Thursday, July 15, 2010

"This is my world"

In 2006, Michael Iafrate informed the uninformed about a new movie concerning the life of Jesus. Well, the time has come and this film has finally been released in the US and is available, if you are able, to stream instantly on Netflix (and this is how I've watched it). I've just been able to watch the film and I'd like to share some preliminary thoughts.

Jesus films in general fall into three categories (so I learned):
  1. Gospel film--Evangelistic; meant to persuade
  2. Jesus film--Narrative; meant to portray
  3. Christ-figure film--Unsettling; meant to provoke
Of the first kind, many films could be named, but one of our time that comes to mind is The Jesus Film Project. Just a quick perusal of their website indicates as much. But, what differentiates number 1 from 2? Is it the directorial intent? The story being story? The perspective? In the second category, things get a bit murky. Films that might live here are films like the Ben Hur. The last category is by-and-large the simplest to pin-down. Here we have movies like Ordet, Cool Hand Luke or Au Hasard Balthazar. In Balthazar the Christ figure is no other than a donkey. Our film, Son of Man, is perhaps a mixture of the three, but namely a Jesus film. There is no evidence of 1, and there is no reason to consider 3. However, all Jesus films are implicitly, at the least, Gospel films and must also be Christ-figure films.

Set in modern-day Africa, Son of Man has no A-list American (or European for that matter) actors, is not directed by the Coen brothers, did not have a million-dollar budget, but it deserves credit all the more. A film that sets Jesus as an African struggling for rights in an occupied territory who is followed by the working class of his day clearly mirrors the gospel accounts. However, unlike a Ben Hur or a Passion, this film is unapologetically political. Jesus fights as a non-violent revolutionary amidst war and strife, teaching his disciples to drop their stones (swords), to unite and live in solidarity. One cannot help but see the influence of liberation theologies on the film and rightly so.

At one point in the film, a young Jesus witnesses the killing of a group of children. Shocked and horrified, the child looks on. But an angel appears to 'take Jesus away,' persumably back to the Father. As the angel calls for Jesus to "come," we see Jesus shake his head and respond to the angel, "This is my world." In a world caught in the middle of political turmoil, human strife and suffering, the liberating Jesus is resolved all the more to stay, to teach, to live and ultimately to die as darkness covers the land.

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