Movie Review: “Son of God”

Son of God. If you haven’t already heard about it, it’s a movie released just last week about the events of Jesus’s life, from the beginning of his ministry until his resurrection. The movie was produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, producers of the hit TV series The Bible on the History channel last year. There’s a lot of controversy going on about whether or not Christians should watch this movie and about whether or not it accurately depicts Jesus’s life and ministry; after watching it myself, I wanted to weigh in with my opinions. Note: if you haven’t already seen the movie, I’ve embedded a trailer at the bottom of this post.

To put it simply: I really enjoyed the movie and would definitely recommend it to anyone. I thought the producers managed to keep the message of the Gospel very clear while at the same time bringing scenes we’ve been reading for years “to life,” given the bounds of creative/artistic license. There were certainly things they added, changed, or moved around, as compared to a word-for-word transcription of the Bible, but overall, it flowed well together and presented a story definitely worth watching, leading to encouragement and edification. Here are some of the main pros and cons of the movie as I saw them; I won’t bother putting a SPOILER warning, considering…you already know the story (I hope!).

CONS

Mary Magdalene. In this movie, Mary Magdalene traveled everywhere with Jesus and his disciples. Now, according to Luke 8:3-1, there were a couple of women who accompanied Jesus on his travels, such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna;  however, in the movie, we only see Mary, and she goes everywhere with Jesus and the disciples. Just one female traveling with 13 guys, staying the nights with them, and everything. Of course, it’s not like the producers added romance between her and Jesus or anything (they didn’t), but her inclusion felt a bit forced, as if they only put her there so the movie would appeal to a female audience. She had a good role and lines, but I don’t know how absolutely necessary she was.

Jesus’s “Revelations.” At occasional points in the movie, Jesus would suddenly pause and open his eyes wide, and we’d see images of the future flash in his vision. It was presented in such a way as to suggest that Jesus did not actually know what was going to happen to him, and was periodically receiving “future flashes” from God. However, Jesus is  God, and I’m sure he already knew the future. He didn’t need the sudden flashes, as the movie portrayed.

Edited Verses. Throughout the course of the movie, some lines of Scripture were slightly edited, given to different characters to speak, or put in different situations than they were originally written. For the most part, it worked fine; in order to quote every word of Jesus in exactly the right scenario, the movie would have been at least 4 or 5 hours long. However, there was one noticeable change that I really didn’t like: in the scene of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus picked up a rock and prepared to throw it at her, then turned and said to the Pharisees, “I will give my stone to the first person who can tell me that they’ve never sinned.” Compare this to what he actually said in John 8:7 – “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” In addition, Scripture never indicates that Jesus picked up a rock to throw at her at all. Another questionable scene was during the Last Supper, when Jesus broke the bread and passed around the wine during the first Communion. Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was a very watered-down version of Scripture. Apart from these and a few other scenes, however, the movie stayed relatively true to the words of the Bible and still managed to impart the Bible’s messages and meanings.

PROS

Pilate vs. Caiaphas. In John 11:47-53, the Bible tells us how the Pharisees, led by the High Priest Caiaphas, wanted to kill Jesus because if the Jews rallied under Jesus, the Romans would come and destroy them all. The movie took this and made it one of the main elements of the plot: throughout the movie, we see a conflict between Pontius Pilate and the Pharisees. Pilate is very violent toward the Jews who are thinking about rebelling, and at one point brutally kills dozens of Jews protesting against Roman rule (not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, but certainly possible in those times). The Pharisees are terrified when they realize that thousands of Jews are following Jesus because they realize that if things start going south, Caesar will send his troops and completely destroy the temple and Jerusalem. Therefore, they constantly try to stop Jesus, whether through trick questions (“Should we pay taxes to Caesar?”) or through thinly-veiled threats. It’s not only out of fear for the destruction of the temple that they oppose Jesus, however; it is clear that they are also jealous and frightened of him, and use the potential uprising as their “cover story” in their opposition of him. Even though not all of this was spelled out in Scripture, I believe it is quite plausible, and it worked well in the movie.

Nicodemus.  At the beginning of the movie, Nicodemus was one of the chief Pharisees, possibly Caiaphas’s right hand man. He starts off opposing Jesus, being sent multiple times by Caiaphas to trick Jesus into doing or saying something politically incorrect that they could use against him. In fact, he’s the one that asks Jesus about whether or not the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. However, as he continues seeing Jesus, something changes in him, and he eventually sneaks over to where Jesus is camped outside Jerusalem, late at night and heavily veiled, so that no one will recognize him as he talks to Jesus about life. It is then that Jesus tells him about being “born again,” and he becomes a changed man. Later, when Jesus is arrested and the Pharisees are condemning him, it is Nicodemus that tries to stand up in Jesus’s defense, although he is overruled by Caiaphas. I believe this portrayal of Nicodemus, particularly of how he changed through meeting Jesus, was excellent and in line with Scripture.

Peter. The portrayal of Jesus’s disciple, Peter, was fantastic. The movie effectively showed his transition from simple fisherman to the bold leader of the disciples, but without skipping over his painfully difficult journey between. Peter is always Jesus’s staunchest supporter, and when Jesus says he is going to die, Peter tells him that he will never leave Jesus’s side, no matter what may come. As they hug, Jesus tells him that Peter will deny him three times before dawn, and Peter is shocked. Later, after Jesus is arrested, we see Peter watching on as Jesus is pushed roughly to the street. One of the soldiers, as well as a woman, point out that they’ve seen Peter with Jesus, but he vehemently denies their claims. He then realizes what he’s done, and the movie effectively shows his brokenness and sorrow; after Jesus’s death, he believes he is unfit to be a disciple. However, this soon changes when he realizes that Jesus has resurrected from the dead; he leads the other disciples in their first Communion since the death of Jesus, and eventually comes back to being their leader after Jesus has ascended to Heaven.

Visuals. From a movie-making standpoint, Son of God excels in every way. This was no cheap, low-budget production; the cast and crew worked extremely hard to make the movie look as realistic as possible, and their effort is translated onto the screen. It doesn’t feel like a bunch of sets, but rather like we were actually there with Jesus. I think the most incredible scene in the movie was when Peter stepped out onto the water from the boat during the storm; the combination of the visuals and music made for an incredible moment, one that I will always think of when I read that passage in the Bible.

There were many other pros and cons to this movie, but it would be impossible to list them all. Rather, I would highly recommend that you watch the movie. I will never say that you should watch it as a replacement for reading the Bible; this is not divinely inspired by God, it is just someone’s interpretation of Scripture. However, I believe the movie is very useful in its ability to bring parts of the Gospel to life in an enjoyable and riveting manner. In particular, while reading the Bible, we often don’t fully comprehend the pain and suffering Jesus went through when being flogged and crucified; the movie, however, makes the experience visceral and painful, as it should be. We should never undermine the pain and suffering, both physical and spiritual, that Jesus went through in order to redeem us from our sins. In the end, I applaud this movie, and I pray that God is able to work in the hearts of everyone who watches it so that they can be reminded of Jesus’s life and ministry, or told about it for the first time, if applicable.

Note: while the flogging and Crucifixion scenes were nowhere near as gory as those in The Passion of the Christ, they are still extremely painful and bloody, and I would not recommend taking little children to this movie unless you’ve seen it already and are sure they can handle it.

Have you watched Son of God yet? If so, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

UPDATE: Please note, there are certainly many things wrong with this movie, which you can read about here and here. However, I do still think that there are enough good things in the movie to make it worth watching, as long as you fully understand not to take the movie as Scripture, but simply as an adaptation of Scripture by a sinful, mortal, human being.

 

 

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