The Common Good

'Son of God' Falls into Trap of Most Jesus Depictions

Son of God is Hollywood’s take on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. While the producers clearly tried hard to use modern filmmaking techniques to bring scripture to the big screen, the attempt fell flat somewhere between the use of action-sequences, swelling music reminiscent of old Westerns, and unconvincing acting — Jesus is played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, who managed to look irritatingly self-satisfied for most of the movie.

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Diogo Morgado plays Jesus in 'Son of God.' Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

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Since faith is such a personal, spiritual experience, it begs the question: Is it possible to make the life and ministry of Jesus into a film that accurately reflects Christianity, or does such an effort cheapen beliefs?

Several elements in the movie that are meant to be sincere and moving end up seeming so over-the-top that the viewer ends up being distracted rather than engaged by them. For instance: orchestral music swells to an impressive crescendo whenever Jesus performs a miracle; the camera pauses for a few seconds after said miracle to allow the viewer to appreciate the way the wind blows perfectly through Morgado’s brown-blonde flowing locks (wasn’t Jesus from the Middle East?); and Morgado then speaks in a flowery, Zen-like way that sounds suspiciously like an old collegiate neighbor of mine who was a little too fond of cannabis. The filmmakers also like to cut to what are clearly graphics of Jerusalem and the temple whenever those two locales are portrayed, like a video game.

But what the movie does do is give one an idea of the unstable relationship between the Jews and the Romans during the life of Jesus. The Jews were clearly oppressed. The High Priest — who should have been caring for his people — is much more concerned with maintaining power and control than protecting human rights. The interplay between the social and political realities of the time does allow the viewer to understand the harsh world Jesus was born into and why the Jewish people were so desperate for a Messiah.

Of all of Jesus’ followers in this movie, Peter seems the most genuine. Peter is both loyal and questioning, showing true pain for denying Jesus and delight and wonder when he is resurrected. John, on the other hand, is a flat, undeveloped character — he spends most of the movie looking so adoringly at Jesus one wonders when he is going to begin tearing up for joy. The rest of the disciples are not portrayed in great detail, although perhaps it should be noted that Mary of Magdalene is included among them and seems to have an important and visible role as a disciple.

While Son of God leaves much to be desired (as maybe it should), this is a movie I could see some Christian audiences enjoying for the way it repackages the well-known story of Jesus’ life. However, the movie can be quite graphic and viewers should be old enough to properly process the violent scenes.

Son of God opened Feb. 28 and has a runtime of 138 minutes. 

Kara Lofton is the Online and Editorial Assistant at Sojourners.

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