Friday, May 23, 2008

The Gospel of John Film

“Daddy, can we watch the Jesus movie together tonight?”

These words, spoken recently by my nearly seven-year-old daughter Beth, melted my heart like wax. It gives any father great joy when a child wants to do something with him. But it gives a Christian father a double portion of joy when the child asks to do something that is spiritually fulfilling. Needless to say, Beth and I watched part of the movie that night and have done so more than once since then.

The “Jesus movie” that we watched is not The Passion of the Christ. For all of its flaws, I believe that this much-criticized film can provide a powerful spiritual experience for all Christians, particularly during Lent. That it contains historical inaccuracies is indisputable; more important, however, is the total accuracy of the two major points of the movie: First, that Jesus paid a great price to redeem us from our sin, and second, that His death was not the end of the story.

Still, because of the graphic violence depicted, The Passion is not appropriate for children who have not at least reached the teen years.

Most Orthodox Christians with whom I have discussed film depictions of the life of Christ have a common favorite “Jesus movie”: Jesus of Nazareth, directed by Franco Zeffirelli. This is definitely a fine film (really a miniseries), and it is among the most historically accurate and biblically faithful of all the “Jesus movies.” My family and I watch the first hour or so every Advent. Still, Jesus of Nazareth is not my favorite “Jesus movie.”

My favorite “Jesus film” is one that few Orthodox Christians have ever heard of. It is The Gospel of John. The Gospel of John film was produced by Visual Bible International, an evangelical organization that produces word-for-word dramatic productions of biblical books. Visual Bible’s first two productions, Matthew and Acts, both were released straight to VHS and DVD. John, however, was briefly shown in theaters in the fall of 2003 and released on DVD the following year.

The Gospel of John film features beautiful set design. Its script is simply the Good News translation of St. John’s gospel, word for word. Most of the acting is very good. Henry Ian Cusick (now a star of the ABC television series Lost) gives an outstanding performance as Jesus. In fact, he is my favorite “movie Jesus” of all time (although I also loved Jim Caviezel in The Passion too). The music is beautiful, even breathtaking at times. Some of it sounds like the Byzantine second tone.

Also nice is the narration, which is done by Christopher Plummer. When he speaks, I can almost hear him singing “Edelweiss.” But I digress…

Since all the dialogue is straight from the biblical text (abeit a rather loose paraphrase of it), there are very few inaccuracies in the movie. Still, one glaring one is worthy of mention: as is often the case in popular myth, Mary Magdalene is portayed as having been a prostitute before encountering Jesus. There is, of course, no dialogue stating this directly, since the Bible never says that she was once a prostitute. Instead, Mary is shown in the beginning as being part of a crowd listening to Jesus, and she is dressed like a prostitute in this scene. Throughout the movie, her clothing becomes less and less gaudy and she wears increasingly less makeup, until she finally looks like the pious woman to whom Jesus appears after the Resurrection.

Despite this and a few other flaws, I believe that every Christian home should have a copy of this beautiful film. Watching it is a great way for your children to become familiar with the major stories from St. John’s gospel, even if the long discourses lose them. The full version of the film runs over three hours and will have to be watched in installments by most people. Also available is an edited two-hour version, which is included in the DVD package. When the movie was first released on DVD in early 2004, it cost $40. Being a John fanatic, I, of course, coughed up the full amount.

Now, however, the cost is only about $10 at . I heartily recommend that you purchase this wonderful teaching tool as soon as possible and watch it with your children (or with your spouse or with a friend or even by yourself) ASAP. You will be blessed if you do.

The Gospel of John film on DVD: $40 (at least it was for me!)

Watching the film with your 6-year-old: Priceless!

And here is a picture of my "movie buddy":

Have any of you seen the movie? If so, let me know what you thought of it. In the mean time, here is the first 9-10 minutes of the film:


Clint said...

I have not seen that particular movie. But you have piqued my interest...

I have seen the Matthew movie (if it is the same one). I though the guy who played Jesus was hamming it up a bit much. At least for my taste. (I should point out that my taste can stand quite a bit of hamming....)

But I will have to get a copy of the John movie.

Rachael Companik said...

I saw it when it was first released in the theaters, so it's been a while! I remember liking it at the time but it's been so long I think I need to watch it again. Although I am a big fan of Lost, so I don't know if I'll be able to separate Jesus from Desmond... hehe!