“Son of God,” a new film about the life of Jesus, is set to release in a couple weeks.
I don’t think I’m going to go see it.
I’m not proud of this. I’m Catholic, and believe that Jesus is God. I support religious conservatives and their attempts to make films. But a great Catholic mystic, Adrienne von Speyr, once observed that people in the Bible who meet Jesus still continue to look for him — that is, they can’t get enough of God. Even when they have met Jesus they continue to follow him to seek another encounter. The experience never ends.
The point is that God is dynamic, not static. Jesus is not just in the desert or on the cross, but in the lives we live today. The wonder of his creation is in the film “Gravity.” His passion is heard in the music of U2. His affirmative love for his creatures can be seen in the love of Billy Graham and Pope Francis. And the other side, the dark side, is also at work. This is the great drama of life that we are born into.
St. Augustine noted that the truth about the love of God and the spiritual nature of man is ever ancient and ever new. Conservative religious filmmakers and their fans have cottoned to the ancient part, which is why they keep making movies about the Bible. But they don’t seem to care much about the ever-new part. Even while core truths don’t change, the world that God created is ever changing, with new stories, poems, music, personalities, and battles to make films about.
We don’t need another film about Jesus — at least, not a rote, faithful representation of the Jesus in the Bible, which is what “Son of God” looks like. We need movies about the spirit that moves in the world today.
Sitting on my desk is a screenplay I just printed out. I’ve just spent a year on it. It’s about Whittaker Chambers, one of the greatest conservative heroes of the 20th century.
On my computer is another screenplay, which is in progress, It’s called “Lepanto.” It tells the story of the 1571 Battle of Lepanto. That was the sea battle when an outnumbered and disorganized group of Catholic soldiers calling themselves the Holy League defeated the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire. Many historians believe Lepanto was the battle that saved Europe from being conquered by Islam. It’s “300” meets “Master and Commander.” Of course, because it shows the aggressive nature of early Islam and how it spread by the sword, Hollywood won’t go near it.
I also have in mind a biopic about U2’s early years, when they were serious evangelical Christians. It would be a movie about rock and roll and God, and where the two intersect. “Almost Famous” for the same people who will go see “Son of God.”
Those are three screenplays that most likely won’t ever get produced in Hollywood. But it might not matter if religious conservatives and the producers of “Son of God” begin to think creatively about what their next move should be. If they’re wise, they’ll realize that at this point in the history of religious and politically conservative movies it’s time for Christians to branch out and tell other stories. We don’t need to abandon our religion; Christianity has so informed the art, politics and culture of the West that it would be a part of almost any story conservatives would put on the screen. We can just tell some modern stories.
“Son of God” is being produced by Roma Downey and her husband, pioneering reality show producer Mark Burnett. Downey and Burnett shocked Hollywood if not middle America when their miniseries, “The Bible,” shattered ratings records in 2013. Downey and Burnett have also announced a miniseries for 2015. It’s called “The Dovekeepers,” and is based on Alice Hoffman’s novel of the same name. It’s the story of how in the year 70, 900 Jews on a mountain held out against entires Roman armies. A great story, and one that should make for a compelling series. There is also “Noah,” a film about Noah’s Ark and starring Russell Crowe. It’s slated for release this year.
But what comes after those films? If money rolls in from “Noah” and “Son of God,” Hollywood may discover that the Bible is a money generator, and in typical fashion they’ll ransack Holy Writ and start cranking out movie after movie until they’ve made too many of them – something already happening in the superhero genre.
Ever ancient, ever new. If religious conservatives believe that the spirit of the Lord is still evident in the world today, as well as the work of his enemies, we can create art that is both compelling and modern by telling the stories about it.