The Story of Jesus on Film: The Best and Worst

I will freely admit that I am an Atheist. To many of you, that dirty word alone will dismiss me as any sort of reasonable voice concerning the discussion of christian mysticism on film. To those of you who made it past sentence one, I can tell you that I find Jesus to be an amazing figure in History. I have also devoted a great deal of time to perusing the Gospels, finding secular meaning in the words of the Rabbi. Undertaking the task of making a biographical movie about a man of whom little is known– outside of four accounts– is a slippery slope. We learn more and more about the “Archaeological Jesus” daily. We know where he probably lived, we have narrowed down where he was most likely executed. But the man himself remains aloof. The gospels give us no indication of what Jesus’ personality was like. We know he laughed once or twice, cried over the death of his friend Lazarus, and was apparently good with children. Beyond that, we have only his words.

Enter the slippery slope, and the reason why I wouldn’t touch a Jesus biopic (as if that offer were forthcoming). No matter the outcome, there is the inevitable outcry from one side or another– He is too human. He is not human enough. He’s too white. He’s too emotional. He’s too robotic. Taking on a Jesus movie is a thankless job– unless you happen to cash in like Mel Gibson’s gore fest “The Passion of the Christ”. Here are the best and worst Jesus biopics, including best characterization, historical accuracy, and overall presentation.

Robert Powell – “Jesus of Nazareth” Powell plays to the Gospel Jesus in a haunting, sometimes scary way. He is a man who is aware of his divinity from the beginning, and often seems so deep in thought that he is on another plane of existence. He smiles (if you can call it that), maybe three times. But his playfulness with children (during Passover in the Synagogue) shows a man who is also capable of human emotion. An interesting side note to the flick is that Powell’s Jesus does not blink one time in the entire movie. Not once. Powell is still the benchmark for all cinematic Jesus’.

Jeremy Sisto- “Jesus” (NBC) I don’t have a problem with Sisto as an actor, but it feels as though the writers of the simply titled “Jesus” went out of their way– and completely overboard– on presenting a “Human” Jesus. This fella is just one of the boys, frolicking around in the Sea of Galilee, laughing and joking. You’re almost waiting for him to give Judas a “hot foot”. And by the way, he’s an immortal God, who came to be butchered to save the world. Probably not what the rough and tumble, hard living Jews of the time were expecting. There wasn’t a lot of laughing going on in Judea back in the day. This Jesus is the most unrealistic, biblically, and probably historically.

This character is one that contradicts himself between the historical and the Biblical. Pilate ruled Judea from AD 26-36. The historical Pilate was a man of no nonsense. He was ordered to keep the peace at any cost, and dealt out punishment so ruthlessly that he was actually recalled to Rome twice. The Pilate of the gospels shows an almost meek man of justice, who can’t find it in his conscience to condemn a man on such vague charges (including sedition and treason). The only way to judge who is the best Pilate of screen is to take a little from “Column A”, and a little from “Column B”…

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