February 15, 2016

MOVIES: "THE YOUNG MESSIAH"


"The Young Messiah" is the best Jesus movie ever--or at least my new favorite Jesus movie. Based on Anne Rice's historical novel, "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," it combines the latest and best in filmmaking, the dramatic arts, mature biblical scholarship, theology and imagination. It is biblically and theologically sound (always a tricky task when speaking about Jesus, but even more so the Child Jesus and his "human knowledge"--what did he/didn't he allow himself to know in his humanity?) There has been some talk that "apocryphal writings" inspired some scenes. "Apocryphal" does not mean "Gnostic." The apocryphal Proto-Evangelium of James was used by early Christians as devotional reading. But it's not the Word of God.

FILMMAKERS DID THEIR HOMEWORK

"The Young Messiah" shows lots of homework was done. No trendy twenty-first-century ideas plopped in. No outlandish "what if" musings (beyond Jesus bringing a bird back to life). The dialogue is so carefully crafted that every word effortlessly rings true in these fully fleshed-out and delightful characters. The text of the Scriptures is faithfully adhered to (without really taking liberties) and then sundry plausible plot points--that totally work--are skillfully woven in to bring life to the text. Every scene is to support the text, not draw away from it. All exposition is invisible and clever. The British-accented cast slays it.

This story of one year in the life of the Child Jesus begins with Jesus in Egypt being bullied by another boy from the Jewish community, and escalates into some gripping action which it maintains to one degree or another throughout the film. Never boring. Never trite. There are no hackneyed turns of phrases. The theology is precise. This film has everything in it but the sensational.

THE BEST HOLY FAMILY EVER

Wunderkind, Adam Greaves-Neal (it's his first film role and he was chosen from among 2000 child actors all over the world), plays Jesus with childlike openness, earnestness and chutzpah, and avoids gooey sentimentality (as does the whole film). His facial expressions and reactions are just completely natural. You will fall in love with this little Jesus and just want to hug him. Mary and Joseph are the consistently best Mary and Joseph the screen has seen (Sara Lazzaro [Italian & American] and Vincent Walsh [Irish: raised in Dublin & Toronto]).

There aren't just a few good scenes or lines for these two. The whole film exposes what it might be like to be the world's most unique couple, with their utter devotion to Jesus and to each other. Mary and Joseph don't have all the answers, but they know this precious and precocious kid is God's Son, and their own profound faith and love encompass him. Mary and Joseph wrangle a bit with each other over what is best for Jesus, and both, especially Mary, are hyper-vigilant and appropriately worried for most of the film. Mary and Joseph also know that only they--out of the whole world-can truly understand each other. A wonderful, mutual, egalitarian marriage is portrayed.

The entire cast shows us how people of faith (specifically first century Jews) wrangle with God and the mysteries of God. Stunning. The Satan character (Rory Keenan, also Irish) lends yet another layer.

A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY

Jesus must slowly grasp who he is and learn to keep his powers under wraps for now. He's moved by human misery, pain, suffering and sickness, and realizes that when he prays over people or asks God for something: healing occurs, miracles happen. And others are watching, too. Herod Jr.--as despicable as his father--begins to get wind of a little healer boy and realizes that he is just the right age to be the Messiah, "Wonder-Counselor, Prince of Peace." Maybe this child escaped the Bethlehem bloodbath. He sends his centurion (Sean Bean)--who was also present at Bethlehem and carried out the slaughter--to find and kill the boy Jesus. This constant believable danger, with its attending intrigue and narrow escapes make for an urgency to the whole film.

THE HUMANITY AND DIVINITY OF JESUS

Mary and Joseph keep Jesus' origins and early life a secret from him, but this is not proving to be helpful. Without doing a spoiler here, Mary eventually tells Jesus about the Annunciation in a wonderfully tender scene, as Jesus tries to comprehend: "So is the angel my father?"

This story, this film believes. (Not everyone who worked on/in the film necessarily believes, of course, but the film itself does.) This is the beauty of virsimilitude and acting: putting oneself "in the place of" with every fiber of one's being. Anne Rice is Catholic, and the Catholicity of this film is palpable.

Big money must have been thrown at this production--just from the looks of the sets and extras. The music starts off as standard Bible movie music, but then gets a bit more diverse and disappears into the film, adding to the overall excellence of the experience.

COOL TO BE GENTLE

This film manages to make the gentleness of Jesus tough, hip and cool--even in the face of the savage might of Rome. (Great for boys/men to see!) My favorite quick image to illustrate this is the final "home" of the little wooden camel (I assure you that will make sense when you see the movie).

Only the best writers, filmmakers and thespians could pull off such an engrossing marvel as "The Young Messiah." I am in awe. It would be grand if this same set of creative geniuses would do the adult Jesus, but YM is gift enough.



Ever since the wild runaway success of "The Passion of the Christ," Hollywood has been trying to make a Jesus movie that will move and WOW crowds once again. They just did.

Appropriate for children? Yes! (What better role model for the kiddos? If they can handle seeing some men hanging on crosses and the repeated [non-graphic] murder of the Holy Innocents.)

I never watch movies twice, but I could run out to the theater and watch "The Young Messiah" over and over and over.
_____________________________________


OTHER STUFF:

As soon as I saw the boy Jesus on screen, he instantly reminded me of this famous picture.

--DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILER. GIVES A BIT TOO MUCH AWAY!

--After writing this review, quite a bit of controversy came up over the film being "heretical" and portraying an erroneous Christology (even after Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal Sean O'Malley gave it the thumbs up). The argument mostly being stated this way: "Jesus always knew He was divine." Yes. In His divinity. But in His humanity? It gets way trickier. The most important thing I think we need to keep in mind (and I'm no theologian, but I am a consulter of theologians) is that Jesus was truly God (Christians usually don't have a problem with this) AND truly man (Christians often have a problem with this), who grew in "age, wisdom and grace" as a child. It's a bit mysterious as to when and how Jesus THE CHILD (not Jesus the full grown man) came to full knowledge of His identity.

Jesus' divinity did not just override and overwhelm His humanity. (This is another kind of heresy!) Then He would not be truly human.  

Catholic World Report has one of the best explanations of the Church's teaching on the hypostatic union (the union of Jesus' divine nature and human nature) and "human knowledge" of Christ: 

Even as an adult, didn't Jesus have to operate in the world as man? Jesus said: "Who touched me?" when a woman in the crowd touched his robe from behind and Jesus felt healing power go out of Him. Did He really not know (in his humanity) because His back was turned? Or did He just want the woman to come forth? When Jesus said He didn't know the time of His own Second Coming (Mt. 24:36), was He referring to not knowing in his humanity? (CCC 474 says that certain things He was also not sent to reveal.....)

A priest friend of mine who teaches Christology in a seminary said that we don't really know when the Child Jesus in His humanity came into a full realization of His identity, but it seems it must have been before the 12-year-old Jesus' Finding in the Temple. "The Young Messiah" is the 7-year-old Jesus.

--In the late 80's, the made-for-TV "A Child Called Jesus" was a similar attempt. I don't remember watching it, but I can't imagine anything comparing to "The Young Messiah."

--OF COURSE Jesus would have brought His little birdies back to life.

--The name of the actor who plays Jesus is "Adam." (Get it? The new Adam? You can't make this stuff up.)

--Jesus asks A LOT of questions.

--Lots of foreshadowing: Satan, crucifixion, moneychangers in Temple, rabbis, boy Jesus in Temple, centurion

--One of the best scenes: Jesus talking to some rabbis and blowing their minds (even before he goes to the Temple).

--They got it correct that the Magi were from Persia! Perhaps because the director/writer is Iranian? ;) Well done! (Twitter: @Cyrus Nowrasteh)

--I would like to tell you so much more about this film, but I would be recounting the whole thing!

--There is one touch I would liked to have seen/heard at the very end: a connection of Jesus being on earth for the people, for us. But that's just me.

--Thankfully, no flash-forwards to Jesus' adult life.

--Jesus pipes up at the most inopportune moment: "I was born in Bethlehem!" No "Messianic Secret" here! (Bible scholar's joke)

--Joseph to Mary: "How do I talk about God to His own Son?"

--Joseph (trying to hide Jesus' true identity): "He's just a child." Caleb, Jesus' uncle: "No, he's not. I was a child. You were a child. He's more."

--"Joseph & Mary in #YoungMessiahMovie are the ultimate power couple." --@AWalkenstein

--I love how the film shows the fact that people knew about the visit of the Magi to Herod. The New Testament says that people TALKED about things like Elizabeth giving birth in her old age, etc. Jesus was surrounded by signs and chatter. He didn't just appear out of nowhere and no context in a vacuum....

--Jesus ended animal sacrifice! Coo! Bah! Moo! Bleat!

--Jesus is THE good guy here. The good guy with THE destiny.

--WHY is this the best Jesus movie ever? The spirit of God and the spirit of the Child combine. Palpably.  #AlwaysDivineAlwaysHuman

--And to think: I didn't even want to see this film. (I thought it was going to be a Flower Power Indigo Child frolicking in a puff of autumn mist working magic.)




24 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Have you seen a pre screening of Risen? I dont know which one to see this year...then there is Ben Hur..geesh movie experiences are expensive and I really only want to spend big bucks on 1/3.

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    1. Yes! Risen is good. Young Messiah is OUTSTANDING. (I'm not allowed to release my "Risen" review till Feb. 19.)

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    2. Hi Sr. Helena,

      I just read your review of "The Young Messiah." I really liked the film too, but I also had some problems with it being Biblically and Theology accurate.

      You mention how the filmmakers really "did their homework..." It seems they missed some very important facts about Christ.

      Although the movie depicts a hypothetical year in the life of Christ, I am concerned that this story may lead believers down the wrong path of what is truth.

      There is no reliable record of Jesus ever performing a miracle in his youth. Those sources that say Jesus did perform miracles (i.e., raise a bird from the dead, are apocryphal.)

      The truth is, John 2:11 says the FIRST Miracle Jesus performed was at the Wedding of Cana. ["This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.]

      The movie has Jesus performing miracles throughout his youth... Not that Jesus didn't have the power to perform miracles, of course he did. He was always fully Divine which leads to another flaw (and a very serious one indeed) in the movie when it comes to theology.

      According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jesus always knew he was divine. The whole movie is about the people around Jesus not telling him he is divine (see CCC 472, 473, 474).

      Jesus had a command of Sacred Scripture. He would have known all about the hundreds of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures about the coming of the Messiah and the Son of God into the world. And yet, he was "clueless" as to how he had these abilities?

      Jesus would have been the only Jewish boy born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:10). That should have been a dead give away.

      To say the filmmakers "really did their homework" suggests the viewer should believe the theology being put forth on the screen. To praise the movie for inaccurate interpretations of Jesus' miracles and divinity should also be avoided. God didn't suddenly develop amnesia just because he took human form. His Divinity never wavered from being omniscient and all powerful...

      Here's what the CCC says about Jesus always knowing he had "intimate and immediate knowledge" of God being his Father, thus making him divine:

      CCC 472 This human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time. This is why the Son of God could, when he became man, "increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man", (Lk 2:52) and would even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience. (Cf. Mk 6:38; 8:27; Jn 11:34; etc.) This corresponded to the reality of his voluntary emptying of himself, taking "the form of a slave". (Phil 2:7)

      I'll agree that the movie is very well acted and cinematically very attractive. But theological and Biblically, according to Catholic teaching which we are supposed to promote and uphold according to the Magisterium of the Church, the theology portrayed in the movie appears to be very off-base...

      in Christ,
      Fr. Mark Matthias, Brooklyn Diocese

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    3. Hi Father,
      Thanks for your thoughts here. CCC 473 and 474 are even more to the point on this. But I think what's really going on in this film is the human knowledge of the 7-YEAR-OLD CHILD JESUS. I just added a few bold paragraphs under "OTHER STUFF" above. To my understanding of Church teaching (and consulting several theologians), the filmmakers were within faithful bounds of an orthodox imagination here. Also, I found the Catholic World Report article (quoting Thomas Aquinas) that I added above very helpful.
      Thanks again!
      Easter blessings,
      Sr. Helena

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    4. A priest who teaches Christology in seminary told me that--although Christ's human knowledge was mysterious--it's believed that by twelve years old (losing and finding in the Temple) Jesus knew exactly who He was and what His mission was.

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  2. Anonymous11:15 AM

    Sister Helena, minor correction. At the time Ann Rice wrote the book, she was a Catholic revert. Since that time, she no longer considers herself Catholic. When will you review Risen?

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    1. When I wrote that Anne Rice is Catholic, I meant raised Catholic and with Catholic sensibilities (I know about her reversion and then leaving the Church again). She actually saw this review and didn't correct me! :)

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    2. The filmmakers were painstaking to even adjust the theology in the book-to-screen adaptation.

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  3. I have the novel by Anne Rice, it's a beautiful read. Best Jesus movie ever? I hope you're right, sis. because we haven't been getting a good movie on Jesus since 'Passion'.

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    1. You will NOT be disappointed. :)

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  4. Anonymous8:27 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. Just saw the film. It's charming, painting a plausible "portrait" of a seven year-old Jesus. Not to everyone's taste, of course, but then neither was The Passion. However, I was disappointed to see that the theatre was nearly empty, and on opening night! (We went to the last show, 9:30PM).

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    1. Of course the theater was nearly empty, people go to the movies to be entertained. They can go to church if they want this stuff.

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    2. Anonymous1:58 PM

      I disagree with you Husky Fan. I live in Vegas and the theater was almost full 7 days past the opening date. "Where sin abounds grace does more" I felt inspired which is what I want from a movie. for example, i thought the revenant would be inspiring..won all kinds of things..yet, to me, it was a river ride in filth.

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  6. I was riveted by "The Young zmeddiah" which I thought it was more intense than "Risen" but which I too enjoyed. The portrayal of Mary and Joseph was the best I have ever seen They conveyed all the emotions parents go through with their children, but in their case also the challenges they faced being the guardians of the Messiah. Sara Lazarro was perfectly cast as Mary. She was real as a young mother loving, caring, and protecting her son. In fact I found her more multi-dimensional than the actress that played Mary in'"Mary of Nazareth" Alissa Jung.

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  7. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Usually i can barely get to the end of even an Oscar nominated movie, but i could have enjoyed another hour of this movie, but my partner in crime fell asleep during the movie,, but that doesn't reflect on the movie.. he's more an Arnold Swatznager action packed guy. We went early hoping to avoid the long lines,, surprising there was none. Then i thought , oh great we're going walk into a packed theater and struggle to find a seat while every is gawking at us. But there was one person there. A few did trickle in eventually. I think the story got it right how it showed what it was probably like for a young Jesus.. even as a boy you can feel his power and love .. ,, Then you always got the one with hood on hiding in the shadows .... the dark angel. Well as usual most movie theaters are freezing cold.. so i dressed very warm layers and even my hoodie. I've already had to leave a movie because of such frigid temperature but only after complaining much and getting my money back. We had the back row and in the corner but as the movie ended ,, i had to take my hood off..... the interpration of the hood had just been portrayed pretty badly.. and although i wear a hat even when i work out,,i thought it best i take down the hood or my safety.. due to principalities....

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  8. Anonymous10:18 PM

    I was excited to see this film, and encouraged by many good reviews like yours! But then I also saw some reviews that saw Jesus' lack of knowledge of his divinity as heretical. To be honest, I disagree with the movie's (and the book)'s view of this; I believe Jesus knew he was God, at least from the very moment he could properly think. What is your take on this? I'm curious!

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    1. Most unfortunately, some apologists are calling the film "heretical" because of a misunderstanding about the "human knowledge of Christ." They are actually falling into other heresies by saying the divinity of Jesus overwhelmed and obliterated the humanity of Jesus. But he was truly God and man. The child Jesus "grew in age, wisdom and grace." GREW. It was gradual. But no one is going to listen to me saying these things (and these apologists are ignoring the fact that several Cardinals endorsed the film). We are going to need some heavy-hitting theologian or Scripture scholar to say it.

      The adult Jesus knew much more than the Child Jesus IN HIS HUMANITY. In his divinity, Jesus knew everything, of course, but it's mysterious how this "hypostatic union" played out. Anne Rice and the filmmakers exercised "faithful imagination" here.

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  9. Anonymous10:32 PM

    I was amazed at how whiney they had Jesus be. I am confident the Lord was meek and strong from birth.

    The actor who played the centurion was excellent. There is a scene where God speaks through James to comfort and teach Joseph and Mary when they are searching for Him, where Mary recognizes; that really touched me.
    Worth the matinee, but look forward to Fathom Events original Ben Hur: much better historical fiction.

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  10. I don't recall Jesus whining even once. :)

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    1. Anonymous1:54 PM

      It was that scene where the actor saw Satan and seemed to cower behind joseph and mary..that kind of offended me. Oh and the dog scene..he was scared by a dog? They made him seem weak and vunerable..as Im writing this I rememkber the scene when he seemingly has a fever and encounters satan again and approaches him completely as one would expect jesus would. I suppose it was the directors way to say he "grew in grace" as you reminded us.

      Its a good movie. Ill probably try to take the girl down at the comic book store this time. I already have my line down "hey, want to go see the movie about the greatest super hero of all time?"
      Wish me luck

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  11. Anonymous5:05 PM

    It really is the best. Sad day when this leaves the theaters. Will see it once more before it leaves the big screen FOREVER

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  12. Anonymous11:10 PM

    I couldnt help but reflect on the images of this great film during the rosary, especially the finding in the temple. Great film. I take back what I said about the whiney stuff.

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  13. Anonymous11:12 PM

    Haha I just read your "flower power" comment. I find so much joy here. More reviews please :)

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