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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Son of God

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Diogo Morgado stars in a scene from the movie "Son of God."
As the first wide-release film in nearly 50 years to focus on the life of Jesus as a whole, "Son of God" (Fox) represents an epochal event for believing moviegoers.

Though not the most powerful mass media treatment of its subject—that accolade continues to belong to Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 television miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth"—director Christopher Spencer's reverent but uneven screen version of the Gospel story ranks as a worthy revival of the Hollywood biblical epic.

The screenwriters, led by Nic Young, find an efficient entree into their narrative by entrusting it to an aged St. John the Evangelist (Sebastian Knapp) during his exile on the island of Patmos. This is theologically helpful because the opening lines of the Beloved Disciple's Gospel, as recited here, describe the Incarnation, a mystery without which all that follows could easily be misconstrued.

Early scenes leading up to and including the Nativity will remind at least some viewers that "Son of God" is an outgrowth of last year's highly successful miniseries on the History cable channel series, "The Bible." The new footage that follows is at its best in its portrayal of the events that culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus (Diogo Morgado).

Thus Judas (Joe Wredden), Caiaphas the high priest (Adrian Schiller) and Pontius Pilate (Greg Hicks) are all assigned believable motives, while Morgado succeeds in blending messianic vision with very human pain in a thoroughly compelling way—one that accords, moreover, with the scriptural account.

Catholic viewers will also appreciate the unqualified acknowledgement of St. Peter (Darwin Shaw) as the leader of the Apostles as well as scenes highlighting Mary's (Roma Downey) closeness to her son. And, though the portrayal of the Last Supper seems somewhat noncommittal as to the meaning of the Eucharist, a rough-and-ready celebration of the sacrament is shown to be the chosen moment for the Lord's first post-Resurrection appearance to the Twelve.

As for the ministry and preaching that precede the Passion—during which Jesus draws the disapproving attention of Simon the Pharisee (Paul Marc Davis)—there are moments that range from the moving to the awkward.

Morgado brings the requisite gravity to bear in announcing that the passage from the Prophet Isaiah he has just read aloud in Nazareth's synagogue has now been fulfilled. But the story of Lazarus' death and revivification is truncated—and drained of much of its impact—by the absence of any hint of Jesus' previous friendship with him and with his mourning sisters.

Despite such shortcomings, as produced by Downey, Mark Burnett and Richard Bedser, Spencer's picture offers some solid catechesis and an easy introduction to the Lord's earthly biography. That's all the more valuable given the erosion in religious literacy our society has experienced since the appearance of "Son of God's" most recent predecessor, George Stevens' 1965 Gospel drama "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

In that context, and despite its unflinching treatment of the Redeemer's sufferings, "Son of God" is probably acceptable for older teens.

The film contains strong gory violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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