Following on from our post about what cinematic version of Jesus’ life would be good to watch during Lent – as Holy Week offers a great opportunity to catch up on ones you haven’t seen – we want to talk about a few of the other representations, which have not really stood the test of time.
By way of contrast with the ones we will look at, it is interesting to see how close Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) and Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1977) come to conveying some sense of the man of sorrows we heard about in the Gospel read yesterday on Passion Sunday.
Offering a “different” Jesus
There are however some films that purport to offer insight into the life of Christ but misunderstand him. The great American director Martin Scorsese tried his hand with The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) a film that showed Christ as someone burdened with a mission that he does not fully understand and when on the cross has temptations better not mentioned here.
The sometimes annoyingly catchy musical Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) showed Jesus as a soft-focus hippy and is, as the USCCB film website puts it, simply “naive”. There are other films about the life of Christ which follow this approach, such as Jesus of Montreal (1990) by Denys Arcand, which updates the passion to modern-day Quebec: interesting though it is, it could be troubling for some.
Which versions have real staying power?
What is striking to see is how the films that stay closer to the gospel texts ring truer and remain fresher than the films that try to offer “new” insight into the life of Christ and, seen today, feel dated and irrelevant.
These thoughts support what Pope Benedict writes in his books on Jesus of Nazareth, that it is really the Jesus of the Gospels who is the most interesting and convincing.
We would love to hear your thoughts on these or any other films which touch on this subject – leave your comments below.
Of related interest: