*The opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the authour and not any institution to which he is affiliated with*
On Monday, I had the unique opportunity to see a special screening of the film Son Of God in Toronto. This new adaptation was produced by Mark Burnett and his wife Roma Downey (Touched By An Angel). Having met with much success with The Bible Series (3rd-most watched miniseries on Cable TV in 2013), Burnett and Downey edited their footage and created Son Of God, chronicling the life of Jesus from the start of his public ministry to his Ascension.
This screening was for Christian leaders exclusively. Pastors, church workers and the like. It all went down at TIFF Bell Lightbox on King and John. I arrived at around 6:25p. A little keen, maybe, but seat selection is key for ANY film viewing. When I sat, there weren’t that many people. 6:30 was a soft start (maybe its protocol for all pre-screenings to be fashionably late, I don’t know). Between 6:30 and 6:45, more people started to show. Some wore suits, others, like myself, wore jeans. At around ten to 7, Mark and Roma walk on the stage, to a theatre that was 75% full. Someone in marketing slipped. Son Of God is the first major film in 50 years to highlight the life of Jesus (Passion of the Christ focused on Jesus’ final hours and crucifixion) on the big screen. During their introduction, Roma called Toronto a ‘city of churches’. The empty seats said otherwise.
Mark and Roma began the evening by talking to the audience about the journey they took to get this film off the ground. Despite having to produce Survivor, Shark Tank and The Voice, Mark took time off to produce The Bible Series as well as Son Of God. He called it a ‘passion project’. No kidding. He also joked about networks passing on The Bible Series in Canada since its ‘much different’ than America. It was #1 in viewership on its first night.
Both Burnett and Downey shared their own personal stories of how Jesus changed their lives and their burden for that story to be told in film. They’re aware that they’re up against a number of Hollywood films on February 28th, but hope that the Church will help in getting the word out.
If you’re a Christian, or know the story of Jesus, there are no surprises or twists to be warned of. Son Of God takes from all four Gospels (a theologian’s nightmare) and does incorporate some CG. As a Christian, its hard to be overly critical on the first watch, especially since its chronicling a story my life hinges on. “I wonder how they’re gonna handle this passage”, is what I’d say as each scene began to develop. The arrest, trial, denial, and Cross scenes are near impossible to watch objectively. During the film while Jesus was nailed to the cross, The line ‘it was my sin that held him there’ from the hymn How Deep The Father’s Love For Us just flooded my mind. I am sure everyone in the theatre could identify which part of the film stirred their hearts.
There were many times during the film where I disagreed with their dramatic choices in certain scenes, but they could be theologically argued for or against. I only have one major criticism of this project.
The one question about Jesus that has never truly been resolved is the question of his appearance. Artistic renderings abound, but the image that has dominated is the straight-haired, light-skinned, narrow-nosed Jesus. Check for yourself. I was hoping that there would have been some kind divorce from this depiction given the location which Jesus ministered as well as his ancestry.
Jesus looks as European as they come. This movie has the potential to reach millions. Keeping him European galvanizes much of the criticism Christianity has received, being called a White Man’s Religion. This film will replace the Jesus Film that is in every church library. It will be shown at events worldwide as a starting point for those who are investigating Jesus and his claims. Jesus should have looked different in this film.
I think everyone should watch this at least once. He is the most influential man that ever lived. You might not agree with Him, but you have to hear Him out. His fame demands it.