New Line Cinema, PG, 12/1/06, Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke, 101 Min., Cast: Keisha Castle-Hughes (Mary), Oscar Isaac (Joseph), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Elizabeth), Stanley Townsend (Zechariah), Ciaran Hinds (Herod The Great).
Come see this movie, it is time well spent, even during the busy Christmas season. After all it is the story of the season and actually well done. This movie is good overall and very good in many parts. Hollywood rarely gives us a film based upon the Bible that can be taken seriously from a Christian perspective.
First for the very good or even excellent: The film does a superior job at portraying the lifestyle of first century folk in Nazareth of Galilee. You get a real taste of what life was really like back then, as you watch the characters involved in their daily work and economy. Quite realistic. Also the movie sets did accurately represent the houses and buildings of that time period.
The movie gives us a real taste of what it was probably like to be Mary and Joseph living in Nazareth. Keisha Castle-Hughes does a good job portraying Mary as still very much a child facing adolescence. Joseph (Oscar Isaac) is of coarse, much older and more mature. This insight is worth the price of admission and even popcorn and a drink. After the pregnancy of Mary was apparent, the difficult decisions that Joseph faced and the ultimate rejection of both Mary and Joseph was well done and effectual. The scenes of their difficult trip to Bethlehem were accurate, but probably longer than need be.
The hopelessness and fear of regular folk for the Roman military and the political structures was well demonstrated. The movie showed Herod involved in building projects and concerned with raising funds through taxes, this is quite accurate. Herod ‘The Great’ was well known around the Roman Empire as a ‘builder’, he not only sponsored the rebuilding of the Temple, but built a number of cities, stadiums and palaces/fortresses like Massada, as portrayed in the movie. Also, Herod’s storied obsession with putting down any possible threat to his rule, real or imagined, was well represented by Ciaran Hinds.
Now for the not so excellent parts: The Magi were presented as ‘comic relief’ in the movie. These ‘characters’ did make the film more entertaining, so I guess we should be somewhat forgiving of this tried and true Hollywood formula. Since so little is really known about them, taking some liberty is acceptable. However, there should be limits. The ‘Wise men’ in the movie decide on their own not to go back to Herod and inform him of the child. The Biblical text makes it clear that they were warned in a dream. Then there is the question of whether they were even there that first Christmas night.
The timing of several of the key events in the movie is off in comparison to the Biblical texts. Since so many of these events are traditionally associated with the Christmas story, we should be forgiving.
What about the Magi, after all, every Nativity display has them there at the birth of Jesus? What would the ‘Nativity Story’ be like without the three guys bearing gifts? Every child would ask their parents: “Where’s the Three Kings and their camels?”. However, a careful reading of Matthew 2 clearly shows that the Magi didn’t show up in Judea until some months after the event, and didn’t bring their gifts to the stable, but to the house where the baby Jesus and his parents were now living in Bethlehem. Also, while we are at it, the text really doesn’t say that there were three of them, it just mentions three gifts.
The movie also has Herod sending his troops to Bethlehem that very night, and Joseph leaving for Egypt with Mary and baby Jesus immediately (before they even take Jesus to the Temple). Matthew 2 makes it clear that these events happened quite a few months latter. That is why Herod ordered the troops to kill all the children under 2 years and not just the newborns.
Overall, “The Nativity Story” is a good movie and I highly recommend it. It is the one Hollywood production that all Christians should be able to support and take their families to, particularly during this Christmas season.