One of the perks of maintaining a blog (and a strong Twitter following) is getting invited to preview upcoming films. That is how I got to see the unlikely Lenten film, The Young Messiah, before its release in theaters.
The film, which opens next week, was based on Anne Rice's carefully-researched novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Twitter conversations between our own Sister Helena Burns and director Cyrus Nowrasteh indicate that the director did his own due diligence when it came to research. It shows in many snippets of dialogue that reflect non-biblical traditions, especially the Proto-Evangelium of James, an early Christian “novel” that attempted to do for 2nd century Christians what director Nowrasteh wanted to do for us: envision the events surrounding Jesus' childhood during that period which the Gospel writers completely skip over,between the Presentation in the Temple when he was 40 days old to that Passover when he was twelve. The film, like the novel, settles on a seven-year-old Christ Child.
This is a surprisingly dark film, and it is Satan who provokes that darkness, starting from the opening scene in Alexandria, Egypt. The cloaked, somewhat androgynous figure of Satan (visible only to the Child) resembles the demonic figure in the Passion of the Christ, but in one scene I thought I also caught an homage to the twisted Joker in The Dark Knight: “Your cause is lost.... Chaos rules!” We even get a preview of the future temptation in the desert when Satan appears (in a bejeweled stole) at the Child's bedside and then transports him to a high cliff to see the city of Jerusalem in flames, tempting the boy to react. It is this "Lenten" quality that makes The Young Messiah a not-incongruous film for the latter weeks of Lent.
|Uncle Cleophas to the rescue!|
|The extended Holy Family. That's James in the front.|
Casting was totally on target. Joseph (Vincent Walsh) is spectacular, and Severus (Sean Bean) does a marvelous job showing the centurion's long-suppressed humanity struggle for the upper hand. The physical settings in Matera, Italy and in Rome's Cinecittá studios are superb. The location titles in Papyrus font, not so much.