taken a lil more of my sanity and I'd be far gone by now.

There is no resurrection here.  But when they start up with the "Long live Gods"...  It's such a beautifully spirited moment.  That it's sung is so poignant, too.  I turn to music so often as a salve for my grief and an expression of happiness.

Yes, He lives.  And because of that we can carry on with joy for the rest of our lives. 

I was particularly struck, this time around, by the empty New York aspect.  It's magical, really.  For a brief space of time there are only 10 people in the whole city!  It just makes me think of those perfect moments of connection with people when everything else seems to dissolve.  There is no stress, no trouble, no job, etc.  Only you and them.  I was told once that Godspell isn't about Jesus at all but about connection and community.  I wish I'd said to them: "And what's the difference?"  God is love and He's there when we truly meet each other with love and compassion.  This movie is about Jesus *and* connecting with each other.

Anyhow, here are  awards:

Best Non-standard Costuming- I love Jesus' outfit.  Classic.  Victor Garber looks adorable and Superman shirts would never be the same for me.

Best Dual Role- The John/Judas dual role has always intrigued me.  When does he switch over?  Why did they decide to do it that way?  Why not cast two people?  It's just interesting to think about.

Best Nostalgia Trip- I can still remember crystal-clear moments of watching this when I was a teen: tucked away in bed with pneumonia or the time I watched it in the evening and a wind struck up just before Judas betrayed Jesus.  I truly loved this film.  I still do.
(Reviewed 3-20-11)

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

I decided I should cover one I had not yet reviewed here.  I know I saw this some years back on TV so am not sure if this is my first time viewing it uncut or not.  It's over three hours long so I'm breaking it up over the afternoon, watching approximately an hour in each sitting.  So for the first hour...

I have to be honest and say the first twenty or so minutes are really boring to me.  They are so Herod-centric.  You only briefly see Mary and Joseph.  But then they get pretty quickly to Jesus' adulthood so that's good.  Cause outside of The Nativity Story, I just don't typically find film coverage of Jesus' birth to be that compelling.  Not sure why.

One thing I do like about the beginning is the recitation of John 1.  Also cool is how often you hear prayers calling out for the Messiah.  It's particularly stirring when you hear that over Mary, Joseph, and Jesus returning home... surrounded by crucifixions.

There are a few character moments I really like.  Peter's reaction to his stolen coat actually made me laugh.  Dude was not letting it go!  And "Little James" is sweet.  I like how he wanted to follow Jesus just cause he liked what he said then declared Jesus "a good name."  But other than that... I find myself not really connecting with characters and right when I realized that I also noticed that this movie is shot a lot with wide shots.  There are times Jesus is speaking and the camera is so far away that you can't even see his lips moving.  I'd like to see his facial expressions!

One thing I will say for this version is that it gives a lot more coverage to Jesus' teaching than most others.  There are moments that I just don't think a modern movie could pull off in which Jesus just sits and talks.  Nothing else happens.  It's quite great.  But, again, I wish the camera would move in during these moments rather than staying anchored several feet away.

I did get a lil emotional when Jesus is departing Lazarus' home and Mary says something like "I fear for him.  He's too good."

In the second hour, they hit more scenes that make me emotional (although the distance shots continue unabated...)

First, the blind man always gets me.  And when he's talking to an absent Jesus about his childhood...  Something about that makes me really sad.  I guess because I realize that guy's gonna have to get used to Jesus' physical absence.

Second, I think it's James (distant shot so can't be sure) who asks Jesus if men are like ripples in the water... just floating away and lost.  Then he mentions John.  You can tell he's sad about his death (even without visuals).  Jesus' only response is to begin the Our Father.  Sometimes that's all one can do in the face of grief.  I've come to understand that.  I know some people are against rote prayers.  But sometimes they are all that comes out.

I do love this version of Lazarus' resurrection.  I get goosebumps when the "Hallelujah Chorus" starts up.  There are also plenty of close-ups in that segment, starting with Jesus' "I Am the resurrection" and a lot of beautiful reaction shots.  And a much happier bit with the blind man.

Finally, in the third hour...

This movie doesn't do a great job of fleshing Judas out.  Nonetheless, his speech about Jesus' heart and his love for him is gut-wrenching.  Although I've never understood why this film has him commit suicide by fire.

I love Sidney Poitier as Simon.  He doesn't simply carry the cross but seems to actually carry Jesus.  And that single tear at the end...  He never says a word but it's just beautiful.  He looks like an angel.

The crucifixion pretty well verifies for me that sometimes this film sacrifices emotion for spectacle.  The shots of the three crosses are stirring.  But for a long while, that's all you see.  I started to doubt if Mr. Von Sydow was even present for that scene or just doing voiceover work.


Jesus Movie Most Likely to Make You Think Something is Wrong with Your TV- The first 30 seconds or so are just a black screen with score music.  Fair warning!  I was about ready to see if my TV had died.  They do it again at the start of Act II.

Best James- Okay, maybe not.  I might be forgetting other really good James.  But, seriously, I like this kid.  Maybe cause he's exactly that: a kid.  It's nice to think Jesus had a happy-go-lucky kid around to cheer him up.

Best Resurrection of Lazarus- Seriously, I really do like this take on it.  It's why I most wanted to rewatch this version.  That and Sidney Poitier.

Best Simon- See above. 

Most Untrue Line- One priest tells another "This will all be forgotten in a week."  I am writing this approximately 102,856 weeks later.  :-)

The Visual Bible: Matthew (1993)

Since this is so lengthy, I'm going to do what I did with Greatest Story and separate my thoughts into hours.  So, in the first hour...

First, I was very glad when other characters started speaking.  There was a moment of panic when I thought it was going to be Richard Kiley speaking the whole time with the other actors simply moving.

Second, very nice to get a glimpse of Mary's and Joseph's wedding.  Yay them.

Third... I have to say that I think the Massacre of the Infants was pretty gratuitous.  Because of it, I probably would not let my kid watch this movie which seems a shame.  I started to get really upset and I'm 28.  People know what's going on.  There's absolutely no need to show close-ups of dead children. 

In general, I like how dynamically Jesus speaks.  Gestures, varied voice, and even a prank (pouring water on an apostle's head).  For Jesus to have maintained the following He did, He must have been a compelling figure.  I can see that in this rendition.  Unfortunately, I find the bouncing back and forth between the scenes of Jesus' ministry and Matthew's retelling jarring.  Richard Kiley is a fine actor and does his part well.  But the set-up is just really breaking the spell and screaming "This is a film!" to me.

One of the better things about covering an entire Gospel is that the resulting film will highlight scenes many others skip over.  For example, the demons-into-swines scene doesn't seem to get much play.  I don't know that I think it's that vital but, still, it's in the Bible so it's good to see someone show it.  What I'm really glad to see is the centurion with the ill servant.  I love that exchange between him and Jesus and think it gives us all so much to think about.  So I was psyched to see it here.

The second hour brings us the bleeding woman.  She's another person who doesn't often make it into the movies but that story, too, I have a lot of appreciation for.  Both she and the centurion show such faith.  In addition, Jesus was really taking a risk by touching an unclean woman.  So it's really a shame that this scene isn't included more often.  At least it's here!

This way of doing things also ensures that the less... palatable scenes remain, too.  It's not easy reading/watching Jesus going off on the unbelieving towns.  It's actually pretty painful.  But they're in the Bible for a reason and so it just may be a very good thing that at least one film version retains them.  They have to be thought about and dealt with.

Otherwise the second hour didn't really have any stand-out moments for me.  Just some general things: I like how affectionate this Jesus is.  I like how he had the apostles recite lines for a parable.  Maybe Godspell is more accurate than we know!  :-)  I was kinda bummed that, by sticking to the Bible, creativity is kinda limited.  This isn't gonna show us some possible conversation between Jesus and Judas, for example.  But there is still a creative element in how lines are performed.  For example, I was kinda startled when Jesus laughs after Peter begins to sink after walking on water.  In Cotton Patch Gospel this is portrayed as a terrible disappointment for Jesus.  Who's to say?  Maybe He was crushed, maybe He thought His friend freaking out when, really, there was no danger was just kinda hysterical.  So, yeah, even without newly crafted lines, there's definitely creative interpretation at work here.

Highlights, for me, from the third hour included the Canaanite woman, the Transfiguration, and the healing of the young man with seizures.  The first is depicted in the Jeremy Sisto version but not, to my recollection, in many others.  It's such an interesting scene to me because it shows that Jesus (while sinless) didn't necessarily know everything when He was here.  He could learn, too.  Plus, that woman's faith is just astounding.  I am less emotionally connected to the Transfiguration but it's a very intriguing element and seldom depicted.  Finally, as an epileptic, I appreciated the scene of the man with seizures.  Most films prefer to focus on the healings of the blind and lame which are, of course, stirring.  The epileptics tend to get forgotten.  Not here!

In general, I am really appreciating the look of this version.  It seems the most real to me visually.  Nothing yet has looked like a plaster facade brought in out of storage.  It all looks like what I really imagine Jesus and Co. seeing as they went to Jerusalem, visited towns, etc.  And the scenery is just beautiful.  Also, Bruce Marchiano is probably one of the more realistic looking Jesuses.  He's not blonde, he has darker skin, and the hair is probably pretty accurate, too.  I've read that Jesus likely did not have the long, ponytail-ready hair we often associate with Him but actually something more of what we'd call shaggy.  That's what ya get here.

The fourth hour mostly revolves around the walls closing in on Jesus.  This rendition of his speech against the Pharisees is pretty upsetting to watch.  Jesus' agony is depicted very well.  That, coupled with the Massacre scene, made me fear for how the Crucifixion would be portrayed in this one.  I was shocked to see how bad Jesus' eyes looked after the first beating following his arrest.  That was jarring.  But the Crucifixion itself did not last long.  It was meaningful and well done but not gratuitous.

I am really glad that they let "the other Mary" who sees Jesus after his resurrection be his mother.  At least  I thought she looked like the same actress.  Beyond that, I found this to be a pretty stirring rendition of the Passion and Resurrection but I suppose I missed some of the staples from the other Gospels.  I think it would be great if someone did a truly faithful rendition that blended the Gospel accounts.


Not really in an award type of mood but I spose "Best Visuals" and "Most True to the Book" will do!

How Not to Make a Jesus Movie

Once upon a time, I got incredibly excited whenever a new Jesus movie was announced.  And then I dunno what happened...  Part of me thinks maybe my expectations have just gotten too big.  But the truth is when I watch Jesus movies I used to enjoy, I generally still enjoy them.  So I've concluded that there are some elements in current Jesus films that just do NOT work for me.  Meanwhile, I feel like I've actually drawn closer to the real Jesus.  I don't at all feel like this... anger almost... towards movie Jesuses is some sort of misdirected anger at the actual Jesus.  I will admit that I have grown increasingly wary of Western-looking Jesuses and that tinges even productions I love.  But that's just it... it tinges.  It doesn't account for outright and overwhelming dissatisfaction which is what I feel when watching some newer films.  With Easter 2015 approaching and the current biblical movie craze, we're gonna have a lot more Jesus films coming our way.  I'd like to have some hope of maybe liking them.  I feel like, to do that, I kinda need to exorcise some of my complaints and disappointments.  Thus, here are some things I've seen in recent Jesus movies that have driven me batty.  In no particular order (and pretty tongue-in-cheek)...

--Editing that creates unfortunate implications: Yes, I realize that sometimes things need to be cut for time.  However, if you authorize a DVD release for a film you created, I think it's on you to ensure any editing doesn't create situations that makes Jesus or other morally upstanding people look like emotionally tone deaf jerks.  So you've decided to present Mary Magdalene as less a prostitute and more a woman who has been very misguided and fallen on hard times?  Great.  You likely have history on your side.  However, if you've shot a sequence in which a very, very drunk Mary Magdalene is dragged into bed by a man... you've now shot the introduction to a rape scene.  If you immediately follow that up with Jesus uttering "your sins are forgiven," Jesus now looks like victim-blaming scum.  As I happen to believe Jesus is a member of the Trinity and not victim-blaming scum, your movie is now ruined for me and I have ceased to associate the white-robed, bearded man with Jesus.  He is now Kevin or whatever masculine name pops into my head.  And I will be emotionally distanced from Kevin for the rest of the movie and just consider him to be a weirdo who is aping the off-screen Jesus for reasons known only to himself.  Maybe I sound like a jerk.  However, I think a lot of damage could be done by someone in need of Jesus' mercy and compassion watching such a sequence and seeing that monstrosity play out. 

--Inappropriate casting: I already mentioned the ethnicity issue with "white Jesus" but this goes beyond that.  Paying attention to the ages your actors can reasonably pull off is a good thing.  We Christians understand that the Son is co-eternal with the Father and that means Jesus is older than every other human.  However, He was also born to a woman of about fourteen years of age (likely).  Therefore, Mary should appear to be at least a solid decade older than Jesus.  If your movie rolls around to the Passion and Mary still looks to be in her twenties and Jesus seems to have cleared the big 4-0 years before... it's distracting.  Mother/son scenes don't look like mother/son scenes and, in fact, can come off as fairly creepy.  And, in the name of all that is holy, please do not cast the Holy Family and the apostles as mostly white people and then have Satan be the only darker complected fellow with lines.  It doesn't matter whether he looks like an American president or not.  That just looks really, really bad on a deeper level.  Also, "Hot Jesus" should never happen.  Go read Isaiah 53 if you don't believe me.  And I'll grant that if the best actor just happens to be very good looking, one should still hire him over a less talented person.  However, I refuse to believe this is happening virtually every single time Jesus is cast.

--Jesus is scared of women: No, actually He wasn't and isn't.  However, if your own wariness of the Mary Magdalene rumors has made you shove her to the side and forgo any substantive scenes with Jesus and women, I think you need to go reread the Gospels.  Jesus Himself didn't keep away from women, even women with reputations, just to avoid gossip.  He cared for them and, yes, touched them and allowed them to touch Him.  If your movie's Jesus doesn't interact with women, I don't know who he's trying to portray but clearly not the actual Jesus.  Maybe he's playing Kevin playing Jesus.

--Epic fails when trying to solve a problem like Maria: None of us knows what exactly happened with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  We can assume she did, indeed, go on to live with the Apostle John.  What I never thought someone would assume?  That she hitched a donkey ride back to Nazareth on Easter morning.  And yet one recent film had her doing exactly this.  The problems?  1.  It hadn't even been a full 48 hours since she'd buried her son and she decides to go on a road trip?  Yeah, we all grieve differently but geez...  2.  Jesus predicted His own Resurrection.  Even if you don't include this scene in your movie, a lot of us viewers know it happened.  Maybe Mary wasn't there to hear it.  But no one thought to mention it?  Not even Mary Magdalene?  They just said "Oh, okay.  Well, been nice seeing you.  Err, umm...  I mean not nice cause... you know... your son died but... umm...  Okay, bye"?  Really? and 3.  Most modern mothers wouldn't even go back to normal life after losing a child only 48 hours before!  And most of us don't live with the burial/mourning customs a first century Jewish woman would have.  Apparently Mary, in this film, just wasn't interested in sitting shiva.  (Not that I think that phrase was used but apparently the week long mourning period was a thing.)  There's a problem when a modern Catholic cares more about proper Jewish mourning customs than the Jewish characters in your film.  This was such a distracting moment of out-of-characterness that I stopped watching that film a few minutes after that scene.  It remains the only Jesus movie that has left me liking Judas better than... Phyllis... which is what I'll call non-Mary-like Marys.  At least Judas was consistent.  And, yes, some folks make very valid points that certain other folks vastly overstress Mary.  She should never be worshiped.  Totally true.  But that doesn't change that she was a woman chosen by God from among all other women.  Clearly she wasn't a faithless screw up.

-- Faithful observance of Viewers Are Morons: No, actually, many of us are not.  But if TPTB behind Jesus films get on the news media and make claims about how there's a lack of Biblical literacy and yet their movies rely on that assumption by playing fast and loose with the Biblical text... they're not helping.  And, actually, they look pretty hypocritical.  "Read the Bible more!  But watch us as we completely rewrite a character!"  Now, I'm all for being creative.  If you want to completely make up a scene about Joseph's death, I will support that.  If you decide to turn the whole story into a rock opera, I will watch that (a lot).  But when you completely obliterate a character and change their very personality and depth of faith just to better play into some poorly conceived narrative of your own, I will be extremely wary of the rest of your film.  Rahab was framed.   

--TPTB have a persecution complex: So you made a Jesus movie and not everyone loved it.  Yeah, maybe some people were just being trolls.  But some people may have had perfectly valid complaints.  You don't get to trot out "Well, people are hostile to Christian faith and..."  I'm a Christian.  I am NOT hostile to my own faith.  But I also don't feel like I need to indiscriminately dole out "Atta boy!" and "Atta girl!" to every Christian filmmaker.  I have a right to not like your movie without falling under a blanket accusation of being anti-Christian.  Christian filmmaker does not equate to infallible.  Rather than be defensive and dismissive, invite a dialogue. 

In closing, the movie makers have every right to do what they want.  I'm not challenging that.  But we all have a right to consider whether what they do within those movies is morally okay.  Sadly, I have been very disenchanted with recent offerings.  That being said, I haven't seen all of them.  For a while, I gave up.  It just seems like sometimes people are so ready to trumpet the latest Christian project that no one within the Christian media wants to take a critical look at those productions.  It shouldn't be only secular publications that wonder about certain choices TPTB behind films make.  In the years I've had this page, I've gotten mostly positive feedback.  However, it's disheartening to me how some people equate dislike of a Jesus film with one's devotion to Jesus.  Jesus is not the following people: Jim Caviezel, Ted Neeley, Victor Garber, Christian Bale, Max von Sydow, Jeremy Sisto, Jeffrey Hunter, Diogo Morgado, etc.  The Trinity is not Andrew Lloyd Webber, Roma Downey, Mark Burnett, Mel Gibson, Bill O'Reilly, Paramount, MGM, CBS, NBC, ABC, Disney, etc.  You can love or hate a Jesus movie without that having any reflection on how you feel about the actual Jesus.  And, yes, the same Jesus movie that I abhor might be deeply meaningful to someone else.  We all have triggers.  Probably some of what I listed above would fly under some people's radar or just be shrugged off.  But the Gospels tell a story that has relevance and absolute importance.  Tinkering with that story without an eye for unfortunate implications and/or an openness to constructive criticism, can lead to marginalization.  And that's something that should never be in any version of Jesus' story.

*My apologies to all people named Phyllis and Kevin.

Killing Jesus

So with the above out of my system, I started watching Killing Jesus.  Right now, I'm about halfway through but decided to jot a few things down because I'm afraid I won't remember by the end. 

First of all, he had me at the food throwing.  To be fair, I was super excited when I heard Haaz Sleiman was cast because I thought he was awesome in The Visitor.  And, I'll admit, I was just incredibly happy to see someone who could conceivably resemble a Galilean in the role.  There's something stirring about hearing Jesus' words in an accent other than U.S. Midwestern or European.  (Don't get me wrong, His words are always stirring but delivery does matter and Mr. Sleiman brought a lot of emotion and power.)  But back to the food throwing.  I like that this Jesus is playful.  When his cousin/brother teases him, he smiles and throws a nut or bread (couldn't tell) at him... just as you would expect a big brother to do.  That scene becomes more poignant later when Jesus returns to Nazareth and James' teasing has morphed into outright resentment.  I will admit that's one aspect of this movie that's been hard for me: the family dynamics.  Mary seems pretty clueless.  Or maybe just quietly in the know.  I can't tell.  There was a pretty enigmatic smile at one point.  I do wish her view was a little easier to grasp but I am only halfway through.  And, to be fair, the Bible does strongly suggest that there was angst among the family members. 

Before I move on from the family, just a few words about Joseph.  He has only a very brief part.  Three scenes, really.  But I liked him.  I liked that he referred to "our boy" and "my son" and that he kissed lil boy Jesus.  He clearly loved Jesus and considered him his own, without reservation.  I also appreciate that he wasn't some super old fellow with his teen bride. 

The Massacre of the Infants was wrenching to watch.  I was warned by two people about it, though, so it actually didn't come to what I'd imagined in my head... which I think TPTB banked on.  It was still brutal and awful and struck a heartbreaking balance between showing violence and letting you fill in the blanks in ways that probably made it more terrible than anything they could film.

After only about ten minutes, the film leaps ahead to when Jesus is thirty and doing carpentry work.  His aunt/cousin Elizabeth comes to visit and shares news of her son John which seems to light a fire under Jesus.  I'm a lil shaky on whether this seems at all plausible given Elizabeth was quite old when John was born and here she is thirty years later but who knows.  Anyway, Jesus is baptized by John and it's a moving, quiet scene without the usual voice of God moment.  I kinda missed that but, at the same time, the low key nature of this film appeals to me. 

And then this movie does something that I'm surprised so few do.  Those of us who watch these movies a lot are used to seeing certain healings: the blind man, the man lowered from the roof via a cot, Jairus' daughter, and so on.  We all know how those stories end: Jesus heals and all is well!  But here we have a distraught mother approaching Jesus because her young son is possessed.  If this story is in the Bible, I somehow missed it.  I gotta say, it was pretty revolting when we saw the poor boy.  But Jesus just grabs him and holds him in his arms (this is a theme).  And then the boy convulses and... dies.  And watching it I'm just like "OMG.  A kid just died while Jesus was holding him.  What is this!?"  And the crowd on-screen is horrified and the mother is crushed and then Jesus prays.  And I'm still like "Wow...  Are they going the route of Jesus failed and then had to learn to be more faithful or what is this!?"  And then we hear a gasp...  And the little fellow asks for water.  It was stunning.  Because we've grown so familiar with the oft-seen miracles, the drama and suspense are largely gone.  We know the crowd is antsy but we know how it'll end.  Well, here I didn't know.  It was this great moment of feeling one with the people in the movie, hoping that somehow Jesus was gonna make this right but not absolutely knowing he would.  Amazing.

Later, people are vying for Jesus' healing touch when two lepers, a woman and, I assume, her child, approach.  They head for the animals' trough to drink because, of course, they aren't welcome at the well.  Jesus hurries over and stops them just before they drink the disgusting water.  He calls for water to be brought over but none of the apostles want to.  Enter Mary of Magdala.  She takes the cup and brings it to the lepers and then she and Jesus tend to the two.  Without flinching, Jesus touches the woman leper's face and dabs at her boils and sores.  I gotta say, this was such a welcome scene for me.  Not only was the dialogue between Mary and Jesus intriguing (Mary seems like potentially the sex trafficking opponent of her day) but coming off two movies when I felt like Jesus only cared about women when it was convenient for him, this rocked.  The tender, grateful look on that woman's tortured face as he tended to her... *that* is the work of Jesus.  The real Jesus didn't worry about getting his hands dirty.  He cared about people.

Just a small note: I had to pause this movie to go pray because someone I know had really major surgery complications.  After that, I just really hoped this movie would cover the Lord's Prayer.  I don't even know why.  But I didn't figure it would cause that's just not really political.  But, lo and behold, there's a scene of Jesus teaching the entire prayer.  I felt grateful for that.  I'll admit I cried... and then rewound.

Unfortunately, not too long after that we had to visit King Herod's House of Horrors.  Poor John...  They were awful to him.  But Herod...  I seriously wanted the Special Victims Unit: Jerusalem to come running in.  Creepy, creepy, creepy.  Don't get me wrong, Salome is presented as a devious, selfish brat in this but no girl should have to deal with a creeper stepfather.  If that's how Herod really was (and I have no idea), John's vitriol didn't even approach what he really deserved.  Disgusting...

I do like the way this one is handling the high priests thus far.  On at least two occasions, they've made it very clear that not all of the Sanhedrin was against Jesus.  Nicodemus has a few scenes but it's not even just him.  Further, a scene in which Caiaphas recalls being young and seeing a mass crucifixion makes him no more pleasant but does suggest there was more to his actions than just plain nastiness.  And I believe that.  I do think they honestly cared about their people and worried that Jesus would lead to their destruction. 

The last hour is pretty much a blur.  To be honest, I forgot how emotional Jesus movies make me when they haven't done something to majorly annoy me.  So just moments that stick in my head:
  • Jesus trying to get his brother to take Mary home to Nazareth before his arrest.  Of course we knew it wasn't going to happen but still... just so sadly beautiful.
  • Mary witnessing the scourging... devastating.  When she said "My baby boy..." I lost it and pretty much stayed that way.
  • "God's glory is love... I love you."... as Jesus looks like hell and is carrying the cross and talking to a Roman who is awful.
  • Judas' exchange with the shepherd boy.  Up until that moment, I found Judas to be rather blah.  But that scene was heartbreaking.
  • The Resurrection.  I think some people are probably not going to like it.  I did.  Do I want every Jesus movie to go that route?  No.  But that's Easter as I know it... believing but not seeing.  And Mary's smile...
  • Mary actually being there and, you know, not on an ill-advised road trip.
  • The fish...  That was an awesome use of echoing a previous scene.
  • The kinda "suckers!" tone of Kelsey Grammer's closing monologue when he spoke of Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, and Herodias.  They deserved it.  And, honestly, after the creepiness of the last three... I kinda needed that.
  • "Jesus in art" slideshow.  I loved those!  It was cool to see that employed in a way opposite to Superstar's pretty wretched slideshow.

There are some things I wish had been different, of course.  I wish this had been a miniseries, for one.  So much was skipped.  I was mostly pleased with what I saw but just wanted to see more, perhaps especially with Mary of Magdala.  That being said, we did get to see a lot more of Jesus' preaching than I imagined going in so I can't complain.  Second, I think Claudia was just a waste of time.  Without her dream, she didn't really serve any purpose beyond being annoying and, I guess, modeling costume porn.  But she had 2 or 3 scenes that I feel like coulda been better spent.  Thirdly, I do wish Mary had seemed less clueless about who and what her son was but even that's superseded by my gladness that she didn't bail like in a previous version.  Finally, there are some dubious beards and hair but I guess I just need to learn to deal with that.

Really, I was just so pleased to watch a Jesus movie in which he seemed like a real, actual, and, most of all, loving person and not some paragon who is just going through the motions.


Frankly, I'm just really happy that there's finally a version, easily available, that has a cast with Middle Eastern people not relegated just to background players and the occasional supporting part but with lead roles... including the lead role.  Jesus was Middle Eastern.  That doesn't mean every single person ever who plays Him needs to be of Middle Eastern descent... but I do feel like it shouldn't have taken this long for a Western-made movie to pull this off.

Beyond that, I think I'm done with the "awards" thing.  To say I enjoyed this movie doesn't really seem right but I feel like it restored my belief in people's ability to produce a Jesus movie in this decade that I can get behind and consider rewatching.

Well, that's all the movies I've seen as of right now, at least those I've seen enough to write about. I have loved all these different portrayals of Jesus Christ and think the actors did wonderful jobs. However, if anyone knows of a version in which Jesus is portrayed by a man looking like one would think a Nazarene would look, let me know as I would love to see that version. Thanks!


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