Friday, June 15, 2007

The Nativity Story

The other night I watched The Nativity Story on DVD (New Line 2006, Dir: Catherine Hardwicke) - link to trailer below, watch it! What an opening to a film...words scroll down over the backdrop of 1st century Jerusalem informing us that this is the time of Herod's rule, who is troubled by the words of an ancient prophecy:
'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.'
Now, first of all let's get the negative comments out of the way, for this film does fall short in a couple of areas. First, the scene of the birth of Christ is far too influenced by the traditional view: Joseph appears to have no connections in Bethlehem at all, being stuck in a kind of cave/stable with the cows and sheep, a shaft of light from The Star shines through hole in stable roof illuminating the scene, the three maji turn up right on cue - you know the thing. I suppose this is a valid view, but many scholars would place some of these details in the 'unlikely' category. Second, the supernatural interventions are played down too much. I admire the restraint and earthiness in the film, but I'm sorry, Zechariah is just not terrified enough in the Temple (!) and there is no attempt to portray the armies of heaven that appear to the shepherds (I was intensely disappointed about this!). Third, the narrative is telescoped to bring Herod's slaughter of the boys of Bethlehem directly into the timeframe of the birth of Christ. Consequently, the flight to Egypt occurs directly and there's no reference to Jesus' presentation in the Temple and Simeon and Anna, which I felt would be the perfect ending to the film, given its prophecy-laden beginning.

However, all that is but niggling. I loved this film. New Line (who produced the LOTR films) have done an excellent job of recreating 1st C Palestine. It's all there, the Temple looks magnificent enough to move any NT scholar (someone described Jerusalem as Minas-Tirith-impressive), Herod's paranoia and self-aggrandisement are palpable (with reference to his murdered sons and wife), the weight of his taxes upon the common people a constant theme, along with the fermenting rebellion in Galilee, crucified rebels and the rising Messianic expectation of the people. The massacre in Bethlehem is shocking. It's a triumph of story-telling in that the context seems so right, so earthy and human. This is even more the case in the characters of Mary and her family, and Joseph. The shame of being pregnant out of marriage is real in Nazareth - the penalty of Torah hangs over Mary and her family. The way in which Gabriel's visits to Mary then to Joseph forge strength in what is initially a failing relationship is a human detail I hadn't considered before. There are many things besides. This is a must-see, I think. It re-incarnates into the real world a story which has been pietized. Mary is just a young girl. An observant Jewish girl, but still just a young girl. Her family are desperately poor. And this is the place into which Messiah comes! For a start, watch the trailer. It will give you a feeling for it. A good feeling!