This is a powerful, modern-day, retelling of the Gospel story, most notably, Mark’s Gospel, or at least the critical version of Mark’s Gospel.
The setting is a modern-day nation in Africa (although the place names are biblical), in which the land is covered in war, strife, tribalism, and sectarianism. Opening with Mary being chased by rapists and war criminals, the beauty of the film first erupts as she sings the Magnificant after meeting an angel. Traveling ahead to the full-grown man, this Jesus is a young African with a group of friends, living in the decay of an occupied civilization.
It is subtitled, and the conversation sparse enough to keep up, but it is enticing, pulling you in as the Gospel story is retold in a Liberationist voice. Vibrant colors are used, but matched by the darkness of Satan in a manner which you may not suspect. As the film rushes to its conclusion, the viewer picks up the finer details and remembers major points of the Gospel story. The murder of the innocents, Bethlehem’s holocaust, is something that is seen and heard of daily, in our world, and graphically portrayed by the actors in brutal fashion. The miracle scenes are sparse, but when they arrive, they are powerful.
It does change, as to be expected, some plot details. Not all the disciples are men – some are women. This Jesus is not seen as a well-groomed, masculine man with a beard, but a young, soft-spoken radical. The antagonists are the expected African warlords, but what is difficult to come to terms with is the portrayal of Satan.
As the movie progresses, towards its known conclusion, it builds momentum, especially for those who think they know what is coming next. In a movie filled with changes and takes on the familiar story, the final one does justice to Mark’s Gospel. It would be unfair to speculate on the film maker’s vision here, but if Mark’s Gospel was an oral tradition before, then this conclusion and Mark’s critical conclusion are a powerful thump on the theologian’s chest concerning Jesus Christ.
The Judas Project (1993) attempted to retell the story of Jesus in a modern era, but this story attempts to draw the viewer into the cultural and political climate of the Gospels. It is filled with Liberationist and Imperial voices, taking into account many of the current themes in post-modern hermeneutics, and while it may not be the picturesque Jesus we are accustomed too, I believe that if a comparison of the climate in the Gospels’ thought world and any climate today, it would have to be told the way that this story was. It is powerful and provoking, and the more so with the conclusion.
The scenery, the music, the people make this movie a beautiful thing, but the story which is told encompasses so much more.