'Son of God' Review: New Jesus Film Faces Challenges, But Will Astonish, Inspire Audiences With the Truth

In the 1972, "Evidence That Demands a Verdict," apologist Josh McDowell argues that there are three conclusions one can draw about the life of Christ. Jesus was a liar, lunatic or Lord.

In the "Son of God" movie, a compilation of old footage from last year's History Channel "The Bible" series and previously unreleased scenes that were not included in the television show that opened in theaters on Friday, the film's producers and spokespeople, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey present their case for the third identity.

The two hour and 18 minute film opened on Friday, Feb. 28, and stars Diogo Morgado as Jesus, Sebastian Knapp as John, Darwin Shaw as Peter and Amber Rose Revah as Mary Magdalene. Christopher Spencer directed "Son of God" and also co-wrote it along with Richard Bedser, Colin Swash and Nic Young.

son of god
"Son of God" |

The bulk of Son of God's potency comes from exploring Christ's equal parts carnal and divine natures — the former of which comes much more strongly on a screen than through text. In the film, Jesus (Diogo Morgado) stumbles awkwardly into Peter's (Darwin Shaw) fishing boat, weeps when he sees his dead friend Lazarus and collapses to the dusty ground multiple times as he attempts to heave the cross to Golgotha. These small details reinforce the fact that although Jesus possessed unblemished morality, he was still physically constrained and subject to the limitations of a human body.

The film also depicts a compassionate Christ, who finds himself moved by the plight of humans and who refuses to condescend to them. Jesus tenderly touches the face of the disgraced adulteress and forgives her sins, moments after challenging the hypocrisy of her would-be killers. He sends a lame man walking after morally restoring him as well. Before nourishing their souls, he attends to the physical needs of thousands who have gathered on a hill to hear him by feeding them.

A challenge that the film had to wrestle with was depicting both the loving Jesus, and incorporating the deeply subversive nature, that God in human form assumed.

The majority of first century Jews had two prevailing expectations for what identity the "Promised One" would assume. The religious leaders generally figured that God's representative would slap their backs for how faithfully and piously they had continued practicing, despite a 400 year lull in new revelation.

For Jewish zealots fed up with toiling under a corrupt regime, they had little imagination to conceptualize a Christ that did not alleviate their frustration under the Empire.

In his three year ministry, Christ dashed both hopes. He rolled his eyes at the Pharisaical do-gooderism that left little room for mercy and his non-violence preaching likely rankled those who had thought a superman would revolutionize their lives with a sword.

But Jesus shied away from only offering verbal critiques — instead, he also spent dozens of hours with individuals who had been rendered irrelevant to any religious or political discussion: women, the uneducated, the mentally ill, and the contagiously sick. It is this side of Jesus that seems to receive less screen time in "Son of God."

For the most part, Jesus' interactions with society's dirty, disgusting, and leprosy-ravaged are almost entirely omitted consequently understating the fact that Jesus possessed no notions of a Jewish kingship or establishing his own religion for its own sake: that he was there to find worthiness from and bestow worthiness to those society had deemed disposable.

Composer Hans Zimmer is well-known for his stirring scores, and at times in "Son of God" the musical score is breathtaking. However, one quibble I felt slightly was at the build up to the crucifixion, where the music crescendos so frequently that, for me, it ultimately struggled to build tension and narrative.

Some other small details also stood out for me; such as Jesus' perfectly combed mane also seemed at odds with the scruffy hair of his disciples and crowds. Christ may have been pure morally but it's unlikely his hair stayed as an unblemished as his conscience.

For the film's challenges, only about half of it focuses on Christ's three years of ministry and through its extensive coverage of Pilate (Greg Hicks) and Caiaphas (Adrian Schiller) amorally struggling to remain relevant, and its incorporation of a political backstory in the Jesus-focused narrative, the latter portion of the film does a much stronger job showcasing a revolutionary "Son of God."

From the onset, the filmmakers make it clear that the Jews viewed the Romans, understandably, as a menace. At one point they senselessly cause the death of a young boy when his father's broken cart clogs up a road. In another, Pilate's men ambush and massacre nearly 50 Jews. A frame in the opening of the movie, shows a hill with at least a dozen crosses bearing dying Jewish bodies.

These scenes help drive home the point that Jesus' crucifixion, far from being unique, was consistent with how Romans dealt with the most extreme rabblerousing commoners — which Caiaphas accuses Jesus of being to Pilate.

Further, they suggest that once again Jesus' incarnation confounded expectations of who God was. The Son of God eschewed glory and power to live a brief, poor, and often solitary human life before dying a brutal, lowly and common death at the hands of manipulative and unscrupulous religious and political leaders.

This movie may astonish its audience with that truth once again.

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