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Jesus Christ returns to the big screen

Biblical biopic ‘Son of God’ unlikely to persuade secular audiences

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Published : 2014-04-03 19:59
Updated : 2014-04-03 19:59

Many local Christians may be delighted to learn that Christopher Spencer’s “Son of God,” a biopic about their leader, is getting a Korean release this month. A number of prominent local pastors, including Kim Ji-cheol of Somang Church and Im Sung-bin from Korea Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary, have already praised the movie ― they were invited to special screenings prior to the upcoming release ― for its “touching” depiction of their savior.

The film, adapted from the TV miniseries “The Bible” on the History channel, was unveiled to local press on Tuesday. Starring Portuguese model-turned-actor Diogo Morgado ― who triggered the hashtag “#hotJesus” online ― the melodramatic film highlights the life of Jesus, including the miracles he performed, his crucifixion and resurrection.

It is almost certain that the film only targets Christian audiences; not only does Morgado very much resemble the Caucasian-looking, long-haired and generous Jesus from Sunday school, it also does not ― or chooses not to ― go beyond what one can learn from books in religious surroundings. 
Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in “Son of God.” (Sookie Pictures)

Unlike Darren Aronofsky’s biblical biopic “Noah,” which caused concerns among American Christian communities for “not being biblically faithful,” “Son of God” takes the opposite road: It is, arguably, overly biblically faithful.

Most of Morgado’s lines are straight from the Bible. He rarely says anything that is not already written in the religious text. But the well-known Bible verses ― “Don’t be afraid”; “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. ... Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them”; and “Stop doubting, and believe” ― should have been provided with more context, and perhaps with more lines in the script, rather than its linear series of miracles.

The film, however, does a convincing job portraying the Roman occupation, as well as its political and economic effects upon the Jews. For both ruling Romans and the insecure Jewish high priests, Jesus is a threat to their power. Hence they make him an artificial, collective enemy. It is interesting to see how the political need for enemies, as well as a mechanism of colonization, is linked with the persecution of Jesus ― the film’s symbol of truth and righteousness.

We also see many Jews in the film unjustly and cruelly beaten by the Romans, while forced to pay high taxes. Yet contrary to what Jesus says in the film ― “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” ― we are already aware that the poor, including the abused and impoverished Jews in the movie, aren’t necessarily the kind. It is, after all, the Jews who chose Barabbas, the notorious criminal, to be freed rather than Jesus.

The film does not go deeper into what Jesus’ words and doings meant to the occupied and exploited ― the crowd is simply in awe after each and every miracle ― and the rather complex, political reasons why his ardent followers, the Jews who witnessed all the miracles Jesus performed, yielded to those who wanted him crucified. The film will be appreciated by Christians, but it’s unlikely to persuade today’s secular minds.

“Son of God” opens in theaters on April 10.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)

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