The Ascension of Christ in film: literalism, symbolism, etc.

Today is the Feast of the Ascension, when Christians remember how Jesus was taken up into heaven 40 days after his Resurrection. It’s one of the stranger bits in the Gospels — both difficult to understand, given our modern cosmology, and difficult to pull off visually — and most of what we know about it actually comes from the Book of Acts. So it’s not too surprising that most films about Jesus have tended to skip this episode.

Nevertheless, a few films have depicted the Ascension, often by mixing it with elements from other stories in the gospels, and even those that don’t depict it have often made a point of ending on a note that suggests Jesus has transcended this life in some way that parallels the Ascension. Here are a few examples.

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“Bollywood” life-of-Jesus movies, then and now

A couple weeks ago, Asia News reported that a new film about the life of Jesus had just been produced in India. Called Christaayan, the film — actually a six-hour TV mini-series — was described as “the first Hindi production about Jesus” and the “first Bollywood-style movie about Jesus”.

There’s just one slight problem with that description: Christaayan was beaten to the punch over 30 years ago by a film called Dayasagar, which is Hindi for Oceans of Mercy. That film — which has also gone by the titles Karunamayudu and Karunamoorthy — has an official website here, and you can watch it in its entirety, albeit without subtitles, via YouTube, here:
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Ethnicity in Jesus films – does it matter?

In 1961, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer produced King of Kings, the first major Hollywood film about the life of Christ since the silent era. The virgin Mary was played by Siobhan McKenna, a respected Irish actress in her late 30s, and the villainous Herod the Great was described by the narrator as “an Arab of the Bedouin tribe.”

Nearly half a century later, things have flipped around. The Nativity Story, produced by New Line Cinema (the same studio that made The Lord of the Rings), casts an Irishman as King Herod; and several of the supporting actors were born in primarily Muslim territories, such as Iran and Sudan, or can trace their family roots there.

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