After reading a great book, I love to think about how great it would be as a movie! I enjoy imagining a live-action portrayal of the story. The same is true when I read Scripture. Our love for Scripture should lead us beyond merely studying Scripture to being immersed in the world of the Bible. For example, imagining the life of Christ, his look of compassion and tenderness, his resolute willingness to face his passion and his joy in sharing his life with his disciples, allow Scripture to come alive in our lives and help us know Christ more deeply.
When the Bible is brought to the silver screen, it is always my hope that it is done well. However, it is usually incredibly difficult for films to capture the events of Scripture both accurately and authentically. Many films can come across as overly reverential and somewhat boring. On the other hand, some films try to reinterpret events in an edgy or provocative way which changes the meaning completely. Here are some films (and a TV series) that strike that balance well and help us delve more deeply into the mystery of God’s Word.
The Chosen (2017)
Starring Jonathan Roumie, Shahar Isaac, Paras Patel
Directed by Dallas Jenkins
I put off watching this series out of a concern that it would be a letdown. However, after hearing from several people that they loved it, I decided to check it out and I am glad that I did. The series is the result of a crowd-funded effort to tell the story of the Gospels. What makes this series so unique is its ability to capture the reactions of those who come to meet Jesus. Looking at how those respond to Jesus during his life is also what is most familiar to us as those who have chosen to respond to the Lord in our own lives. In the Gospels, there are many different reactions to Jesus. Some respond with anger or confusion while others respond with faith and surrender. The one thing that never happens when someone meets Jesus is that they walk away bored or complacent. The series captures this reality well.
For those who have spent a lot of time praying and studying Scripture, the series maintains a closeness to the text of Scripture while also adding new elements that synchronize with the text itself. I found it particularly moving watching Jesus along the shores of Galilee as he calls the disciples to come and follow him after the miraculous catch of fish. One of the other benefits of the series is the portrayal of Jesus by Catholic actor Jonathan Roumie. Roumie’s presentation of Jesus is gentle and approachable while also clearly inspired. The challenge of cinematic portrayals of Jesus’ life is the difficulty of showing both his humanity and his divinity. “The Chosen” not only shows an authentic image of Jesus but it even calls the viewer to respond in deeper faith.
The Miracle Maker (2000)
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Michael Bryant, Julie Christie
Directed by Derek W. Hayes, Stanislav Sokolov
For families looking for a way to invite their younger children to learn the Gospel and the life of Christ, the 2000 film, “The Miracle Maker,” is a great choice. The animated film uses plasticine figures, much like the “Wallace and Gromit” films, to depict the public ministry of Jesus. The film is still the only feature-length animated film on the life of Christ. While the style of clay animation might be jarring to some, there is an authenticity to the film that makes it very compelling.
Starring Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd
Directed by William Wyler
The critically-acclaimed film “Ben-Hur” invites the viewer to enter into the world of Scripture and imagine the life of those during the time of Christ. It tells the story of Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur. Incredibly successful during its release, Ben-Hur remains at the top of the charts for one of the highest-grossing films of all time. In the early parts of the film, Judah finds himself in Nazareth and is led to the point of dehydration. In his moment of thirst, he is given a drink from a mysterious stranger. Soon, Judah’s thirst develops into a thirst for vengeance against his childhood friend Messala. In this battle for vengeance, we see the classic chariot race that leads to the death of Messala. The death of his foe doesn’t satisfy his thirst. As the story of Judah’s life maps on to the life of Christ, Jesus is hardly ever seen and his face is never revealed but it is clear that the two stories relate and impact one another. As Judah finds himself in need, he encounters Jesus along the way of the cross. Recognizing Jesus as the mysterious stranger who helped satisfy his thirst long before, Judah is able to offer Jesus a cup of water in the time of his greatest need. While the film is not explicitly based on Scripture, it still is a classic and worth a watch!