AT THE MOVIES: 'Killing Jesus' poorly depicts our living Lord

by Phil Boatwright, posted Thursday, March 26, 2015 (3 years ago)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) -- "Killing Jesus," the New York Times best-seller by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, does a reliable job of proving Jesus lived on earth, had a following and was crucified -- stopping short, though, of affirming His deity.

You'd think that the producers of a National Geographic Channel film by the same name would have tracked with the book by using a documentary format, but instead, they opted to make their tele-movie one more dramatic interpretation of Christ's time on earth. This may have been an ill-conceived direction, as that tactic has been done numerous times and done better.

There's one other small problem.

The first time we see Jesus as a man, He walks up to His cousin, John the Baptist, who immediately identifies Him as the Savior of the world. But throughout the scene, Jesus has this quizzical look, as if not truly understanding who He is or His purpose.

I understand a filmmaker's dilemma when recounting a historical figure. You can't just show Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy as flawless paragons. To give a character dimension, you must include indecision, angst and flaws to offset attributes. This helps all us mere mortals connect with the George Washingtons, the Winston Churchills and others who had greatness thrust upon them. It is a reality, they were men, and therefore, not perfect.

The only figure a filmmaker can't show shortcoming in is Jesus Christ. He was unique, all man and all God. If the Gospels are actually read and adhered to by those attempting to flesh them out in cinematic form, it's impossible to come to the conclusion that Jesus didn't know who He was. Among notable Scriptures (HCSB):

John 10:30 -- "The Father and I are one."

John 14:6 -7 -- "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him."

John 8: 14 -- "Even if I testify about Myself," Jesus replied, "My testimony is valid, because I know where I came from and where I'm going...."

Jesus did things and said things in order to fulfill prophecy, but through it all, He knew His purpose. He didn't need clarification from His cousin.

In Luke 2:49, a 12-year-old Jesus answered His parents' query when they couldn't find Him, "Why were you searching for Me? ... Didn't you know I had to be in My Father's house?"

The film is set to air Sunday, March 29, at 8 p.m. Eastern, featuring Haaz Sleiman as the Christ. My take on the film should not be misinterpreted as a suggestion to avoid the presentation. It does have decent production values despite its apparent low budget; there were solid performances from the leads, and it may leave some wanting to discover the whole story.

But along with this production, I recommend the following presentations:

"The Passion of the Christ" (2004) -- Mel Gibson's brutal, yet undeniably artistic rendering of the final hours of Christ's life on earth blew away skeptics when it earned over $350 million at the box office. Aided by superb cinematography, lighting, music, some dynamic special effects and Jim Caviezel's sincere and muted performance, Gibson brings a mood and sensitivity never before captured when telling the story of the Christ. Justly rated R for its graphic depiction of scourging, piercing, beating and crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ is meant to shock, unnerve and clarify the ordeal of Christ's sacrifice. But the film, showing the physical horrors Christ endured, is not really about what mankind did to Him, but about what He did for us.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977) -- Franco Zeffirelli's epic production of the life of Christ is acclaimed for its thorough biblical and historical research. It is a very moving and spiritual experience, with many memorable performances, including those of Robert Powell, Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine and Laurence Olivier. Its length (371 min.) will take a couple of evenings to digest, but I recommend the effort.

Cotton Patch Gospel (1988) -- A taped stage production, this musical comedy/drama places the Gospel of Matthew in modern-day Georgia, with Jesus born in Gainesville. Funny and inspirational, with lively music by Harry Chapin, this hard-to-find DVD from Bridgestone Production Group is worth the effort.

The Miracle Maker (2000) -- With the use of Claymation and graphically striking two-dimensional animation, ABC aired this family-friendly version of the story of Jesus on Easter several years ago. As a sick little girl encounters Jesus through different stages of His life, we are given a remarkably accurate retelling of Christ's ministry.

In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org and is a regular contributor to "The World and Everything In It," a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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