Son of God on Screen

son-of-godThere are less people spending time with the Bible than with Facebook.  Having the Word of God get passed over by social media is sad.  Yet, as mere flesh and blood we are so easily distracted.  But it’s Jesus we are talking about—our Savior who suffered and died for us.  Can we have a little excitement please?

Appealing to a new generation that craves excitement but has set the bar high for what qualifies, Son of God is major motion picture event positioned for attention.  It brings the story of Jesus into theaters; a story that has stood the test of time, now and forever, amen.

There are many movie versions of the life of Christ. I venture to say no other story has been made into a movie more times. Son of God is the first major release film about Jesus since “The Passion of the Christ”  a decade ago.  It is opening this weekend on 3,000 screens nationwide.

I had a chance to see it this weekend with my family and a group of friends. It was powerful.  Imagining the passion of Christ gives me an appreciation for his sacrifice,  but watching him do it is deeply emotional. It is painful to watch such intense human suffering yet the scenes are riveting. As I watched, these thoughts played over and over in my mind. He was God. He didn’t have to do this. I cannot imagine such intense pain. He must love us more than I can ever imagine.

The movie was produced by a married couple with a knack for getting people’s attention: Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.  Burnett’s productions include the TV hits, “Survivor,” “The Voice,” “The Celebrity Apprentice,” and “Shark Tank.” Downey, who starred in “Touched by an Angel,” has earned multiple best actress nominations for Emmy’s and Golden Globe awards and has executive produced seven TV movies.

Last year, I interviewed them about the mini-series, “The Bible” for the History Channel.  It was a smash-hit, beating out network broadcasts. They shared with me that the project began when their three teen-something children scoffed at Cecil B. DeMille’s movie, The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston. No Christian wants their kids to be cooler than the Bible, or at least a nostalgic portrayal of it. For some parents, it might be a lecture or words of encouragement.  For Burnett and Downey, it was a 10-hour Bible series.

The Son of God is a combination of re-cut portions of the original film as well as added sections that didn’t air on television into a 138-minute feature. It follows the life of Jesus from birth to his crucifixion and triumphant resurrection.Filmed in Morocco, it stars an international cast, including Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado as Jesus and British actor, Darwin Shaw as Peter the Apostle, who became the rock upon which Jesus built his church.

In an interview with Shaw, he explained that the content of this movie created an atmosphere beyond mere role-playing. “This was more than just an acting job,” he said. “No way could you be involved with this and not be touched; it went to a spiritual level for everyone.” Shaw explained that even among people with different outlooks, there was a real brotherhood. “We were focused on trying to bring the message of Christ to others, so we concentrated on what this is really about,” he said. The message of his Love and his passion is strong; it has endured for over 2,000 years.”

To prepare for the role, Shaw spent time at the Vatican, read about the history of the Church, even spent some time visiting tombs of the saints and with monks at a monastery. The real challenge in studying Peter, according to Shaw, was to understand how he related to his time and culture as a Jewish fisherman and follower of Jesus.

“He was so very human,” Shaw said. “He makes mistakes–he denied Christ 3 times– yet he was bold enough to step out of the boat during a storm. As an actor, I tried to understand the internal workings of Peter’s personality,” he said. “At times he’s alone and has failed but he had the courage to follow quite a journey and to go on.”

Shaw himself has been on quite a journey. After five years working as a medical doctor in London and coming from a family deeply involved in helping professions, he took an acting class during a professional stint in New York. He loved it.  For a time, it was a hobby alongside his medical career. But when his first professional audition won him the role of Adam in the Story of Creation shot in Cape Town, a new chapter began in his life.

“My parents always encouraged me to be open to trying new things, but this was a bit of a shock to them.” He said they have adjusted to the surprise turn of events and support him. “My family works in a helping profession and that is what attracted me to medicine,” he said. “Through my role as Peter and the message of this movie, I feel that I am still helping people now but in a different way.”

Son of God is rated PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of the Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence

Patti Maguire Armstrong, is the mother of 10, and has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at PattiMaguireArmstrong.com.