One of the more interesting things about last year’s mini-series The Bible was the way it linked the Old and New Testaments by making the character of Satan a recurring presence, from the Garden of Eden to the city of Sodom to the temptation and crucifixion of Jesus.
All of that footage, however, has been cut from Son of God, the big-screen Bible spin-off opening next week — partly because of a bogus controversy that erupted last year over the actor’s alleged resemblance to President Obama.
Despite the fact that Satan had appeared at least twice in the mini-series’ first episode without attracting any comment, the Twittersphere began buzzing about the alleged resemblance after he returned in the third episode for the sequence in which Satan tempts Jesus in the desert. And this bizarre, out-of-left-field tempest-in-a-teapot was a key factor behind the decision to cut Satan’s scenes from the film entirely, says co-producer Roma Downey in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
“Someone made a comment that the actor who played the devil vaguely resembled our president, and suddenly the media went nuts,” Downey said Monday. “The next day, when I was sure everyone would only be talking about Jesus, they were talking about Satan instead.”
She added: “For our movie, Son of God, I wanted all of the focus to be on Jesus. I want his name to be on the lips of everyone who sees this movie, so we cast Satan out. It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the devil is on the cutting-room floor.”
I am also struck by the fact that Satan, who appears several times in this mini-series — including three appearances during this episode’s depiction of the Passion alone — does not appear again after the Crucifixion. In Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), the frequent glimpses of Satan culminate in a final shot of Satan howling in agony as he or she realizes that Christ has won, but there is no similar pay-off in this mini-series. The appearances of Satan simply stop.
It also bears mentioning that Son of God follows a somewhat Johannine template, and that John’s gospel is unique in having no temptation sequence or similar episode in which the devil plays a significant overt role. (There’s a brief reference to Satan “entering” Judas at the Last Supper and “prompting” him to betray Jesus, but that’s about it.) So leaving Satan out of the movie makes sense on that level, too.