Last year, I commented on the fact that there were two movies playing in theatres at the same time — Son of God and Noah — that both began with images of Eve plucking the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden: a moviegoer could see one film in the multiplex, then walk down the hall and catch the other film in the same theatre.
Life of Brian and the Jesus film were distributed by the same company to the same theatres at the same time.
Today, for many Christians, is the Feast of the Meeting (or Presentation) of Our Lord in the Temple. It commemorates the time when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the Temple forty days after he was born, and there met Simeon and Anna, two old people who recognized the Christ child and made great predictions about his future.
Fred Clark posted a really interesting item this morning, noting that “the true meaning of Christmas” can be found in a poem spoken by Mary not long after she learned that she was pregnant with the Son of God — and he notes that the poem in question has a significant political edge, in which the powerful are brought down from their thrones while the humble are lifted up, and the rich are sent away hungry while the poor are filled.
This got me curious as to how many films have actually reflected the edgier aspects of this poem, which is known as the Magnificat. And the answer is: not many. In fact, there are very few films that incorporate the Magnificat at all, and those that do usually cut out the more politically-charged stuff. Usually, but not always.
The story of Jesus has become so familiar to us that we sometimes fail to grasp just how shocking, disturbing, or ultimately motivating it really is. Even films designed to take us back to first-century Judea can tend to come across as soothing or reassuring, which hardly matches how the apostles would have experienced those events. Sometimes it takes a radical reimagining to get us to really think about the implications of that story, and how it might be applied to our present-day reality. And one of the most interesting such reimaginings — certainly in recent years — is Son of Man, a South African production that depicts Jesus as a political activist working in a war-torn modern African country.
Like most independent foreign films, Son of Man has kept a relatively low profile — it didn’t even come out on DVD on this continent until four years after it premiered at the Sundance festival in 2006 — but it can now be streamed on Netflix in the U.S., and it has attracted a fair bit of attention in some circles. The conversation surrounding the film is now further illuminated by Son of Man: An African Jesus Film, a collection of 16 essays that look at the film within the contexts of African culture and the Jesus-film tradition as a whole.