Now Featured in the Patheos Movie Club
The Young Messiah
A Focus Features Presentation
Directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh
About the Production
On Jesus and the Holy Family in Film
Among other religious films, motion pictures about the life of Jesus have played a key role in the history of cinema. Some of the earliest movies recreated the Passion Plays that had graced theatrical stages for centuries, and in each major shift in filmmaking Jesus films have been at the center of those transitions. Whether they were blockbuster epics like Nicholas Ray's King of Kings (1961) or smaller films like Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), Jesus films throughout history have been, understandably, narrow in their narrative focus. Given the limited biographical information about Jesus in the Bible, these films have depicted what we know the most about: his adult life and ministry. Yet even this comes in broken pieces and diverse stories, nothing near the narrative or chronological consistency that biopics naturally demand. To make any film about the life of Jesus is to engage in a considerable amount of speculation; we have no factual or visual records of what Jesus looked or sounded like or of what his mannerisms were, all key ingredients for cinematic depictions of famous, historical characters. Perhaps the most frustrating absence is information concerning what Jesus was like as a child, teenager, and young adult, before he began his ministry.
So whenever filmmakers brave the task of committing the Jesus story to film, it helps to consider a couple of questions. Is the work faithful to Scripture? Or is it faithful to the spirit of Jesus and the Christ as revealed in that text and as interpreted throughout the Christian tradition? Few films pass these tests with flying colors, yet many have endured as classics. Most film adaptations of the life of Jesus are an amalgamation of the Gospel narratives. A few, like Pasolini's, focus on one Gospel. In any event, many of the depictions of Jesus are consistent with the humble, wise, loving, compassionate, miracle-working Jesus we read about in Scripture.
For the first time in the history of cinema, a film gives us an imaginative glimpse into the life of Jesus as a child and his relationship with Mary and Joseph. It is not only an opportunity to reflect on this unexplored time in Jesus' life, it is also a celebration of the holy family — a testament to the love and fortitude of Mary and Joseph, highlighting just how challenging it would have been to be the earthly parents of the Son of God. Along with Catherine Hardwicke's The Nativity Story (2006), The Young Messiah is one of the few Jesus films to give Mary and Joseph such loving, reverential treatment.
From the script phase to post-production, the writers, producers, director, cast and crew — everyone involved with bringing The Young Messiah to the screen — have struck a fine balance between honoring both the text and spirit of Scripture while developing a story that is, largely, absent from it.Rather than claiming definitively that what we see on-screen is exactly as it was, the film sets the table for a rich conversation about the identity and nature of the child Jesus. Along with their physical journey from Egypt to Jerusalem, the holy family is also on a spiritual journey to learn what Jesus' special identity means for him, their family, and humanity. It is a quest fueled by their faith that God has a plan for their special child and that God will reveal these things to them in their proper time.
As a result, The Young Messiah reveals, yet again, the power of film to bring fresh perspectives on a story that we have heard — and seen — countless times. At the same time, it shows how this ancient and timeless story can inspire us, give us hope, and strengthen our faith in God.