Thanks to the recent movies that came out, we have had a recent interest in Hollywood blockbuster films related to Biblical subjects, with films like Son of God (which is basically all the episodes about Jesus from the Bible mini series on the History Channel), God’s not Dead, and of course Noah. Plus there appear to be more on the way, with films like Left Behind starring Nicolas Cage coming out later this year. Films based on subjects from the Bible are nothing out of the ordinary and have been going on for as long as the age of cinema itself. Some of them like Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, and of course the Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston are considered huge classics by film fans even today. One of the best movies made, period, is Ben Hur, even has a theme about restoring a man’s faith in God, and Jesus, even as a background character impacts the whole story.
Whether you believe in the Bible or not, you cannot deny that the stories told in these scriptures have always had a literary influence on our culture, especially that of the western world. You can argue all you want on what you think is true out of the Bible all you want, but the bottom line is that these 66 sections, or books as they are also called, were written by 40 different authors from three different continents over a period of two millennia.
There are even portions that are not included in the traditional Christian Bible but are included with other faiths, such as the Apocrypha’s of Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, and other faiths.
It is written by people who were Shepherds, kings, scholars, fishermen, prophets, a military general, a cupbearer, and a priest, and they had different immediate purposes for writing, whether recording history, giving spiritual and moral instruction, or pronouncing judgment.In the process they laid bare their personal emotions, expressing anger, frustration, joy, and love.
Yet despite this marvelous array of topics and goals, the Bible stays consistent, and It never contradicts itself or its common theme.
What is the common theme you ask?
From Genesis to Revelation, we see man’s repeated rebellion against his holy Creator. God made a perfect world, but mankind has continually rejected His authority and sought to decide truth for himself. Nevertheless, God promised to extend His love, grace, and mercy to unworthy people who deserved to be cast into the lake of fire for all eternity.
That’s all I will say, as the topic I am discussing is what Hollywood and the world of pop culture does to biblical figures and stories.
I guarantee you that if you were to make a series of movies based on the Bible and included every detail without even having to add for dramatic effect, the bible would STILL be rated R at least. You would have to edit a ton of things out to make it PG13 or lower. There is a lot of detailed accounts of murder, betrayal, sex scandals, and of course lots of violence at the hands of both man and God himself. I mean there is A LOT of juicy material you could use as inspiration. Obviously a lot of the stories that have a lot of action have to be a little sugar coated to be taught in Sunday school, and even a lot of preachers who lead large congregations tend to stray away from the intense messages that come from the really detailed and intense stories.
But do most faiths and religions
consider the Bible a work of art? No. Do these people consider all the moral stories and such to be stories and nothing more? No.
It should be noted that most Muslims absolutely forbid any visual depictions of the prophet Mohammed or anything from the Kuran. If you notice, nothing on TV or in the movies has had anything to do with Mohammed, and those that have tried like South Park have gotten huge threats from Muslim groups and thus the episode is no longer in syndication.
The Bible on the other hand, ever since the times of the renaissance, countless pieces of art have depicted biblical characters and scenes, and that was simply because it was during a time when the church had authority, and you pretty much HAD to do something like it even if you didn’t necessarily believe in the Bible.
This is pretty much nothing new, as the Bible has served as inspiration for lots of pieces of art and literature.
For me when it comes to anything depicted, I don’t even mind if things not included and/ NOT necessarily 100% true to the Bible are included, or if things out of the Bible are taken out for artistic liberty. For all I care, you could have a rated G version of David and Goliath taking place on a dodgeball court instead of a battlefield, as long as the general message of the story stays the same.
There are some movies that are products of Hollywood and still retain what the message is getting across, at least I think so. Prince of Egypt is a great example. It isn’t exactly true to the story of Moses, and due to the major emphasis of Moses and Pharaoh Ramses as brothers, you see sympathetic views from both sides. But the message of how God chose Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt stays the same and can be enjoyed by anyone.
Passion of the Christ, as detailed as it is, is not 100% accurate either with its depiction of the crucifixion… believe it or not, it was actually worse in real life than it was depicted. Sure there is a degree of accuracy to the events leading to it, there are things added the movie that come straight from what Catholics believe, such as the girl at the well, which is from what is called the 12 steps of the cross. That shouldn’t surprise anyone that knows the director Mel Gibson is Roman Catholic. However there are also things added in it like Satan being present at the event and trying to taunt and mock Jesus, that wasn’t in any of the biblical accounts. It should also be known that the brief resurrection scene at the end wasn’t originally going to be in the movie, but was added in at the request of Billy Graham.
However, when you have adaptations of anything, that is where the creative mind makes art.
For example, Adaptations like the popular Left Behind series of books, which I have read, I do not consider true. Sure they are based on the Biblical tribulation period also known as the End times as prophesied all over the Bible and talk a lot about the authors interpretations of the symbolism expressed with the judgements, the Beast, False Prophet, and ultimately Christ’s second coming in Revelation, but these are adaptations. I could go into detail about that series but of the big liberties has to do with the mark of the beast. In the bible it says those who receive the mark of the beast receive all of God’s judgements, but one character who is part of the group of Christians gets the mark forced on him against his will, and yet he does not receive the same judgements, with the reason that because he spiritually did not accept the mark, he isn’t subject to the same judgements. Does this and the rest of the series convey a similar message to the Bible? Yes. But do I believe that the way the Left Behind books tell the story is how the world will end and the second coming of Christ happens? No. The Bible says it is not for us to know how or when, but just to be ready when it happens.
Now, I could go over the films made by companies like Cloud Ten Pictures, a Christian film company, or films that contain actors like Kirk Cameron, and have dramatic stories involving a Christian theme, but I’m not going to. They’re made by Christians, for Christians. These films and shows were made with Christian intentions to tell a story with a moral message.. They are especially made to cater to those people who won’t watch anything secular. Most people, even a lot of Christians, won’t watch these films because of that same reason. It’s like playing an educational video game, we don’t play games to go to school, we play games to have fun and escape a little. Same with watching a movie.
I am talking about depictions when we go into artistic territory that is not necessarily made with Christian intentions. They are made to entertain, and appeal to the mass public. Sometimes the liberties taken don’t really mock too much, but other times, as I will eventually get into, do in fact mock the whole essence and make the depiction completely unrecognizable to everyone.
South Park I mention all the time for its creative and clever writing has poked at all religions, and of course Christ himself isn’t spared. One episode I can even point out is the one where Damien, the fictional son of Satan, arranges for his father to challenge Jesus to a PPV fight, and because everyone thinks Satan is the stronger one, they all bet their money on Satan; only to see Satan actually bet on Jesus and throw the fight, thus taking everyone’s money and real estate. This particular episode actually has a good little message on faith. Sure there are other things in later episodes that the Jesus character in South Park does, like having a public access TV show, but it’s honestly nothing to complain about. Family Guy, when they make fun of situations involving God and Jesus, I never really see anything terrible either, and I laugh at the little jokes. I see them poking fun about God, but not terribly mocking it. Hey I believe even God has a sense of humor.
Andrew Lloyd Webber may be a member of the Church of England, but when he and Tim Rice composed Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970, he made a concept rock musical and later a stage production that depicts the story of Jesus final week from the point of view of Judas Iscariot, the man who betrays him to be arrested and crucified. It talks more about the political and psychological relationships between Jesus and his followers. Originally, Jesus isn’t even portrayed as divine, nor is there any resurrection mentioned. The movie that came out in 1973 added in more scriptural references to make the film appeal more to Christians.
At the time it was seen by many groups as sacrilegious and blasphemous for the reasons I mentioned before as well as others. Today there are still stage productions going on, and it is a well known musical with many songs that are still covered today. I still find myself listening to the soundtrack around every Easter. I personally love it, and think the twist with it is interesting.
Arguably Monty Python’s the Life of Brian is the comedy troupes most well known and highly regarded movie. The movie is about Brian, a man born on the same day and next door to Jesus, and is mistaken for him. It contains a lot of political and religious satire, enough to earn a lot of controversy over it, and was accused of blasphemy. Yet today we still can’t think Monty Python without the song Always Look at the Bright Side of Life, which takes place during the crucifixion scene.
In 1988 we had the film, the Last Temptation of Christ, directed by Martin Scorcese and starting Willem Dafoe as Jesus and Harvey Kietel as Judas. It was an adaptation itself of a novel, and the whole premise explores the human side of Jesus and his struggles with temptations, including fear, doubt, reluctance, and lust. The central argument is that while Jesus was free from Sin, he still struggled with human emotions to do God’s will. They both depict Jesus imagining himself in sexual situations, such as him marrying and a scene with him having sex with Mary Magdalene. Even though there is a disclaimer saying this movie does not tell the story of Jesus in the traditional accepted way and is not based at all on the Gospels, it was enough to spark outrage by religious groups saying the film was… You guessed it, blasphemous.
But the thing is, you cannot judge something by its cover, or what you HEARD about it, and of those people that would claim the movie and novel was sacrilegious, you could ask them if they indeed saw it, and many would say “oh no I wouldn’t dare see that movie.” Well, I don’t think it’s as bad as these groups say it is. The central theme to the whole thing is that Jesus was still subject to temptation, and still felt the same feelings as any human being would, even if free from Sin. Accounts in the Gospels about Jesus resisting Satan’s temptations, and his initial reluctance to go through with the crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane; they seem to support this argument. In a sense, The Last Temptation advances the argument that, had Jesus succumbed to any such temptation, especially the opportunity to save himself from the cross, his life would have held no more significance than that of any other philosopher.
You have the Bible Mini series and theatrical adaption Son of God. While the visuals themselves are actually pretty good and bring many stories to life, and it is acted quite well considering it’s a History Channel thing, overall it takes a lot of liberties with the stories and leaves out quite a lot for pacing and story flow reasons, but the general theme and message stays the same throughout. It was okay and entertaining enough, but maybe I could’ve done without the ninja angels slaughtering people in the Sodom and Gomorrah scene, or without all the fighting and battle scenes having slowdown moments like we were watching 300. Plus I kind of laughed when they accidentally made Satan look like Barack Obama.
Then we come to Noah. This movie was directed by Darren Aronofsky, the same guy who did Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, and Black Swan. If you’ve seen any of those movies, you’ll already know that these films are quite different in a sense that there can be some disturbing and depressing imagery to get the message across. It stars Russel Crowe, who I pretty much now can’t really think of him other than Javert. I literally went into this movie thinking he was going to sing. “Now bring me animals two for ev’ry kind! Our time is up God will destroy the world!” ” We’ll start again and repopulate the world!”
Some big Christian organizations praise the film, but even the director says it’s the least biblical film ever made.I went in knowing full well the movie was not meant to be a word for word translation of the story, but still trying to get the essence across.
When I saw the movie, when it started, the movie seemed promising, but then the plot kicked in. There are things in it that come out of the Bible, such as there is a guy named Noah, and there is an ark for him and his family, and there’s a flood… that’s pretty much it. The rest of it is pretty much typical Hollywood, and there are some major things in it that… well, let’s just say completely miss the point. Spoiler Alert! Did you know that Noah was a dark, brooding, complex character who killed people? Did you know he enlisted the help of fallen Angels who were turned into six armed beasts to help build the Ark? Did you know God was angry at man for destroying the environment and killing his creations, and wanted mankind to die off after the flood?
So in a sense, did you know the whole story of Noah in the Bible was about mankind overpopulating and destroying the environment this whole time? I sure didn’t.
It gets better, there is a part where inside the ark, his son Shem’s wife played by Emma Watson gets pregnant, and Noah believes it’s God’s will for mankind to die off after the flood so he must kill the babies when they are born, only for Noah say, “No God, I can’t do that!” making God seem like a mean evil spirit than what most people of Abrahamic faiths believe. My girlfriend even shouted out, “that’s not Biblical at all!” during the movie.
I thought the story was about how God protected and saved Noah and his family for being the only righteous person among those who defied God and worshiped the creation instead of the creator. I guess I was wrong.
The thing is I’m not terribly surprised by the additions and changes. The actual story is only a few pages long, so they thought, well we need to add this to fit a 2 hour movie. I even didn’t mind that they added in characters like Methuselah, and Tubal-cain as the film’s antagonist. Theoretically, those two very well could’ve been alive during Noah’s time if you do the math. I didn’t even mind the whole angle with Tubal-cain sneaking aboard the Ark and trying to sabatage everything and kill Noah. I also didn’t mind that God is referred to as the creator, because that is what he is in the story anyway. There is even a part I liked where Noah retells the story of creation in the ark, and we are treated to visually seeing the evolutionary creation of the world up to Adam and Eve. But when the Bible clearly says that Noah’s three sons each had wives… then why would they make it so that only Shem had a wife, and involve a subplot for Noah to leave Ham’s love interest to die, causing Ham to rebel? Sure that’s changed for dramatic effect, but COME ON!
Look, I can tolerate a good twist to a biblical depiction, especially if there is scriptural arguments to back it up, but this movie was nothing like that, and instead was a movie about what those in Hollywood want the world to believe when it comes to their perception of God. Or they wanted to make a story about a creator appeal more to the mass public. I guess that’s where it draws the line. But I guess the jokes on me, they have my money because I was still curious enough to see it AFTER I heard lots of people saying don’t bother.
We are going to have biblical depictions in our pop culture for as long as we are allowed to, possibly until we are under a government that shuts away free speech and bans religion. Many christian groups will say how Hollywood is too narrow minded and ignorant to putting out anything that is majorly accurate out of the Bible, but when the adaptation or depiction is going to be made, the choice is always whether or not we pay money to see for ourselves what this artists interpretation is about. Only if we see it in front of our own eyes can we truly judge and put our opinions on it, and if someone says “I refuse to see this person’s work because I have heard bad things about it.” That is fine, but they then cannot say “I heard there are blasphemous things in it, you shouldn’t dare to see it either.” Now who is being the closed minded hostile person.
Whether you agree or disagree with my views, please let me hear your comments!