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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Creation, evolution, the Fall and more in a new Noah clip

Six weeks after Noah came out in theatres, the filmmakers have released another clip — and it’s one of the best sequences in the entire film. The Creation sequence begins with a single shot that captures billions of years of evolution, from the Big Bang to the mammals that existed just before humanity came along, and it goes on to show the Fall, Cain killing Abel, and the violence that has continued throughout human history right up to the present day. You can watch the video — and read a few thoughts I have about the significance of this clip — below the jump.

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Darwin Shaw on playing St Peter (and a Lego Bond villain)

The apostle Peter is not the first biblical character that Darwin Shaw has played in his decade or so as an actor. You can see him briefly as Adam, in a new prologue to the Campus Crusade film Jesus (1979) that was shot a few years ago, and you can also see him as the “Semitic Jesus” in Gospel of Thomas (2009), an interactive adaptation of the Gnostic text that allows you to toggle between different actors. (Another actor plays the “Western Jesus”.)

But Peter is easily the biggest role of this sort that Shaw has tackled so far. He appears in all five of the New Testament-themed episodes in last year’s mini-series The Bible, and he will appear again this week in Son of God, the big-screen movie that consists mostly of footage from that mini-series but also includes a few new scenes.

I spoke to Shaw — whose credits also include Casino Royale (2006), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), John Carter (2012) and a deleted scene from Prometheus (2012) — by phone last week while he was in Los Angeles to promote Son of God.

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The Prodigal Son: three filmed interpretations (and more)

Today was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son in Eastern Orthodox churches, and once again, I found myself thinking about how our gospel reading for the day had been handled in different films.

The parable of the prodigal son appears just once in the Bible, in Luke 15, so of course it is featured in the word-for-word adaptation of that gospel produced by the Genesis Project in the 1970s. And just as the Genesis Project dramatizes some of the other parables while Jesus recites them, so too it dramatizes this one. You can watch the relevant sequence by clicking here.

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Church groups “taking over” theatres for Son of God

Son of God, the big-screen life-of-Jesus movie spun off from last year’s mini-series The Bible, officially comes out two weeks from today — but some churches are giving their parishioners a chance to see the film slightly earlier than that.

The Hollywood Reporter says churches and other organizations around the U.S. are buying out entire theatres — not just individual screens, but entire multiplexes — for screenings of Son of God on Thursday February 27, the night before the official release date. Just to give the whole thing a feeling of conquest, they’re even calling these bookings “Theatre Take-Overs”.

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The Publican and the Pharisee: four filmed interpretations

Today, in Orthodox churches, was the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. It’s the day when we read the parable that Jesus told about a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to the Temple to pray; while the Pharisee spent his prayer bragging that he was a great and righteous man, the tax collector begged for God’s forgiveness — and it was the tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, who “went home justified before God.” And so the parable reminds us that we need to pray in humility, and that it is not our place to judge our fellow human beings.

We read this parable on this day to remind ourselves that Lent is only a few weeks away, and that we should approach the season of fasting and prayer humbly, and without judging our fellow churchgoers (or, indeed, anyone else). And, naturally, as I pondered this parable, my mind turned to a few film versions of it.

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