If you can make a Jesus Film, what would you do?

As per the thread title, if you were ever given a chance to make your own film on the life of Jesus, what would you do?

1.) Which sources would you use? If you’ll employ the Four Gospels (which is a given anyways), would you (1) prioritize one Gospel over the others, (2) create a harmony over all four, or (3) rely solely on one?
2.) What language/dialect would you have the actors speak?
3.) Would you be willing to employ the latest archeological and literary discoveries and such?
4.) Who would you cast? :wink:

Everyone is free to add their own questions to answer, but here’s what I can come up with for the moment. :slight_smile:

Produce a script by combining events from all four Gospels.

2.) What language/dialect would you have the actors speak?

In English. While I admire Gibson’s PASSION, I personally think having to read subtitles is a disadvantage.

3.) Would you be willing to employ the latest archeological and literary discoveries and such?

Sure. I’d still film in Mexico (to keep the costs down!:)) but would like to make the constructions as lifelike as possible.

4.) Who would you cast? :wink:

Tough one! I’ll take a pass on this one for now:):slight_smile:

Everyone is free to add their own questions to answer, but here’s what I can come up with for the moment. :slight_smile:


Well, I want to be a filmmaker when I graduate college (that or a priest). I’ve actually never thought of making a movie about the life of Jesus. But now that you raise the question, I wonder…

We have movies like Passion of the Christ and Jesus of Nazareth which portray the life and death of Jesus. We also have Jesus Christ, Superstar which shows Jesus’ last days through the eyes of Judas (I recognize this film isn’t the best one made of Jesus’ life, but I like the music). So it would be hard to be original when approaching a film like this, mainly because everyone knows the story. So how would we get people to go see it.

I’ve always been curious about Mary’s side of the story. She makes an appearance in the beginning but after the wedding at Cana, she doesn’t come back until the Passion. So I would do something like Mary as an old woman traveling with John and she meets a young woman on the road and they start talking and Mary tells her about her own life and in her story she concentrates on the life of her Son and it would tell the story through her point of view with flash backs.

1- What sources would I use?
I would obviously use the Gospels and sources like Fulton J. Sheen’s The Life of Christ and try to find writings that would talk about Mary’s life. I know the Archbishop Sheen wrote a book about Mary called The World’s First Love so I would look into that as well as Marian apparitions.

2- What language would I make it in?
I recently saw an interview with Quentin Tarantino and he was asked about how in his movies, Inglourious Basterds (one of my favorite films), the German characters speak German and the French characters speak French and the American characters speak English. And in his answer he said something to the effect of, “Yeah, had Spielberg made Schindler’s List now he would have had to make it in German. I ruined it for him.” In a way, with all due respect to GEddie, I feel that Mel Gibson’s film ruined it for filmmakers now. Now they would have to make it in Aramaic and the original languages. Personally, I would make my film in Aramaic because I think it would look better and there’s something beautiful about that language I can use to capture Mary’s love for Jesus…In the Passion of the Christ there was a scene where Mary was crying and said, “When will you choose to end this?” I felt as if it was more powerful said in the original language than in English. I feel as if I would be loosing something in translation.

3- Would I be willing to employ the latest archeological and literary discoveries and such?
As a filmmaker I would want to employ all means necessary to make it as realistic as possible. Again I reference Passion of the Christ, Gibson hit everything so perfectly I would feel as though I weren’t doing my job as a filmmaker and as a Catholic looking to evangelize if I didn’t do all I could to make it as close to the actual thing as possible.

4- Who would I cast?
Unknowns. If I cast a popular actor as Jesus and a popular actress as Mary all the audience will see is that actor/actress. They won’t see Jesus or Mary which is the total point of the movie. Though is Meryl Streep could speak Aramaic or willing to learn, she’s got the job as Mary.

Now that you got me thinking about this, I’m gonna have to write the script now…

Very good replies so far. :slight_smile:
I’ll have a go at my own questions, for the moment.

1.) Sources

I’m thinking of making a film that mainly follows the narrative structure of the Gospel of Mark (by the way, Mark has got to be the only Gospel left that as of now does not have a film based solely on it!), but I’m not confining myself there - the structure would be Mark’s, yes, but the details would probably be from all four Gospels. And because it’s Markan, we would begin with John the Baptist before we come to Jesus.
As for the infancy narratives, I’ll probably have put references or flashbacks into it - if there’s any way of effectively putting them.

I’m also thinking of inserting the so-called agrapha - sayings of Jesus that are not found in the canonical Gospels but are included in say, other books of the NT, the writings of the Church Fathers, and some apocryphal gospels. For example, Acts 20:35 contains a saying attributed to Jesus not found in the Gospels: “It is a more blessed thing to give, rather than to receive.” Another example comes from Clement of Alexandria, who often quotes agrapha: “Have you seen your brother? You have seen your God.” (Stromata 1.19)

Aside from the Gospels, other useful sources would probably be Josephus (he’s also a given!), Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger (the three for Roman history), the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the Mishnah and Talmud (how the latter two works accurately reflect 1st century Judaism is still a matter of debate, but they would also probably come in handy) and the Church Fathers.

2.) Language

SalesianSDB makes a good point: since Mel made his film in Aramaic and Latin, it’s as if everyone now feels an obligation to make their film in whatever language the characters originally spoke. :smiley:
Given that I don’t want to be seen as copying what Mel did, and also due to the fact that the dialects that people spoke in Iudaea Province were long dead (the Aramaic of TPoTC is just a reconstruction actually) which would require us to reconstruct many of them from scratch, I think I’ll have it in English.

This is where the fun part comes. I’m thinking of having the Galilean characters - say, Jesus and His disciples - speak in a dialect/accent (which would of course represent Galilean Aramaic) different from that which the characters from say, Judea or Samaria, use. Which means that everyone would have their own accents, depending on where they hail from. I’m envisioning a sort of thick ‘country accent’ for Jesus, Mary, the Apostles and whatnot (it might seem bemusing and rather funny at first glance - I’m thinking that a certain sector would even denounce this as blasphemous! - but we need to remember that St. Peter was made fun of because of his accent! :p) with a more urbane, closer-to-the-Received-Pronunciation-English for Jerusalemites.

3.) Archeology

Of course! As a devotee of historical accuracy (the love of which made me a nitpicker :eek:), I’m willing to take into consideration most, if not all, archeological, anthropological, social, and literary findings available. Admittedly, I’m willing to make things historically credible even if that means eschewing traditional, popular iconography (i.e. the way we commonly and stereotypically envision and picture the events of the Bible, usually formed by years of exposure to religious art). I’m willing to take it THAT far to the point that I expect I’m probably going to draw flak from a number of people.

4.) Cast

Also unknowns. Pier Paulo Pasolini successfully made a film about Jesus using a cast of non-actors (for example, he cast his own mother in the role of the elderly Mary and had an economics student - now a chess player - in the role of Christ!). And as SalesianSDB pointed out, well-known stars tend to bring a lot of baggage with them (see for example the (in)famous 1965 epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, with John Wayne as the centurion at Calvary! ;)).

Also, I’m thinking of an ironic fact: Jesus was a Jew, but AFAIK no person of Jewish ancestry has ever yet played the role of the Son of God on the silver screen. Granted, white and black people have played Jesus over the years - and there are some who at least come from the right continent or have a quite close enough pedigree, but as of now, we do not have yet a ‘Jewish’ Jesus.

BTW, if I may add another crucial question: how would you portray Jesus?

Patrick, you raise a good point on the language. Last night I was thinking about it and I also thought of making it in English but have the actors have very heavy accents when they spoke, and have them refer to Jesus as Yeshua. The accents would obviously be from the region where the characters were from.

As for your next question, how would I portray Jesus, that’s a tough one. For some reason I have a problem with films that show too much of the human side of Jesus that they ignore his divinity (like the 1999 movie Jesus, I really don’t like that movie). But I also don’t want to ignore his human side. So I would look at it like this, this is Mary telling the story about her Son. What would she say? How would Mary portray Jesus if she were telling someone about Him?

I agree with you there. :thumbsup:
Now I admit I like the 1999 Jesus but yes, one of the weaknesses of that film is Jeremy Sisto’s portrayal of a ‘buddy Christ’, who smiles and cracks a joke at the expense of His authority and gravitas. But Sisto’s not as bad as say, Bruce Marchiano’s over-the-top performance in some of his scenes in Matthew (part of the Visual Bible): his perpetually-happy Jesus either wears this huge grin - even in the most awkward of situations, or does something that’s rather crass (emptying a jar of water over His disciple’s head during the Sermon of the Mount, for example). :stuck_out_tongue: But to his credit, the rest of his acting (when he’s not around gleefully hugging people or playing with His disciples, that is) is pretty good in my opinion, especially during the Passion narrative.
I wouldn’t dare go to Ramy Zada’s modern-day, televangelist Jesus without the TV in The Judas Project:smiley:

(BTW, here’s a quite funny review of The Judas Project; but there be spoilers)

As for my characterization of Jesus:

I envision a Jesus who can be convincing both when He smiles, laughs, weeps, suffers, and gets angry: for short, just like a normal guy would, but one whose divinity and authority still shines through (He’s true God and true man, after all). My idea of Jesus is that while being compassionate, He can also preach it like it is. Kind of like Pasolini’s (Gospel according to Matthew) and Dennis Potter’s (Son of Man) Jesus: a direct, untamed, dangerous - one might even say bellicose - preacher with a fire in His belly who symphatizes with the common man and speaks in their tongue, so to speak. A Jesus who is radical and strong that it would not be a wonder why many would perceive Him as a threat. A Jesus who had come to set fire to the world and bring division. A Jesus who is not always ‘meek and mild’. I’m thinking of a Christ who is at once familiar yet strange: a portrayal you and I wouldn’t feel comfortable and cozy with, one that challenges us* and jolts us out of all our preconceived notions about the Son of God.

  • I think that this is necessary: IMHO we Christians have become too familiar and too cozy with Jesus Christ - for many of us, He’s become a mere part of the scenery, something that we can take for granted. We need something now and often that would make us reevaluate who this man is.

I’d find a way to cover all 4. I’d also use Bl. Anne Emmerich’s books to visualize the scenes. Not sure where’d I film. Arizona maybe? But it’s kind of turning into the Wild Wild West down there lately. May have to settle for Nevada.

2.) What language/dialect would you have the actors speak?

I know some like having it in the original, but with English, I think the viewers would relate to it more. Maybe use Aramic/Latin for key parts.

3.) Would you be willing to employ the latest archeological and literary discoveries and such?
4.) Who would you cast? :wink:

Sure, and I have no clue on the last one.

Everyone is free to add their own questions to answer, but here’s what I can come up with for the moment. :slight_smile:

One of mine -

- How would you display any particular (non-dramatic) scenes?

The last chapter of John always strikes me as this calming, almost light-hearted scene after a violent climax. I’d have it at the tail end of the movie, with the credits slowly starting to flash when Peter jumps into the water to swim to the shore. The ending music would start up after Jesus speaks of John, and you see the camera zoom out as you see Jesus and the disciples continue their meal.

Also (inspired by what someone I know said once), in the Last Supper, when John is resting his head on Jesus, the voices of the others around them would grow soft, and the audience would hear what John would’ve heard - a beating heart when he asks who would betray him. The camera angle would be looking down the table from one end at a slight angle so you’d see Jesus and John in the middle, and Judas on the far end.

- Any prequels/sequels?

The sequel would be the Book of Acts, and include Paul’s travels, as well as John.

The prequel would be just before the births of St. Joseph and Mary, and continue up to the first movie.

Thanks for the reply! Very good ideas there, I might say.
Location is something I haven’t thought of…hmm…there are quite a lot of possibilities outside of America - I’ll name a couple of the more popular ones that I know of:

1.) Matera in Italy. This is the location Mel Gibson, Catherine Hardwicke (The Nativity Story), Pier Paolo Pasolini shot their films in (Pasolini wanted originally to film in the Holy Land, but was so disappointed that the locations were commercialized that he filmed in his native Italy instead).
2.) Morocco, where quite a lot of films were shot since the beginning of cinema. One prime location for Biblical films within the country is Ouarzazate, which Franco Zeffirelli (Jesus of Nazareth), Martin Scorsese (The Last Temptation), Roger Young (1999 Jesus), Catherine Hardwicke and Michael Offer (BBC’s 2008 drama The Passion), among others, used.

By the way, your post just brought a further couple of questions to my mind.

1.) What about the soundtrack?
Would you employ epic music (kind of like the 50’s and 60’s), Middle-Eastern flavored music (Martin Scorsese started the fad of using this with Peter Gabriel, for Mel Gibson to pick up with John Debney), chant, or an eclectic mix (like Pasolini)?

2.) I’ve asked how we would characterize Jesus. How then would we characterize His disciples?

For example, in a lot of films (with a few good exceptions) the beloved disciple St. John is often depicted as being a sort of sensitive, almost soft character - within the Apostles, he is often portrayed as the straight man/wet blanket. Perhaps traditional iconography which portrays him as a long-haired, almost-effeminate (that’s what they considered beautiful back in those days) young man may have played a part in encouraging this interpretation. This despite Jesus terming both James and John as Boanerges, ‘sons of thunder’! :smiley:

Also Judas. It’s easy to portray him as the standard one-dimensional villain - given that the Gospels and 2000 years of religious faith damns him up and down, but go too far in an attempt to steer clear of that and you end up portraying him almost as a dupe who gets tricked into handing Jesus over (Zeffirelli) or as the straight man, a super-saint (Scorsese).

Oh yes! :clapping:
Having the names in the original would be a good help, IMO, such as Jesus=Joshua/Yeshua, Mary=Miriam, Lazarus='Lazar/El’azar (Eleazar), Pontius Pilate=Pontius Pilatus, Caiaphas=Yosef bar-Kayfa, etc.
Same with place-names: Jerusalem would be Solyma/Hierosolyma (Greek) and Yerushalayim (Aramaic & Hebrew).
Jew would be Judaean as the word Jew is an abbreviation of Judaean anyway.

Rant time (if you don’t like rants, please skip this post :blush:):

[LIST]*]The shepherds and the magi never came at the same time.
*]While we’re at it, the magi aren’t kings, nor does the Bible say anything about there being three of them. :wink:
*]The ‘inn’ in Luke 2:7 is a mistranslation!
*]Everyone probably didn’t wear clothes that never got dirty, nor took baths often (d’you ever notice that in quite a number of Jesus films, the main actors always look fresh without any dirt on their persons, even when they’re supposed to have traveled far and wide? :D)
*]D’you notice that Roman soldiers are ALWAYS wearing their armor even in the lightest of situations?
*]It’s common nowadays to picture Pharisees as frumpy (in the archaic sense), dour old men in menacing black robes, we don’t actually have any record as to the specifics of their clothing. For all we know, they could have dressed quite normally - excepting the longer fringes (tzitzit) and the broader tefillin.
*]It’s also common to see movie Pharisees righteously toting a modern-ish tallit (aka prayer shawl), but in Jesus’ time, the tallit simply referred to the cloak that everyone wore over their tunics, with tzitzit attached to its four corners in obedience to the commandment (Numbers 15:37-40). It wasn’t until much later that the tallit increasingly shrunk and became a ceremonial piece of garment.
*]And yes, despite the common attribution, the “Pharisees” and the “chief priests, scribes, and the elders” that move to put Jesus to death in the Passion narratives (most likely the majority of whom were affiliated with the Sadducees) are historically not necessarily synonymous.
*]Jesus et. al. probably never ate the Last Supper like Leonardo showed it: sitting on one side of a long table on high chairs in a spacious banquet hall. People either sat down on the floor or reclined on couches to eat back then (which they did on low tables). As for the upper-room, it could either be a guest-room or even a temporary awning erected on the (flat) rooftop of the house they were staying in.
*]Haven’t you noticed that in quite a number of movies - Mel’s The Passion and the 50’s epics come to mind - it’s as if half of the people of Jerusalem show up during the trial of Jesus and at His execution in Golgotha? Did everyone just somehow forget their duty of celebrating the feast just to see the Romans do the usual thing: condemn a criminal? Couldn’t it be also likely that there were fewer people in Pilate’s front yard (since after all, this ‘crowd’ was paid and coached to stack the deck against Jesus’ favor) - say, more or less a hundred folks?
*]Golgotha was NOT ways away from the city: it was Roman custom to crucify people in public areas such as roadsides or near city-gates (the 6000 slaves crucified in the aftermath of Spartacus’ rebellion in the Via Appia come to mind). And BTW, there’s nothing in the Gospels that explicitly imply that Calvary was a ‘mount’ either. :wink:
*]D’ya find it odd that when films do show other people being crucified, they show more variation in the form of the crosses used and how these victims were nailed/tied, but when they come to Jesus and the two outlaws, they invariably end up showing them in the ‘standard’ way: three men crucified on very high, t-shaped crosses (don’t you think it’s cumbersome to erect a tall cross just to disassemble it later? ;)), with Jesus pierced by three nails (a purely Western artistic convention that only came to be during the late Middle Ages)?[/LIST]

End of rant. And now, back to our regular programming. :o

Okay, anyone else? :)

Just to add one more question: Would you present the story ‘as it is’ (i.e. in a two millenia-ago context) or would you present a modern-day adaptation?

Another question I’m curious about (yeah, this thread’s so turning into a bunch o’ questions :blush:): if you would include the temptation in the desert, how would you portray Satan? Would you portray him physically - if so, how? - or just resort to some sort of ‘interior voice’ or something like that? :confused:

No physical form, just a crashing “thunder voice” combined with a shadow above HIS head.


I’ve noticed that films that attempt to do a modern day adaptation fail miserably (Jesus Christ, Superstar and Godspell come to mind, though JCS isn’t that bad of a film, I like the music).

I’d stick to the historical context…Plus it fits better with my plan, Mary walking with John and a woman telling her about Yeshua. I think the setting of walking the desert would be more appealing to audiences than Mary on an airplane.

And I’m not sure about how I’d depict Satan. I’m thinking something like the actor from Passion of the Christ would be good. I just love how that movie has become the standard for all Jesus films.

Agreed. I’ve seen only the stage versions of JCS and GS, however, HIS story is not one that IMNAAHO can be updated to the modern world; for one thing, our “modern world” has been so “salted” by HIM :slight_smile: that one in which HE had not yet lived would be unrecognizable; and more significantly, HIS was a simple life and story. Such simplicity as to seem unrealistic in the convolutions of the modern world. Again, IMNAAHO.


You make a good point. BTW, this is the same point that this guy who reviewed this called The Judas Project, which is basically a pastor’s attempt to modernize the story of Jesus (really, he served as the film’s director, writer, executive producer, even the composer of the soundtrack!): Jesus is that phenomenal that it’s hard to conceive history - much less the modern-day world - without Him.

Actually I like 'em both - the movies and the music, that is.
And yes, one minus side of modernizing the story is while it may look ‘modern’ or ‘up-to-date’ now, within two to three years it would already become dated. This is one blunder of 1973 JCS and Godspell: they’ve turned into relics of 1970’s culture that’s come and gone.

At least the 1973 JCS presents itself not as a direct depiction of the life of Christ, but a play-within-a-movie (a sort of dramatization a group of hippie-like people perform in the deserts of Israel). :shrug:

I’d stick to the historical context…Plus it fits better with my plan, Mary walking with John and a woman telling her about Yeshua. I think the setting of walking the desert would be more appealing to audiences than Mary on an airplane.

Nice plan you got there. By the way, if I can offer a piece of advice, I must caution you against making Mary sound too preachy or ‘in-your-face’ too much in relating the life of her Son, that she sounds like an over-enthusiastic door-to-door evangelist. :slight_smile:

And I’m not sure about how I’d depict Satan. I’m thinking something like the actor from Passion of the Christ would be good. I just love how that movie has become the standard for all Jesus films.

There’s so many options, since we can’t agree with each other on how a fallen angel would look like, no? :stuck_out_tongue:

I also liked the androgynous Satan of Mel, and I also think Donald Pleasence’s aged, ragged and unkempt ‘Dark Hermit’ in The Greatest Story Ever Told, and his rather subtle (as opposed to outright confrontational) way of tempting/testing Jesus, is quite well-done. And the 1999 Jesus where Satan appears in two forms: as a beautiful woman in a red robe and as a man in a modern-day black suit.

I was also thinking of the way the temptation is portrayed in The Last Temptation - the film, at least: Satan appears to Jesus in the form of a serpent speaking with the voice of Mary Magdalene, a lion with Judas’ voice, and a column of fire, with a voice courtesy of Martin Scorsese (the novel has Satan appearing to Jesus at dawn in the form of this archangel, with green wings and “the half moon suspended from his neck and a joyous star between his eyebrows”). I wouldn’t go so far, but half of me’s thinking that that portrayal of Satan talking through non-human means, in the voice of people familiar to Jesus, is a quite interesting and novel approach. The other half, however, thinks this depiction has a potential to become cheesy (come on, talking animals!?) :shrug:

Wow, creepy. :smiley:
BTW, this writer introduces a whole another realm of possibily when he said:

Filmmakers have chosen a variety of ways, then, to portray Satan, but despite this a number of alternative approaches suggest themselves. No film, as far as I am aware has sought to use the voice of the actor playing Jesus to also speak Satan’s lines. This move would suggest the reality of the way temptation tends to affect most humans. Additionally, with the exception of Dayasagar, none of these films really explored what Satan, a fallen angel, might actually look like. This suggests there is plenty of scope for creativity in future Jesus films.

Though having the same actor for Jesus play Satan’s voice would be a little too harsh for some viewers, I think? :hmmm:

I would get Jim Caviezel to play Jesus and hire Mel Gibson to direct. Oh wait… :wink:

I can imagine the posts about it already. :stuck_out_tongue:

I think that would be a bit theologically tenuous, though. Using the same actor’s voice would be a neat idea if it was anyone other than Jesus being tempted. In Jesus’ case, it would have many people interpreting it dualistically as though it means Jesus and Satan are two sides of the same coin. That would be a bit problematic.

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