The Young Messiah, which came out on DVD yesterday, isn’t the first movie to spend more than a scene or two on Jesus when he was a boy. It isn’t even the second. A few months ago I reviewed A Child Called Jesus, a 1987 film that has some striking parallels to The Young Messiah. Now I’d like to take a brief look at The Holy Family, a two-part TV-movie that has fewer parallels but is still interesting in its own way.
The Young Messiah: a scene guide (w/ clips and references to the scriptures, the apocryphal texts, and the novel)
Last month I wrote up a scene guide for Risen, noting which scriptures different parts of the movie were based on. Now it’s The Young Messiah’s turn — and this time, matters are complicated by the fact that the film is based not directly on the Bible, but on Anne Rice’s novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, which in turn makes use of Old and New Testament apocrypha in addition to the scriptures.
“The Word became flesh,” according to John 1:14, but that flesh has been hidden, for the most part, in movie portrayals of Jesus. At certain key points in his life, history and even tradition would dictate that Jesus ought to be depicted nude — and there are good theological reasons for doing so. But most films have tended to shy away from nudity in their own portrayals of those parts of the Jesus story.
There are some obvious reasons for this reticence, of course, starting with the fact that film, for much of its history, has been forced to skirt around images of nudity in general, and images of male nudity in particular. Plus, when a film does show someone’s nudity, it does not merely show us the character’s nudity; it shows us the actor’s nudity as well, and the knowledge that we are seeing an actor’s naked body can sometimes distract us from the character he is playing. This is especially true when the character is meant to be an embodiment of divinity like Jesus.
There have been at least three significant exceptions, though — three films that each depict the nudity of Jesus at a different key point in his story.