Anne Rice on— ‘The Young Messiah’

Anne Rice on— ‘The Young Messiah’ March 11, 2016


BEN: Anne you wrote ‘Out of Egypt’ some time ago. Were you surprised when someone decided the time was now to make a movie of it?

ANNE: Actually there was movie interest almost from the beginning. Cyrus Nowrasteh came along with his offer after other negotiations did not work out, and it took Cyrus several years to get the movie off the ground, due to financial difficulties. Cyrus was marvelously patient and so were other members of the team. Making a film, I’ve learned, can be an exhausting process, due to the need for backing, distribution, etc.

BEN: I noticed something in the film that seemed less prominent in the novel— namely the ongoing menacing presence of Satan. This I found plausible but a little surprising since he is missing in action in the Gospel Birth Narratives. Did you think it was important to establish that the mission of Jesus had cosmic implications from the outset? Was that why you told the story this way?

ANNE: The Satan character in the film —- an expansion of the Satan whom Jesus encounters in a dream in the novel — was the idea of Cyrus and Betsy Nowrasteh who wrote the script. But I do find it very much in keeping with active medieval beliefs — played out in Medieval religious plays — that Satan was suspicious of Jesus from the time of His birth and saw Jesus’ crucifixion as a triumph. I was influenced by the medieval theological beliefs when I presented Satan in Jesus’ dream as unable to figure out who or what Jesus is, and unable to see the future.

BEN: I recently saw the film ‘Risen’ in which a centurion was the central character in the film, and in your film as well the centurion is one of the central characters. In both cases we are talking about tales of pursuit of Jesus and then of transformation. I wonder if you saw ‘Risen’ and if so, what you think of the parallels?

ANNE: I have not seen “Risen,” and of course our film, “The Young Messiah” was finished before “Risen” was ever released. I’m certain it could not have had any conceivable influence on Cyrus and Betsy Nowrastah in creating their fictive Centurion hunting for young Jesus. With regard to the plot of “Risen” as it has been described in the press, i see influence from “The Robe,” the famous biblical epic based on Lloyd C. Douglas’ novel of the same name about a Centurion (Richard Burton) who is haunted by the crucifixion. The Centurion in “The Young Messiah” was not in the novel, and I think Cyrus and Betsy did a very skillful job of adding this “suspense element” to the movie without in any way changing or undercutting the underlying story from the novel.

BEN: Where was this movie filmed? A lot of the scenes had impressive settings, but I could not recognize the locales? I did notice in one scene the pointed windows which suggested an Islam country like Morocco or Tunisia, where a lot of Gospel films have been made.

Anne: The film was done largely in Italy. But there may have been other locales.

BEN: In regard to the portrayal of Jesus, it was done with great care and reverence, and I appreciated that. I know about the apocryphal tales about Jesus the boy wonder worker from the late second century, and I especially appreciated the closing scene between Jesus and Mary where she gives her advice to him about when to use his power. One thing that did occur to me was that in the canonical Gospels, Jesus does no miracles before the Spirit falls on him at baptism, and then afterwards, especially in Matthew and Luke the point is made that he does the miracles not by his divine nature but by the power of the Spirit. I wonder if you had thought about that when you were writing this?

ANNE: Allow me to make two interesting points regarding the child Jesus performing miracles. It has been pointed out that when Mary urges her Son to help at the marriage feast of Cana, she seems to know that He CAN do something miraculous. Some have speculated that this must mean Jesus manifested His power earlier — perhaps in childhood Another thing I’d like to point out: in the Gospel of Mark, we know that when Jesus encountered the hemorrhaging woman, “He felt the power go out of Him” and He did not know who touched Him. This suggested to me that the child Jesus might have had occasion to experience the same thing….the power going out of Him without a lot of conscious control. —- Of course your point about the Spirit entering into Jesus when He was Baptized is an excellent one. On the other hand, Jesus was God from the moment of conception, the pre-existent Word, so perhaps He always possessed the power to work miracles.

BEN: There seemed to be a large emphasis in this film on Jesus not only being precocious but also lacking understanding of just who he was and what his mission was. There is a rather fine balance to follow in that sort of portrayal. Were you guided by reflecting on Lk. 2.52— ‘and he grew in wisdom and in stature….’?

ANNE: Yes, I was guided by that sentence in Luke, and also guided by how many times in the Gospel of Mark Jesus manifested anger, surprise, and some confusion over matters. Clearly, Jesus had put aside His omniscience to live with us, work with us, suffer the human condition with us. Mark makes that clear. in Hebrews, Jesus is described as offering up “fervant cries and tears” to the Father. Again, indication He had set aside His omniscience. So I assume as a child Jesus had to learn how to do carpentry, learn Torah, learn all the things a human child had to learn. If He was human in all ways except that He did not sin, this must have been the case. Also in the gospels, Jesus shows the capacity to change His mind as He did with the Canaanite woman whom He refused to heed at first in her pleas for her daughter, but then granted a miracle.

BEN: I liked the portrayal of Jesus’ parents in this film, and would see it as similar to the portrayal in the movie The Nativity, which I thought was well done. Was that film in some ways an influence for some of the decisions about portrayal in this one? For instance, the portrayal of Herod Antipas in both films is very similar.

ANNE: No, I had completed my novel and it was published long before “The Nativity” was released. With regard to any of the Herods — Herod the Great (“The Nativity Story”) or his son (in “The young Messiah”) — just about any film maker is going to portray them as villains. We know from Josephus that Herod Archelaus (son of Herod the Great) was so unpopular with the Jews that they petitioned Caesar to get rid of him, successfully. —– I lamented in “The Nativity Story” that the Holy Family was portrayed as so alone, when in fact families of that era were huge clans, with cousins, and uncles, lots of children, often traveling together. I chose to present such a large family in “Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt” and the film makers went with it. The fictional character of Mary’s brother, Cleopas, was a fine note in the film. And I had a lot of fun with that character in the novel. We know historically that Jesus’ family included a Cleopas. I figured there would be an adult Cleopas, and a “little Cleopas” in the novel.

BEN: Kudos to the film makers, the cinematography is good throughout this film. Were you particularly concerned, when it came to casting, that they portray Jesus as a striking or beautiful child?

ANNE: My main concern was that they cast fine actors, compelling and convincing actors, actors who could hold the attention of the audience —- believable actors. I learned of the casting of Adam early on, and mightily approved because of the depth of emotion that the boy showed in his audition. And when there were delays in making the film, I was overjoyed that Adam stuck with film and did not jump ship. He was only seven when first auditioned, and aged nine when the film was finally made but he looked seven still and did an incredible job. I think the entire cast was superb and that is what I most wanted.

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