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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The South African Noah musical now has a trailer!

Last month, I noted that Mark Dornford-May, the South Africa-based director of U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (2005) and Son of Man (2006), had combined his interest in things biblical and operatic by directing an adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde.

Since then, I have been reading and working on a review of Son of Man: An African Jesus, a collection of essays about Dornford-May’s second film, and one of the things I have learned from that book is how certain elements of that film are essentially borrowed from the Chester Mystery Plays — and that’s rather interesting, as the opera behind Dornford-May’s newest film is, itself, based on one of those plays.

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Son of Man: An African Jesus — new book coming in 2013

Nearly seven and a half years ago, I blogged the news that some South African filmmakers were preparing a modern-day version of the life of Jesus, featuring a primarily black cast. Less than a year later, the film — called Jezile or, in English, Son of Man — began touring the festival circuit, and I posted links to some of the early reviews. And then, a few months later, I was able to offer my own (very brief) two bits when I caught the film at a local festival. (I also gave a nod to the film in an article I wrote around that time on ethnicity in Jesus films.)

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