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GOSPEL OF JOHN, THE


THE GOSPEL OF JOHN , CANADA/ UK , 2003, MPAA Rating : PG-13 for violence involving the crucifixion

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN may not have the spectacle of Nicholas Ray’s KING OF KINGS, but it also lacks that film’s terminally bland Jesus. Nor does it boast the art direction of Franco Zeffirelli’s exquisite JESUS OF NAZARETH, but Henry Ian Cusick as GOSPEL’s Jesus is seems more of this world than Robert Powell, though both give equally moving performances. While Powell already seemed to be in the world to come he promised his followers, Cusick is most definitely in and possibly of this world. Though a wonderful performance, it’s in a film that probably won’t be a crossover hit in the secular world. This is a sermon and the audience is most definitely the choir.

 

The script is word for word the entire eponymous Gospel as translated in the American Bible Society’s “Good News Bible.” The language is informal though the vernacular still manages to catch a bit of the poetry to be found in the King James Version. Dialogue is interspersed with narration in suitably reverent tones by Christopher Plummer, yet the film itself, while showing that same reverence, is never stuffy. Like Plummer’s narration, we are in a pretension-free zone here. This Jesus has an accessible brand of charisma played by Cusick with not only intelligence and compassion, but even a twinkle of humor. He also infuses the speeches with a quiet vibrancy, most strikingly when voicing Jesus’ doubts before being taken away for judgment and crucifixion. There is a genuine sense that he is trying to talk himself into going through with the divine plan, that he might actually decide not to.

 

 Director Philip Saville slips in a few slick camera moves, but for the most part, chooses a straightforward approach to the well-known stories of resurrections, loaves and fishes, and walking on water. And while this isn’t an effects film, that last is done credibly is unremarkably. Not included are the more gory parts of the story, the flagellation and nailings take place off camera, though there are plenty of shots showing pierced wrists and flowing blood. It comes across as being in the tradition of the Medieval Mystery plays, a simple story, simply told and relying on that to get the point across.

 

Saville also takes care to set the story firmly within the Jewish world of that time. Nathanial, for example, is shown strapping on his ritual tefillin while praying. As for the other characters, Peter comes across as a bit of a blockhead while Pontius Pilate is shown in a surprisingly sympathetic light. I couldn’t help noticing that the high priest who is the most rabid to have Jesus killed was distinctly more swarthy than his fellow Pharisees, and as for the text itself that has the Jews egging Pilate on, well, it is what it is. And that would be less than philo-semetic. John’s gospel, and hence the film, does not dwell on the political and religious infighting among the different Judaic sects of the time who were all struggling with Roman oppression of their homeland. As the Romans of the time would have said, “Pace.”

 

And here we come to the heart of the problem with THE GOSPEL OF JOHN. There is no doubt in my mind that it is intended as an earnest effort to render the biblical story. There is even an introduction that attempts to place the story in the political context of the time it was written, rather than in the time in which it took place, That was a time when Christianity was trying to separate itself completely from Judaism, rather than being regarded by the outside world, as well as some within its ranks, as just another more or less peculiar splinter sect of the Hebrew religion. It does little, though, to take the edge off the view that the Jewish establishment of the time was more than just a little complicit in the crucifixion, and it is that view, read out during Easter week in the Middle Ages and later, that inspired the faithful to march into ghettos and shtetls and slaughter as many Jews as they could find in revenge for the crime of deicide.

 

The irony for me comes in the very first words spoken by Plummer and a motif that recurs throughout the gospel. These are the verses that discuss those that seek the light and those that seek the darkness, and how those two concepts, the light and the dark are forever in conflict. Among others, the Essene sect of Judaism, which was active at that time of the events of THE GOSPEL OF JOHN used that imagery in their texts excavated as the Dead Sea Scrolls in the last century. So did the Zoraostrians, one of the other great monotheistic religions, also contemporaneous with Jesus, taught the same thing. What to make of a borrowed idea used to create such divisiveness? Perhaps as an object lesson. But not, in the final analysis, a night at the movies.




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Moviegoer Review
 
karen (jeremy_camp707@yahoo.com)
This movie was amazing! I've never seen a better movie in my life. Henry Ian was amazing. Me and my one-year-old neice take great joy in watching this movie together. I've finally taught her how to say "Jesus", so now every time Henry Ian is on the screen, that's what she says. I'm trying to teach her that Jesus most likely didn't really look like Henry Ian, but oh well. That can wait a while, I suppose. After all, she's only one. But she does love this movie. When she comes to my house, she always points downstairs, to where my TV is, meaning she wants to watch it. And she's not the only one who loves this movie, either. I absolutely LOVE how Henry Ian portrayed Jesus in this epic film. I still cry every time I watch the crucifixion, even though I've watched it hundreds of times. :) It's a very moving film. It's not like Passion of the Christ, where it shows the brutality of the crucifixion and all you see is 2 hours straight or pure torture. Gospel of John shows Jesus in his good days and in his bad days. It shows him having fun with his disciples and healing the sick and lame. It shows him as a normal person: eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, talking, breathing...and it also shows his death and resurrection for the world. It shows his compassion and love, and yet his commandments to his followers. It really describes the true love and passion of our savior. It reminds us that Jesus was a real person who walked this earth and lived a normal life. And it also keeps fresh in our minds that he died for our sins on a tree. Congrats and Kudos to the cast and crew, and especially my favorite actor in the world, Henry Ian, for an amazingly beautiful job well done on this project. Ten thumbs up to a great movie!
 


Henry Ian Cusick




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