When I went to see “The Young Messiah” I was skeptical. I tried to read Anne Rice’s book this movie is based on, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and was not impressed with some of the theology based on the Gnostic, apocryphal Infancy Gospel of St. Thomas. But the movie changed the events I had found concerning, and kept the excellent writing and character development. This movie moved me, and got me thinking for days afterward. The little boy who plays Jesus does an amazing job. So, basically, I am in agreement with Sr. Helena’s effusive review. EXCEPT, this movie is not the best Jesus movie ever. Jesus of Nazareth has not been dethroned. I hope you go see this movie, I really, really enjoyed it and am thrilled to be able to recommend a Christian movie with unqualified enthusiasm, (it doesn’t happen that often). – Sr. Theresa Aletheia
By Sr. Helena Burns
“The Young Messiah” is the best Jesus movie ever. Based on Anne Rice’s historical novel, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” it combines the latest and best in filmmaking, the dramatic arts, mature biblical scholarship, theology and imagination. It is biblically and theologically sound (always a tricky task when speaking about Jesus, but even more so the Child Jesus and his “human knowledge”–what did he/didn’t he allow himself to know in his humanity?) There has been some talk that “apocryphal writings” inspired some scenes. “Apocryphal” does not mean “Gnostic.” The apocryphal Proto-Evangelium of James was used by early Christians as devotional reading. But it’s not the Word of God.
FILMMAKERS DID THEIR HOMEWORK
“The Young Messiah” shows lots of homework was done. No trendy twenty-first-century ideas plopped in. No outlandish “what if” musings (beyond Jesus bringing a bird back to life). The dialogue is so carefully crafted that every word effortlessly rings true in these fully fleshed-out and delightful characters. The text of the Scriptures is faithfully adhered to (without really taking liberties) and then sundry plausible plot points–that totally work–are skillfully woven in to bring life to the text. Every scene is to support the text, not draw away from it. All exposition is invisible and clever. The British-accented cast slays it.
This story of one year in the life of the Child Jesus begins with Jesus in Egypt being bullied by another boy from the Jewish community, and escalates into some gripping action which it maintains to one degree or another throughout the film. Never boring. Never trite. There are no hackneyed turns of phrases. The theology is precise. This film has everything in it but the sensational.
THE BEST HOLY FAMILY EVER
Wunderkind, Adam Greaves-Neal (it’s his first film role and he was chosen from among 2000 child actors all over the world), plays Jesus with childlike openness, earnestness and chutzpah, and avoids gooey sentimentality (as does the whole film). His facial expressions and reactions are just completely natural. You will fall in love with this little Jesus and just want to hug him. Mary and Joseph are the consistently best Mary and Joseph the screen has seen (Sara Lazzaro [Italian & American] and Vincent Walsh [Irish: raised in Dublin & Toronto]). There aren’t just a few good scenes or lines for these two. The whole film exposes what it might be like to be the world’s most unique couple, with their utter devotion to Jesus and to each other. Mary and Joseph don’t have all the answers, but they know this precious and precocious kid is God’s Son, and their own profound faith and love encompass him. Mary and Joseph wrangle a bit with each other over what is best for Jesus, and both, especially Mary, are hyper-vigilant and appropriately worried for most of the film. Mary and Joseph also know that only they–out of the whole world-can truly understand each other. A wonderful, mutual, egalitarian marriage is portrayed.
The entire cast shows us how people of faith (specifically first century Jews) wrangle with God and the mysteries of God. Stunning. The Satan character (Rory Keenan, also Irish) lends yet another layer.
A YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY
Jesus must slowly grasp who he is and learn to keep his powers under wraps for now. He’s moved by human misery, pain, suffering and sickness, and realizes that when he prays over people or asks God for something: healing occurs, miracles happen. And others are watching, too. Herod Jr.–as despicable as his father–begins to get wind of a little healer boy and realizes that he is just the right age to be the Messiah, “Wonder-Counselor, Prince of Peace.” Maybe this child escaped the Bethlehem bloodbath. He sends his centurion (Sean Bean)–who was also present at Bethlehem and carried out the slaughter–to find and kill the boy Jesus. This constant believable danger, with its attending intrigue and narrow escapes make for an urgency to the whole film.
Mary and Joseph keep Jesus’ origins and early life a secret from him, but this is not proving to be helpful. Without doing a spoiler here, Mary eventually tells Jesus about the Annunciation in a wonderfully tender scene, as Jesus tries to comprehend: “So is the angel my father?”
This story, this film believes. (Not everyone who worked on/in the film necessarily believes, of course, but the film itself does.) This is the beauty of virsimilitude and acting: putting oneself “in the place of” with every fiber of one’s being. Anne Rice is (a lapsed) Catholic, and the Catholicity of this film is palpable.
Big, big money must have been thrown at this production–just from the looks of the sets and extras. The music starts off as standard Bible movie music, but then gets a bit more diverse and disappears into the film, adding to the overall excellence of the experience.
COOL TO BE GENTLE
This film manages to make the gentleness of Jesus tough, hip and cool–even in the face of the savage might of Rome. (Great for boys/men to see!) My favorite quick image to illustrate this is the final “home” of the little wooden camel (I assure you that will make sense when you see the movie).
Only the best writers, filmmakers and thespians could pull off such an engrossing marvel as “The Young Messiah.” I am in awe. It would be grand if this same set of creative geniuses would do the adult Jesus, but YM is gift enough.
Ever since the wild runaway success of “The Passion of the Christ,” Hollywood has been trying to make a Jesus movie that will move and WOW crowds once again. They just did.
Appropriate for children? Yes! (What better role model for the kiddos? If they can handle seeing some men hanging on crosses and the repeated [non-graphic] murder of the Holy Innocents.)
DO NOT WATCH THE TRAILER. GIVES A BIT TOO MUCH AWAY!
I never watch movies twice, but I could run out to the theater and watch “The Young Messiah” over and over and over.
Helena Raphael Burns, FSP was going to be an ornithologist, but God zapped her and now she belongs to the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of religious women dedicated to spreading God’s Word through the media: www.pauline.org. She gives workshops to teens and adults on Media Literacy, Philosophy, and Theology of the Body. She is finishing an M.A. in Media Literacy Education; has a B.A. in philosophy and theology from St. John’s U, NYC; and has a Certificate in Pastoral Youth Ministry from the Center for Youth Ministry Development. Sr. Helena studied screenwriting at UCLA and Act One, Hollywood. She is the writer/producer of www.MediaApostle.com and a co-producer onwww.The40Film.com. She tweets at @SrHelenaBurns and blogs at Hell Burns.
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