How Good is the Son of God Movie?

Son of God movie

Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ created controversy among the critics and enjoyed overwhelming audience support. A decade later another feature-length movie about Christ has seen wide studio release, namely this year’s Son of God. The movie stars Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado and is co-produced by Roma Downey, best known for her role in the TV series “Touched by an Angel.” Downey also plays Mary in the film whose release was timed to ride the crest of this year’s Lenten season—as the Gibson film did 10 years ago.

This is just about where comparisons between the two latest Jesus movies begins and ends—unless one wants to count the numerous ways in which Son of God copies from The Passion. As Gibson “stole” from Anne Catherine Emmerich, Son of God steals from Gibson.  Despite the critics’ dislike for the Gibson movie—his treatment of the Christ-story was ground-breaking, creative, bold, daring, new and innovative—nothing like it had ever hit the screen before.  It is a great film. This can not be said of Son of God.

But the question is—is Son of God even a good movie? If one takes seriously the dismal 28 percent favorable reviews calculated on the premier movie reviews website Rotten Tomatoes, the answer must be “No.”

I am convinced that a Jesus movie, unless made by iconoclasts like Scorsese, will not be given fair treatment by major film reviewers who tend to be secular-minded—perhaps even anti-Christian. Even The Passion only managed a ridiculous 49 percent!  Compare this to the certainly irreverent, arguably blasphemous The Last Temptation of Christ. It is not cinematically superior to The Passion—yet it achieved a whopping 83 percent favorable rating!

Is the mere 28 percent for Son of God in any way justified? I know that the majority of dedicated Christians really believe the answer should be and want it to be ‘No” and expect a Christian reviewer such as myself to exercise a kind of cultural duty to defend Christian films since so few ever see the light of day from anti-Catholic Hollywood. But this I cannot do.

Some critics fault the Son of God for being a film made for believers, aimed at the choir, and faith-based—but these are not real reasons by which to judge the merit of a film.  The problem with Son of God is its lack of cinematic originality and its complete lack of subtlety in its approach to the person of Christ.  He is from the get-go the confident, charming, and horridly handsome miracle-worker in which nearly everything pronounced by Morgado is said in a declaratory tone, proclaimed for its pious effect on those gathered about him. For most of the movie Jesus is a kind of animated, engaging, very attractive holy card. This Christ is only what is expected with few new insights to take an audience deeper into the mystery of redemption and the drama of salvation.

The movie rises to another level beginning with the Last Supper scene. Here Christ becomes more real, more authentically human. The pious proclamation of doctrines gives way as he now speaks to his apostles as if having a real conversation. Perhaps the intimacy of the Upper Room lends itself to this more personal, less stagy, less piously self-aware dramatization. Indeed, the entire passion episode was the best part of the film—oddly when Christ was not publicly preaching or performing any miracles! I give credit to Morgado for making me believe that Christ was indeed in pain as when the crown of thorns was thrust on his head.  The holy card Jesus was gone—and the real, rejected Jesus was there—only to have the holy card Jesus return in the post resurrection scenes, complete with a see-though hole in his hand accompanied by stirring music.

The movie however was not without a few well done, even theologically significant scenes. I name three.  When Judas leaves the Last Supper on his way to the Sanhedrin he walks on a dark, deserted street. Suddenly he is bent over with nausea and vomits out the Eucharist he had just received.  Even Gibson didn’t come up with that one! The Judas who betrays Christ has literally rejected the Body of Christ.

The second insightful scene is Christ in Gethsemane. He prays that the Father’s will be done. The scene moves to the high priest Caiaphas and the elders praying to the same God about the very same thing but from a very different motivation and for a very different purpose.

The last creative scene: Christ is on the Cross, his flesh torn, covered in blood and full of agony. The film cuts to Pilate, lying face down while his flesh is cared for and pampered in the Roman equivalent of a salon. The one man, the spoiled, indulgent, cruelly indifferent Pilate who sent Christ to the cross is in striking contrast to the man suffering the pain of the cross, one of the truly creative cinematic moments in this film.

From a Catholic point of view certain scenes were certainly disappointing—perhaps given a more Protestant interpretation. For instance, in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus Jesus says that one needs to be born again “in the spirit”—not though the sacramentally focused and biblically faithful “water and the spirit.”

Jesus performs the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish—but only offers a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving to the Father. The Eucharistic words and gestures—that he took the loaves, broke them, gave them, were completely missing.

Later Son of God tries to make a connection between Christ and the Eucharist. When Peter visits the tomb and realizes that Christ is alive and still with his followers he rushes to the Upper Room and asks for bread and wine whereupon he performs the ritual of the Last Supper. The audience is led to make the connection that this meal is in some manner related to the presence of Christ. However, Peter’s post-resurrection realization, drawing the Eucharist and Christ together, suffers from the movie never having sufficiently focused on the sacramental nature of the Last Supper to begin with. Thus the scene comes off hasty, clumsy, and underdeveloped.

Son of God while portraying Mary as much crying, mourning and wearing an obvious Marian blue—depicts Jesus’ mother actively involved in the salvific acts of her Son, a co-redemptrix theme. But here one can accuse the movie of Gibson-stealing. Just as in The Passion, Mary observes the scourging, Jesus knows she is there, and on the way of the cross she assists Christ, even helping him lift the cross in a scene very reminiscent of a climactic moment in the Gibson film.  What Gibson pulled off superbly, this movie handles only in the most superficial way.

Finally, for all of the movie’s safe, conventional rendering of the Jesus story, there is one way Son of God, actually attempts to be revisionist. Some woman named Mary is in the constant company of the Twelve. Is the viewer just supposed to assume that this is Mary Magdalene? There is absolutely no back story to this character. She’s just there from the beginning of the call of the apostles all the way to the great commissioning towards the end of the movie.  Now one might argue that most of the apostles are just there too. However, they have a back story called the Bible. Even those less acquainted with the Jesus story know that the twelve apostles were all men. There is no question that the filmmakers were making a statement that women are equally called to exercise the same apostolic authority as males. This Mary—whoever she is—was even there in the garden of Gethsemane. Christ’s inner circle was not Peter, James and John, but Peter, John and Mary.  As a theologian who has written extensively on the role of women in the Church, this depiction of Mary as one of the apostles came off as contrived, artificial, historically and theologically false and just plain annoying.

There are dozens of theologically, biblically valid ways of showing the necessary role of women in redemption, but Son of God manipulated the Jesus story to pander to a politically correct ideology.

Is Son of God a good movie about Jesus or should we look for another? I am glad that the movie is out there, and I am glad that, in contrast to its negative reviews, audiences like the movie and are going to see it. I am glad, even grateful, that this movie does indeed treat Christ as the Son of God. But while believers can be grateful for this pious faith statement, as cinematic art it is an unremarkable movie and we should hope for something better.

Monica Migliorino Miller

By

Monica Migliorino Miller is the Director of Citizens for a Pro-life Society (www.prolifesociety.com) and Associate Professor of Theology at Madonna University in Michigan. She holds a degree in Theatre Arts from Southern Illinois University and is the author of The Theology of the Passion of the Christ (Alba House).

  • jacobhalo

    Pilate send Jesus to be crucified, but only after the Jews called for Jesus to be crucified. Pilate wanted to release Jesus.

    • Rock St. Elvis

      So what? Typical politician in a long line of sell-out politicians, Jan Brewer being the latest.

      • jacobhalo

        The governor did the right thing in vetoing that law. The law didn’t mention homosexuals, but it was aimed at them.

        • Rock St. Elvis

          If true, so what? Why should anyone be forced to celebrate mortal sin?

    • Vinnie

      I always thought Pilate got a bad rap too. The problem is he is the one who ordered the execution – even though he washed his hands. So he was personally “pro-life” but didn’t want to impose his belief on others.

      • TheAbaum

        History has always had a tendency to get a “bad rap” when you do what’s politically expedient, rather than what is right.

  • Salvelinus

    Great review.
    I totally agree that the oddities in this movie, are just well… odd (mysterious, unbiblical untraditional “mary, the apostle”, sickingly sweet as saccharine actor playing jesus, protestant emotions throughout).
    I’ll take it to the next step and call the scenes of our blessed mother’s “birth pain and labor” scenes pure heresy. The supposed Catholic Roma Downey (Obama supporter) should’ve known this.

    Catholics should avoid this movie, instead rent Passion of the Christ again.
    Son of God movie, with its protestant errors and heresies is a skipable movie.

    • TheAbaum

      How about skipping the theatrical simony, and really showing the world that this really matters by attending the reading of the Passion on Good Friday?

      Mel Gibson has been nothing but an unending source of scandal.

      • Salvelinus

        Well, considering its not even a holy day of obligation for novus ordo Catholics…. I’ll be at mass.
        Regarding “Mel Gibson being never-ending source of scandal”. This is just what the Christophobic masses want everyone to believe. Of course he would be under attack for directing a movie that accurately portrayed what the Jews did to our Lord.
        I suppose the same forces that piled on Mel Gibson were the ones that added the statement of false eccumenism about the Jews in the novus ordo lectionary missalettes for the aforementioned Good Friday?
        That “statement of ecumenism” isnt in my 1962 missal,..
        But the 1st Corinthian passage on recieving communion unworthily still is.

        • TheAbaum

          “This is just what the Christophobic masses want everyone to believe. ”

          No, that’s what an observant Catholic believes.

          Public drunkenness and an inane anti-Semitic rant were just the beginning. He cheated on, and left the wife who bore him seven children. He continued the extra-marital relationship publicly, making the talk show rounds and joking about being “Octo-dad”. Then the relationship went South and his abusive voicemail became public.

          He has a conviction for battery.

        • Chalo

          No, you will not be at Mass, for the simple reason there is no Mass celebrated on Good Friday!

  • Vinnie

    I didn’t like the movie mainly because I saw the TV show and it’s the same thing. One comment about the holes in the hands. My seventh grade faith formation class asked how could no bones be broken if they put large nails through Christ’s hands? I checked and found that in Jesus’ time there wasn’t any name for the wrist – that it was considered part of the hand. So, when they said “hand” it meant the wrist as well. Those crucified were nailed through what we call the wrist. It makes sense – if nailed through what we call the hand, the nails would rip through due to the weight of hanging on the cross. Having the nail through the wrist without breaking the bone would allow the bone to support the weight of the body. The bones they usually broke but didn’t with Jesus were his legs So why does Christ’s crucifixion always include holes in what we call the hand?

  • Florian

    March 28th…I didn’t see the movie but I watched, in part, the tv series and thought it was bland and unconvincing. The characters just didn’t come across as real…seeing Roma Downey as the virgin Mary was bizarre…especially after I read that she has been divorced – and her latest marriage was performed by the head angel Tess in “Touched by an Angel”…I don’t know if this is true…but I felt all along watching the tv series that Roma and her husband were self-serving, and when I heard that they removed ‘satan’ from the movie in order to be ‘politically correct’ since he looked like Obama…I knew the movie was a sham..

    • TheAbaum

      According to Wikipedia, (which is sourced), Downey is divorced, remarried by Della Reese, She apparently filed for divorce from her first husband, David Ansbaugh “apparently” due to his clinical depression.

      Also stated “Burnett proposed to Downey during a family vacation” and they were wed to “their Malibu home” .

      Her advisors for the movie were Joel Osteen (so much for Luther’s “luxury of Priests”) and Rick Warren.

      Yet she was “raised” and “remains” Catholic.

      Yeah, so was Ted Kennedy.

      Another Hollyweird phony, just like that screwball Gibson.

  • poetcomic1

    Ever since they shaved Jeffrey Hunter’s armpits for the crucifixion in King of Kings, I have loathed films of the passion. That goes double for Mr. Gibson’s literal minded s&m orgy based on the banal logorrrhea of Anne Catherine Emmerich.

  • uncle max

    ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, made in 1978 – not even mentioned here.

    Until now – to me none of the films mentioned here come anywhere near it.

    • GaudeteMan

      If you like a Christ wearing scarves blowing in the Galilean wind, looking less than manly, I guess this movie is for you.

      • uncle max

        I assume you’re taking a shot at me to impress us all with your wit, but I must admit – I haven’t the slightest what you’re talking about.

        Lucky me.

    • chonacki

      AGREED!

  • Sam Bell

    In the last minutes of the movie was heard the song Mary did you know. One line goes ” the child that you delivered will { soon deliver you.” }. This is a heresy against the Catholic Doctrinal teaching of the Immaculate Conception. The Catholic church teaches that Mary was by a Singular act of GRACE {PRESERVED} from sin and not (DELIVERED} out of sin as some other Christian denominations teach. Mary was made pure from sin; from conception, as would be fitting for the new Arc of the Covenant. Either it was intentionally inserted to denigrate Catholicism or simply a lack of concern for what Catholics really believe, or simply ignorance. Hardly a step toward the unity that Jesus prayed for. {Jn. 17:22.} There were other minor discrepancies that do not warrant comment. May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always.
    Respectfully Yours
    Sam Bell

    • Sue

      I agree with you, Sam. When I heard that song playing at the end of the movie, I groaned.

      • uncle max

        Didn’t see the movie, glad of it, their playing that song at the end of the movie is bizarre. Kathy Mattea sang it on her Christmas CD ‘Good News’ and I’ve heard others try it but they don’t get anywhere near it. She owns that song.

    • msmischief

      hmm. I must point out that the singular act of grace, like all forms of grace, stemmed from His sacrifice on the throne. It could act before the sacrifice because of God’s eternal, not temporal, nature.

  • NormChouinard

    I think I liked it more than all of you combined. John’s opening narrative was amazing. The scene where Jesus meets Peter is so well done. Like every movie, much detail is omitted. But I did not find it stole much from other iterations of the story. I accepted the entire production as faithfully done. I understand that Cardinal Wuerl is a major supporter. I can see why. If you go, be sure to stay for the closing credits.

    • schmenz

      The fact that Cardinal Wuerl is a big supporter should be enough to tell everyone that this movie is rubbish.

  • Christopher

    What does the reviewer mean by “horridly handsome?” The Son of God must be presented as beautiful. Why does she have a problem with that. That remark made the entire article absurd.

    • msmischief

      “He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him.”

  • Tony

    One thing that comes across in the Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth series is that the director was thinking theologically all the time. That doesn’t justify all of his choices, but it does mean that he was choosing; see for instance the powerful moment when Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son while dining in the house of Levi (Matthew), among sinners, and Peter is outside of the house, angry with Jesus for having accepted the dinner invitation. Or think of the “out” that Joseph of Arimathea leaves for Jesus, hoping that He will explain to the elders that His statement that He is the son of the Father may be interpreted symbolically — and then it becomes clear that Jesus is not at all speaking symbolically. There are moments like that all through the series.
    You could fault Zeffirelli’s choice of the very thin Robert Powell for Jesus, but Powell’s acting was not at fault at all, and the cast in general was terrific. You had all the elderly actors who had come of age before movies took their nosedive in the mid-sixties, along with excellent middle aged character actors: Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Claude Rains, Donald Pleasance, Anthony Franciosa, Anne Bancroft, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Quinn, Rod Steiger, Ian Holm …
    We don’t have that now. It’s like trying to execute a grand fresco with crayons.

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  • http://lifesitenews.com/ Rachel

    Another Protestant moment, was when they show His mother Mary leaving town before Pentecost.

  • hombre111

    Thanks for a good review. I went to the Last Temptation and eventually walked out. Gibson’s movie was compelling in many ways. This movie seems to struggle with the fact that many of the people in the audience would be biblical fundamentlists, offended if the movie tried to follow subplots not explicitly mentioned in the Gospels. That was an interesting premise in the Last Temptation.

  • ColdStanding

    I will be advocating for what will be a minority position, namely, that cinematic presentations of the Life of Christ ALWAYS miss the mark.

    The first problem is in the pacing. Movies move at the rate dictated by the number of frame the editor/director/producer can afford to due to various restraints. This is a classic case of medium becoming the message. The mechanical requirements of movie making and viewing insert a message that isn’t actually there. This alters the text. Which is a fancy way of saying the meaning is changed. The Life of Christ, which it is true is stored in a medium, is a meditation. More properly a series of meditations, the quality of which is eternal. The narrative arc of fiction, movies being fiction, is temporal. The two modes are incongruous. Timelessness affords the opportunity to stop, savor, and become open to inspiration. A movie must hustle.

    The second problem is using actors. Actors are used when the subject of the movie is, for various reasons, unavailable. Every historical figure, except Jesus Christ and Our Mother Mary, are dead, by which I mean body and soul have separated until the trumpet blasts. But Jesus Christ is not separated body from soul and we can meet Him this very day. Which leads to…

    The third problem is location. Why go to a movie to see fanciful and possibly heretical depictions of Jesus Chirst, when you can go and meet Him face to face in Adoration or receive Him in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist? Heck, you can even often get fanciful and possibly heretical depictions of Him to boot! Would you hire a baby sitter to watch the kids and drive across town to watch a movie made about the very same kids you just left a with the baby sitter, using actors no less? They are right there in front of you, if you want to see them open your eyes!

    Similarly, if you are a little weak-kneed on the actual presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, you can look right into His real face when you turn to help the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the hungry, the imprisoned, etc.

    • msmischief

      “Why go to a movie to see fanciful and possibly heretical depictions of
      Jesus Chirst, when you can go and meet Him face to face in Adoration or
      receive Him in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist?”

      Why do our churches depict fanciful and possibly heretical depictions of
      Jesus Chirst, when you can go and meet Him face to face in Adoration or
      receive Him in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist at the same place?

      • ColdStanding
        • Crisiseditor

          Coldstanding,

          Do you know who delivered this sermon?

          • ColdStanding

            Sorry, no I do not. All I know is that he is a FSSP priest.

            I hope this does not violate your posting rules. I will remove it, should you desire.

            • Crisiseditor

              Don’t worry. It’s fine. It’s often helpful to judge a point of view by knowing the identity and background of the author. The interpretation of this priest certainly falls within the range of orthodox Catholic opinion. Cheers.

          • ColdStanding

            Please refer to this page, for an explanation as to why the priest delivering the sermon is not identified.

            http://www.audiosancto.org/pages/about.php

      • dove1

        I am pretty much deaf, so I get a lot of the good parts and virtually none of the bad….a blessing!

  • tom

    The palpable hatred of mainstream critics to anything “Catholic” never ends.

    This is an enjoyable movie and I join the 79% of the customers on Rotten Tomatoes who liked it, too. I did miss Obama as Satan, though!

    • dove1

      Maybe he was too busy undoing western civilization.

  • schmenz

    Monica (whom we in Milwaukee greatly miss):

    While I cannot share your opinion of Mr Gibson’s rather overwrought attempt to film the Passion I can certainly agree that this latest attempt at a movie rendering of the life of Christ is yet another example of a film-making community that has completely lost touch with the artistry, integrity and simple entertainment-providing capacity of their predecessors. The same could be said about the farcical “Noah” movie starring the paunchy ham with the hang-dog expression, Mr Crowe.

    Until real artists once again come back into the movie business it will be quite easy to give these amateurisms a miss. And frankly, I don’t think we’ll live to see the renaissance, if it ever comes.

    Our best to you and yours.

    • musicacre

      Maybe those who were to be instrumental in the “renaissance ” were aborted.

  • RG from Sacred Heart Parish

    DID ANYBODY NOTICE HOW MARY – ROMA DOWNEY – WAS DRESSED. THE MOVIE WAS A JOKE.

  • Tony

    On Pontius Pilate: there was an old tradition in the east that Pontius Pilate repented and became an evangelist in Iberia. How that tradition got started, I have no idea….
    I’ve been thinking for many years about the state of various of the arts in our time. It touches constantly upon what I do for a living, which is (mainly) to teach ancient, medieval, and Renaissance poetry to college students. I brought the matter up indirectly today, when I gave a lecture to our honors freshmen on Giotto and his successors. What made it possible for there to be thousands — that is no exaggeration — of master artists pretty much everywhere in Europe, for a good three hundred years? What accounts for the fact that every small city in Italy, at any time from about 1250 to 1650, had at least one master painter or sculptor whose work would stand up well against that of anybody in the world working right now?
    I gave my students two suggestions. One was the guild system, which developed into the studios of Renaissance Italy; Michelangelo was apprenticed as a small boy in the workshop of the Ghirlandaios, and that meant that he spent years alongside other boys and men at various stages of their artistic education and endowed with various talents. He had to learn everything, by stages — how to mix colors, how to draw up the enormous cartoni (blueprints for a fresco), and so on.
    But they also had a rich “language” to draw upon. They did not have to invent wheels. They had centuries of theological, liturgical, and artistic meditation upon Scripture. Michelangelo could paint Jonah above where the Last Judgment would go, knowing well that his fellows would get the point: Jonah is Christ’s “sign” of the Resurrection. Mantegna could veer from tradition in his extraordinary Crucifixion, painting Mary in a red robe with a black tunic above it, knowing that his viewers would not expect them, and would say, “Yes, Mary is already in mourning, but see, she shares the martyrdom of her Son.”
    Almost all of that “language” has been swept away. It’s the same for the makers of our films. Frank Capra understood A Tale of Two Cities; he “heard” the whisperings of Easter that Dickens makes all through the novel. That is why he places a small holy object on the mantel behind Sydney Carton when he makes his fateful decision. It reads: I am the Resurrection and the Life.
    Our filmmakers now are like people trying to compose epic poetry, without any tradition to draw on. They are trying to write great poetry, but their vocabulary has only a few dozen words in it. They are trying to produce great murals, but all they have are four or five crayons. When they go on and pretend to execute such works, they make of themselves laughingstocks for some future generation that will actually have a language.

    • dove1

      :)

    • pdxcatholic

      I appreciate your insights and observation. You sound very MacIntyrean.

  • Avery Ann

    Well, having read all of you, I agree with all, however I will go to see this movie (and I am positive I will do it many times) just to show the world that Jesus is still an interesting topic, that movies about him do touch people and that it is worthwhile to know more about him. If the box office figures are high for this movie, they will perhaps one day stop making movies AGAINST Jesus. I have faith!

  • dove1

    Good review and analysis!

  • kmk

    I had some issues with the televised ‘Bible’ series, but I will still spend money and go see ‘Son of God’ to publically show support. Someone else that went said the theatre was almost full :)
    A few years back, our local KOC chapter went as a large group to view a pro-life film. Good idea.

  • Don Schenk

    I still prefer the film made by using the American Bible Society’s “Good News Bible” translation of John as it’s script; but what do people expect in a life of Christ?

  • uncle max

    To answer the question – “How good is the ‘Son of God’ movie?”

    Not very

  • J

    I fell asleep watching the movie, it was painful too watch…the directors need a Bible study class + catechism

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