REVIEW: The Nativity Story

REVIEW: The Nativity Story October 23, 2006

Can Anything Good Come Out of Hollywood?

It’s Hollywood not Tradition; and, after all, it’s just a movie. But having had the opportunity to read the script for New Line Cinema’s The Nativity Story, I can honestly say: It’s pretty good. Really! I enjoyed it.

Earlier reports of the movie could lead one to believe that Hollywood was tinkering with the glorious story of the birth of Christ. For example, the Hollywood Reporter stated that The Nativity Story was “to be told with a strong female perspective” (March 17, 2006). One reviewer, who mentions a Catholic upbringing, praises the script as “a reverent recounting of the biblical story that also added an insightful socio-political dimension to the world Mary would have been brought up in.”

Given these reports, I expected something entirely different from the Gospel accounts of the birth of the Saviour. Yet, Christianity Today claimed it was faithful to the Gospels, and then I received the public relations blurb:

The Nativity Story is based on the greatest story ever told. But as familiar as audiences may be with the story, they have never seen it on the big screen. This is the first time in over 50 years that a biblical story has been released by a major motion picture studio. The filmmakers … are Christian and New Line Cinema sincerely wants to make a film that is historically and biblically accurate. To that end, numerous Catholic and Protestant experts and scholars have read the script and are acting as consultants on this film.

Having read the script, I’m apt to say: If you are looking for holiday entertainment that’s family friendly with a virtuous message, you won’t be disappointed. If you are hoping to see unadulterated Eastern Orthodox Tradition on the silver screen, something essentially catechetical, you’ll have to wait a little longer.

Other than a few timeline discrepancies, the main thing that jumps out at an Orthodox Christian is the age of St Joseph the Betrothed. In New Line Cinema’s The Nativity Story, he’s portrayed as a handsome young 20-something. But, think about it: How else would Hollywood portray the intended beaux of the beautiful young maiden from Galilee?

We all know St Joseph was old, right? He was a widower with children, a man of means, by the time he became the guardian of our Lord. This is the tradition of the Church.

Yet, the fact that the movie includes characters portraying the parents of the Theotokos, Joachim and Anna, shows that the writers were not ignorant to Church Tradition. However, look at any icon and you’ll see: Joachim and Anna are old. They are portrayed differently on the big screen; the script lists Joachim as 45, Anna as 34. The Bible doesn’t specify their age, nor name Mary’s parents. So, what’s the big deal?

Well, the same source within Tradition that provides the names of the Virgin Mary’s parents also mentions the advanced age and station of Joseph, the story of Mary’s birth, mention of Joseph being a widower with children, Jesus’ being born in a cave, the entry of Mary into the Temple, the murder of the Righteous Zacharias in the Temple gates — and more. This is all found within the same ancient document that attests to the perpetual virginity of Mary: The Protoevangelium of James.

This is important with regard to this movie because the filmmakers have selected information from this ancient source that was helpful in making a Hollywood film. They have also disregarded that which would betray bias toward any particular “Christmas tradition” — even more so what we Orthodox call Tradition.

Yet, it is obvious by movie’s end that there’s hope that this movie will have mass appeal. Making a movie that only made sense to Orthodox Christians would not serve Hollywood’s purpose nor, most likely, would it get produced.

Again, it’s Hollywood not Tradition; and, after all, it’s just a movie. But, even if in small ways (such as naming the Virgin’s parents) the masses are being introduced to portions of the ancient Church Tradition, that’s a good thing.

What’s good and paramount for Christians, Orthodox or not, at least as far as this movie is concerned, is that Jesus is proclaimed as the Saviour. It’s not every day that the masses hear such good news — especially coming out of Hollywood.

The Nativity Story opens in theatres December 1st.


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