Moviegoers’ reactions are divided over the new film “The Young Messiah.” Released by Focus Features, “The Young Messiah” is a work of fiction adapted from the 2005 best-selling novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice. Rice, who has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Christianity, is perhaps best known for her series of novels The Vampire Chronicles. The film is directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh.
The movie imagines one year in the life of Jesus at age 7. Beginning in Matthew 2, as a result of Joseph’s dream and an event in which Jesus was bullied, the family departs Egypt and returns to their homeland in Nazareth. Jesus performs several miracles, including restoring life to a dead bird, raising a boy from the dead and restoring sight to a blind priest. Herod Antipas is suspicious of the boy, sees Him as a threat and seeks to have Him killed. While the boy Jesus acknowledges that He is different, He is plagued by Satan and searches to understand His true identity.
The movie was well done. The acting was good. It was not cheesy or predictable. The sets were impressive, and the scenery was beautiful. The characters were well- developed and believable. While the biblical accounts can be debated, I found nothing to be out of character for Jesus. Mentally, emotionally and physically, Jesus was a child, but He showed spiritual understanding and maturity. He was inquisitive, compassionate and courageous. As parents, a very protective Mary and wise Joseph sought to protect His innocence and struggled to balance His childhood with His deity. Joseph states, “How do you explain God to His Own Son?”
In an interview with Fox, Director Cyrus Nowrasteh insists there are no biblical contradictions, but I found several. In one scene, we see Mary and Jesus (who had a British accent) having a conversation regarding the events of Jesus’ birth. Mary says “a light” spoke to her, when it actually was the angel Gabriel. In the movie, Jesus performed several miracles, but John 2:11 states that turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana was his first miraculous sign. Whether sign or miracle, I understand this is up for debate. The character of Satan was a little weird, perhaps looking like he should be in the rock band KISS. At least he didn’t look like Barack Obama.
One of the main scenes depicts the only story of Jesus’ boyhood that we do know—that of the account of the annual journey to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover when Jesus was not 7 years old, but 12. In the Bible, Jesus is separated from his parents on their return trip home only to be found three days later in the temple—His Father’s house—sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The movie shows Jesus, in a quest for answers to His questions, leaving camp in the middle of the night and running on ahead to Jerusalem alone. There, He has a brief conversation with the rabbi, learns the whole story of His birth, and heals the rabbi of his blindness. After facing the Centurion assigned to kill Him, He is graciously allowed to slip away and return home with His parents.
The movie has Roman Catholic influence. Rice leaned heavily on Roman Catholic tradition concerning Jesus’ early life, and that is reflected in the film. For instance, Jesus is portrayed as an only child and James as His older cousin. There are many biblical references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and He most likely would have had at least one sibling by the age of 7.
PG-13 for violence. No inappropriate language. Some subtle sexual references.
The Bible gives very little information about Jesus’ formative years. This movie has raised many questions regarding if Jesus knew that He was the Son of God as a boy. Biblically, we do not have a clear answer on that. The film takes many liberties with content but after all, it is a work of fiction.
Admittedly, I went into the movie with low expectations, but I enjoyed it. As a follower of Jesus and student of the Bible, the viewpoints of Jesus’ childhood were interesting to me. On the other hand, fictionalizing the Gospel, especially the life of the Son of God, Himself, can lead to confusion. We cannot allow fictional events and ideas to influence biblical truth. We should guard against forming concepts of Jesus that may not be true. Movies like “The Young Messiah” and so many others should drive us to our Bibles to discern fact from fiction.
2 stars out of 4