How to Make Non-Religious Films About Jesus

The new Ewan McGregor film 'Last Days in the Desert' premiered at Sundance and left even secular critics wanting more Jesus.

By Robert Moeller Published on January 30, 2015

How do you solve a problem like the divinity of Christ getting in the way of the (allegedly) nuanced plot of an art-house Indie film about Jesus “attempting to communicate with his father”?

Answer: you tell any film critic who will listen that your Jesus movie is not really about that Jesus. Or, at least, not about that tedious “spiritual” side of the carpenter from Nazareth.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Communication between parent and child has been a problem down through the ages, and so it is between God and his only son in Rodrigo Garcia’s adamantly non-divine rendering of Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness in Last Days in the Desert. Given the relatively scant treatment of the Nazarene’s long fast and three temptations in the New Testament texts by three of the disciples (John doesn’t mention the interlude at all), there is plenty of room for interpretation here on the part of an imaginative writer. But Garcia’s take, however beautiful physically, is intellectually opaque and creatively cautious, leaving the interested viewer, whether a believer or not, with much to wonder about but little to actually chew on.

The piece continues:

As this is decidedly not a film that could be successfully marketed to the Christian crowd that supports certain Jesus-related projects, it’s hard to see what the audience for this intellectual exercise might be.

Could not have blogged it better myself! Even the team behind Darren Aronofsky’s controversial Noah film last year knew to include enough stuff from the Bible to be able to court the faith-based crowd. Here you have a movie about Jesus where all of his interesting, unique and history-altering claims and characteristics have been stripped away to tell a mundane coming-of-stone-age tale that even The Hollywood Reporter is confused by.

Ewan McGregor — one my personal favorite actors — had this confusing tidbit to share with Entertainment Weekly:

 I don’t see it as a faith-based film,” McGregor says. “It’s not telling a Biblical story. I think it’s a film about fathers and sons. Jesus and God are the ultimate father and son relationship.

In case you were confused on this point, please recognize that in Hollywood, “faith-based” means “not very good” and/or “not something a true artist would ever use as creative fodder to impress Robert Redford.”

How is a film about the relationship between Jesus and God — the “ultimate father and son” — not a faith-based one? The same way a really good book turns into a boring movie: the people who adapted the book took the wrong kind of creative license and misfired on their artistic choices.

Your move, filmmakers (and future filmmakers) who happen to be Christians! The Bible is a narrative gold mine for someone with the chops and guts to tackle subject matter beyond the same “life of Jesus” film that has been made fifteen times since the 1960s. Someone wake up Mel Gibson.

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