Son of God: Not Just Another Pretty Face
The recent blockbuster Son of God, which brought in $26 million its opening weekend, joins a long line of these on-screen Jesuses and off-screen analyses.
If we're older, we may have laughed at 1977 Oh God star George Burns. We considered charges of anti-Semitism against Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. Many evangelicals, including Billy Graham, have lent endorsement to Prince of Egypt's God. Some of us have encountered a daring black God in Bruce Almighty or the female one, played by Alanis Morissette, in Dogma.
Rarely, though, do we focus on the good, the spiritual and emotional dimension, that can come from Hollywood's efforts to give God a face and voice. At this point, it's inevitable. Whether we mean to or not, we discern the contours and expressions of God's face, the tone of kindness or judgment in God's voice, and the media's portrayals can shape our imagination.
Think back to the classic 1956 film The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston, who played Moses, pitched himself to director Cecil B. DeMille to play God's voice in the burning bush.
"You know, Mr. DeMille," Heston ventured, "it seems to me that any man hears the voice of God from inside himself. And I would like to be the voice of God." In the modern vernacular of the Hebrew Bible people, we call that chutzpah.
DeMille hedged, "Well, you know, Chuck, you've got a pretty good part as it is."
But the chutzpah got him the gig. Though not listed in the film's credits, Heston's deep bass voice is heard when God speaks from the burning bush. I'm convinced that that conversation, half a century ago, is the reason old-timers at my church insist that a previous pastor with a deep booming voice "sounded like God."
Given the recent success of Son of God, I wonder what this depiction of Jesus will have lent to our shared consciousness about who God is. What will we have gleaned from the face of Jesus that's been given flesh by Diogo Morgado?
I don't mean the actual Portuguese face—though, thank you, Hollywood, for not casting blonde-hair-blue-eyed Jesus. I don't mean the sound of the cast's proper English dialect. Rather than judging this Jesus by his physical features, what I'm searching for, what I'm listening for, is the emotional tone Morgado has given to Christ. I wonder: Is Jesus sort of worn out by people's faults and foibles? Or does Jesus show authentic affection for people? Is Jesus' voice heavy with judgment for sinners like me? Or is it light with kindness? Is Jesus rattled by our humanity? Or does his gaze communicate, "I see you. And I know who you really are"?
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