My dear people of St. Mary’s:
Last week I wrote the first part of a movie review of the recent religious film, Son of God. In that piece, I explained that while I believe the movie is well intentioned, I could not actually recommend it. I promised to give you some specific examples of why I could not in this week’s Pastor’s Page.
One of the first things that surprised me in the movie was that the screenwriters did not use Gospel quotations as the basis for the script. In fact, they seemed to go out of their way to avoid using phrases from the Bible. From years of going to Mass, most Catholics are quite familiar with famous phrases from Sacred Scripture, and we rather look for them to come up in dramatic portrayals of our Lord. So, when Jesus calls Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, we expect to hear Him say: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” [Mt 4:19] In the film however, Jesus does not give Simon the name “Peter;” he already has it, and Jesus encounters him alone, not with his brother. When Peter asks Jesus, “What are we gonna do?” the response our Lord gives is, “We’re gonna change the world.” Now, Jesus is going to change the world, and Simon Peter and many others will have a part in that, but not as equal participants. It seemed strange that they would intentionally omit one of the most famous lines in the Gospels in favor of that. Over and over, throughout the film, there was a real effort not to use Biblical language in telling the story, which I found constantly jarring.
Another problem was that they changed the chronology of Jesus’ public ministry. So, we know that Jesus is rejected at the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of the public ministry, and raises Lazarus from the dead at the very end. In fact, the raising of Lazarus is Jesus’ last great miracle, and becomes a catalyst for his crucifixion by the Jewish authorities. In the movie, the raising of Lazarus comes near the beginning of the public ministry, and the incident at the synagogue at the end. When you read the Gospels, there is a very clear increase of suspense as the conflict between Jesus and the authorities reaches a crescendo, culminating in the crucifixion. By relating the stories out of order, this is lost on the viewer, and the plot becomes random and confusing.
As a nod, I suppose, to political correctness, Mary Magdalene is promoted to the rank of Apostle. Now, Mary Magdalene (a particular favorite saint of mine) is shown along with the apostles at every event. She sleeps on the ground alongside of them, and participates with them in all the events where the Bible says they were alone with Jesus. The film even has her, rope in hand, helping them sail the boat on the Sea of Galilee! St. Mary Magdalene is a very important figure in the life of Jesus, but she was not an Apostle. This raises the specter of Dan Brown’s now-famous false claims about Mary Magdalene. The filmmakers only depict four of the twelve apostles anyway: Peter, John, Thomas (?!) and Judas. There are others around at different times (but often fewer than twelve – I counted) and major figures like Andrew, James and Matthew are never mentioned or identified, and certainly have no speaking roles. I have nothing against St. Thomas, but he has more lines in the movie than he has in the Bible!
Sometimes the movie changes facts for no apparent reason. In the Gospel of John, at the raising of Lazarus, Jesus prays outside the tomb, and then calls out by voice to Lazarus who emerges from the doorway. In the film, Jesus goes inside the tomb and grabs Lazarus by the head, and raises him out of sight of the people. Why change that? What is the point? It actually lessens the dramatic impact of the miracle, and lessens Jesus’ power and authority as well.