Ewan McGregor is Jesus - and the Devil - in an imagined chapter from his forty days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis, setting for himself a dramatic test.
Far from perfect, but a refreshingly human, small scale take on Jesus
I liked this more than a lot of critics and friends, finding a gentle poetic power in some of the sequences, and appreciating the humanness of this simple telling as the end of Jesus' 40 days in the desert before he returned to civilization to face challenges and death.
Devoid of demands the audience believe in a literal way, I could be more open the exploration of complexities of faith and spiritual ethics that challenge everyone, even the son of god. I particularly liked the scenes where Ewen McGregor plays both Jesus and Satan, debating – among other things - the nature of God, and whether He is essentially good, or an over-controlling ego-maniac. McGregor does a lovely job separating the two characters with subtle touches like vocal rhythms and a different glint in the eye (there's no attempt to make the look different, signifying perhaps that the Devil is indeed an inevitable part of all humans, including this holy one).
On the other hand, the main story line created for the film – Jesus getting caught up in the domestic troubles of a dysfunctional desert family – is more uneven. There are indeed touching scenes, and it was refreshing to see a biblical story where Jesus can't simply bring happiness to this angry father, dying mother and alienated son with a wise word or a wave of his hand. On the other hand, at times it feels simply too prosaic, too small scale and too familiar. I think that's part of the point. Basic human struggle has changed very little in 2,000 years. But it also led to the occasional cringe-worthy moment, as when Jesus councils the father about the wayward son; 'talk to him about something he's interested in', sounding more like a friendly neighbor or basketball coach than the son of God. More important it wasn't clear (at least to me) how Jesus' encounter with this family effects his thinking or perceptions about his own difficult relationship with his own Father or terrifying fate going forward. What does he know or understand now that he didn't before?
Last, the film steals a key last minute twist from another cinematic version of the Christ tale, and I was distracted by the imitation.
In the end this was sort of a split decision. My mind found many faults with the film, some serious, but my heart was touched and involved.
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