Son of God (Christopher Spencer, 2014, United States).
It is difficult to make a good Jesus film. It is difficult to manage audience expectations, with thoughtful biblical scholarship and the unique artistic vision of a filmmaker. Moreover, it is difficult to make a film out of a story that people are not only exceedingly familiar, but also personally and spiritually invested. The perils are many and if Christopher Spencer’s film Son of God does not meet our expectations it is perhaps no surprise. Jesus films are wrought with inherent challenges from their very inception.
Given these many challenges and limitations, it is perhaps best for Christian audiences to focus their attention on the details. For instance, what are the unique contributions or insights this Jesus film offers as opposed to the others? Where does this Jesus film bring us a little closer to the mystery of Christ? Even the most mundane Jesus film has its thoughtful moments. So what are those moments in Son of God?
Interestingly, Son of God, which is often formulaic and stilted in its presentation, offers a unique insight into something often lacking in many other Jesus films, namely, the Eucharist. More specifically, it offers a creative imagining of how the early Christian community made the connection between Jesus’ breaking of the bread and sharing of the wine at the Last Supper and his continued abiding presence with the community through their sharing of that meal in his memory.
The scene comes toward the film’s conclusion. Mary, Peter, and John are at the empty tomb when Peter, overcome with what he is seeing and being told, believes that Jesus has risen from the dead. Peter immediately races to the dark Upper Room where the apostles and disciples are gathered with heavy hearts. Initially his joy and enthusiasm is not shared. But, looking around for something to help convey the reason for his hope, he catches a glimpse of bread and wine sitting upon a table. The same type of bread, incidentally, that Jesus shared at the Last Supper. In a moment of inspiration, Peter takes the bread and breaks it in that dark room. As he breaks the bread, Jesus enters the room through an open door, emerging from the only light shinning into the room. In that instant, Jesus becomes present to them in a new way, and all are amazed.
This scene is compelling because it offers a theologically rich speculation as to how the first Christian community came to grasp a deeper meaning to the Eucharist. Artistically, this scene thoughtfully visualizes the memorial dimension of the eucharistic celebration as Christ is made present through breaking bread in his memory. In terms of ecclesiology, the scene offers the notion that Peter was the one to initially make this connection and thus prioritizes him in the community. Liturgically, one could extrapolate that, based upon this occurrence, the community might likely continue to gather to break bread because of this experience.
It is, no doubt, a thought-provoking scene. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the film lacks this kind of creative re-imagining. Nevertheless, because of a scene like this, Son of God does make its own small contribution to the Jesus film genre, and thankfully, it is a eucharistic one.