The use for which this film seems to have been made is a bible study
class. It's hardly commercially viable for theatrical release unless there
are more intellectually curious filmgoers than I suspect there is. While I
question the distributor's decision to release it in theatres, (perhaps
because of its film festival success) its tie-in to the theme of the holidays
makes sense, along with the fact that anyone who decides to pay current
boxoffice prices knows from the title exactly what to expect.
I mean, exactly. Its publicity touts that its script is directly from the
pages of the American Bible Society's Good News Bible, dedicated by its
producer, Toronto-based Visual Bible International Inc., to present the bible
on film as it was written. The problem for theatre goers looking for
entertainment or a more mainstream-satisfying example of edification through
dramatization is all the above. Its adherence to that biblical script makes
for turgid going.
Led by Royal Shakespeare Co. member Henry Ian Cusick in the role of Jesus,
the story traces his life from the time he announces that he's the messiah to
an unreceptive audience in ancient Judea to his reappearances after death.
In the course of that dramatization, we hear his proseletyzing words and
phrases hundreds of times. Long after we receive the message and in the face
of countless instances of doubt, even by his followers, the phrases are
repeated ad nauseum, a mind-numbing mantra, drowning a mainstream audience in
a flood of oversell.
This study in literalism allows for no bond or tie to any character. The
depiction of the best actor in it is way too lofty for an attachment to grow.
Caring about the outcome is purely a function of a belief in the story it so
painstakingly recounts, but not from any effect of performance or writing.
Such literalism doesn't function as art.
Of course, the biblical context and the producer's mission suggests why this
might be appropriate to such a film. But, this faithfulness to scripture is
death to engaging drama. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that I
find considerable fault with it and envision its survival in theatres as
brief, quickly settling into very specialized cinema houses and of great
usefulness to religious training in bible classes. That it might stick
around at all and, in fact, go into profit, is more a function of very low
production costs than to its appeal as entertainment. Its educational value
is estimable but doesn't redeem it as worthy of commercial release.
If this vision of its theatrical prospects holds true, the faithful should
rush to see it as early as they can during its commercial run.
It is not our intention to disrespect the
Gospel of John. Its release as a commercial
movie venture exposes it to critique in
commercial terms and our comments should be
understood to apply to it in that context.
For a dramatization of Lutheranism, see this year's "Luther."
~~ Jules Brenner