October 20, 2017

My Review of The Gospel

My Review of The Gospel of John: The Movie

Denise and I just finished watching the new “Gospel of John” movie. I’d like to say a few things about it.

I have two other films that follow the Biblical text as the script. “Acts” is an unmitigated disaster. “Matthew” is ambitious, but odd and unsuccessful. I took a chance on this film with no recommendation and having only seen a few clips. I hoped to use it in my classes. I’m glad I did. John is totally different than the other Visual Bible movies, which suffered from a lack of good direction, money and creativity.

John is wonderful. I can’t recommend this film highly enough. It is well worth the $45 for the tapes or DVDs. It should be supported by Christians who love the Bible and want a film that supports and enhances our reading of the text itself.

Following the text of John in the ABS Today’s English Version as the script is a very tough assignment. John is quite different from the other Gospels. There are long sections of Jesus speaking with little interruption. Much of the text is a mixture of simple terms and deep concepts. There are major chronological contrasts with the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel is not particularly “viewer” friendly in much of its approach. It takes 3 hours to tell the story, and with the excpetion of the long section of Jesus talking in 13-17, the film moves along at a brisk pace. Even that section seemed remarkable short, as many changing scenes and interactions kept it interesting.

Despite the challenges, this film is a thoroughgoing success. A superb cast plays each part perfectly. With a minimum of dialogue, most of the acting is done in silence, but we come to know the unique relationship between Jesus and the disciples in John. (Interestingly, Mary Magdalene is almost constantly among the disciples.)

Henry Ian Cusick is a marvelously versatile Jesus. John’s Jesus is “out of the closet” as God on earth from the very beginning, and it takes a careful balance of qualities to say “Before Abraham was, I Am,” but also to say “I am the Good Shepherd” with equal believability. Cusick carries out all the demands of the assignment with charm, intensity, humor and clarity. His monologues are memorable and easy to listen to.

The film is meticulously furnished with accurate historical detail. I was extremely impressed with how the film relied on the best scholarship rather than on popular consensus. The crucifixion is done better than any version I’ve seen. Details are gotten right, and this is hard because there are mental images of the crucifixion that are expected. This movie stays with the text and what we know. The crucifixion- and spearing- are carried out with blunt violence, but contrary to the Mel Gibson approach, don’t stop to engage in explorations of gore. The story moves at the same speed as the text, and you never forget that John is in control, not the director.

Christopher Plummer is the voice you hear most, as he narrates with style and feeling. He’s wonderful. The interweaving of narration and dialog is seamless and natural. Great camera work, flashbacks and good acting keep the monologue sections “busy” with enough changes to hold interest but not to distract from what Jesus is saying.

You will love how the movie introduces Jesus in the prologue. You’ll see the wedding at Cana, the feeding of the 5,000, the healing at the pool of Bethesda, the healing of the blind man, the raising of Lazarus, the footwashing of the disciples- it’s all done right, with tremendous awareness of the text and in a way that isn’t cheesy. The movie never skips a beat just because it might be difficult to put the scene on screen, such as the soldiers falling back when Jesus identifies himself in John 18.

The soundtrack is one of the highlights. Actual period instruments are mixed with orchestra to make a number of beautiful thematic tunes. Some of the songs use Aramaic vocals. The soundtrack is available separately.

The movie states up front that it will not be dodging the presentation of Jewish religious leaders who opposed Jesus. In this film, nothing is cut, and we sense throughout the movie the growing hostility and hatred toward Jesus. Pilate’s weakness and vacillation are portrayed as well. This film isn’t “PC” in even one scene. It potrays what the text says.

This isn’t the The Passion. It isn’t the creative scripting of Jesus of Nazereth. It is a unique film, beautiful and well done, and utterly faithful to one of the most powerful pieces of literature in the world. I felt like I was watching the first performance of some great play that had always been read but never acted. I recommend you purchase John, study the Gospel using it, and share it with others. It may get lost in the attention paid to The Passion, but John deserves your support. Without an “R” rating or a lingering focus on violence, it presents the Christ of the fourth Gospel in a way that will enhance your appreciation and love for Jesus and the book that so many have read to come to know him.

Comments

  1. What, no comments?
    Michael we purchased the Gospel of John movie because of your recommendation, and it is everything you say it is.

    We are only up to John 7, but thoroughly enjoyed the first 50 minutes or so.

    I’d like to recommend The Miracle Maker, which uses small Russian puppets, and views the gospel story through the eyes of Jairus’ daughter, who just happens to be in the crowd during many key events.

    The music by Anne [full monty] Dudley is terrific, and of course, nothing like the Full Monty [though I never saw the movie].