FILM REVIEW: THE YOUNG MESSIAH – Exploring The Young Years Of Jesus Christ

NOVI, MI – I was always interested in the early life of Jesus as a child. I had only heard stories and even then had no way to prove if they were myths, legends or folklore. One in particular had Jesus working as a carpenter with his father Joseph. They had cut a wooden beam too short and Jesus was able to stretch it back out to the right length. As I grew older I sought out the lost Infant Gospels of Jesus’ early life as a toddler. There were many stories there too including some where he brought back his playmates to life. He was also reported to have made clay birds and clapped his hands to have them fly away. People would witness these events and the Holy Family would have to move quite frequently.

That is where this story begins and Jesus is at the age of 7. It follows a year in his life leading up to Passover where he visits the Holy Temple. This is a very curious film and it digs at a lot of questions surrounding those early days. This is a very interesting narrative because it borrows some of the same themes of the Infant Gospels while connecting the audience to His Divine purpose. Before the theologians get all upset I need to remind you that this is based on a novel by Anne Rice, “Christ The Lord Out Of Egypt”. There are lots of ancient stories floating around in various cultures. Some say Christ was taken out of his home town to live with merchants while hiding from King Herod. There the story says that he went by the name of Issa. Some say that he travelled to India. Some records place Christ at age 44 when he died instead of 33. This is a very loaded topic and as a film it is handled with a sense of confidence and bravery. That is the way it should be handled. It is a fascinating area of study and this is a good place to start.

What is most interesting about Jesus is that he was human. He lived just like us and his parents kept the truth from him about the details of his existence. The Gospel has him performing miracles after his baptism and yet this film has him performing miracles as a child. I am respectful about how I handle this subject because there is a lot we don’t know. All of Christ’s early life was purposely left out of the Bible. There are entire books missing and left out on purpose. The Catholic Bible has a few extra books in it. Some authors claim to have acquired their sources from the Vatican basement and have translated accounts to be shared with the world. The basement is 50 miles long and is filled with many documents. There are a lot of answers down there that are protected from the rest of the world and maybe for our own safety?

But to put this story in the context of a film is a very brave thing to do. It is going to invite a lot of criticism, backlash and in some cases outrage. The framework, although controversial, is contained in a work of fiction. That being said, Anne Rice’s book offers some interesting plot twists and story conventions that makes it all work.

There is one part in here that is most notable and useful for non-believers.  Jesus is confronted with the evil enemy while in a state of fever. He is trying to figure out his place in the world and who he is exactly. Jesus asks the enemy, “You don’t know how this is all going to end do you?”. Christ is referring to the Book of Revelation and how the Glory of God will triumph. The enemy looks worried and concerned. The enemy cannot forecast the future and is here to lie, cheat, and destroy. Christ is victorious in word, and the power comes through His Grace. We as humanity accept this gift as believers to overcome obstacles.  That is a very interesting and important message in this film so it is important not to overlook it.

King Herod orders the killing of all children under the age of 2. That horrendous scene is reenacted here to put the film in its proper context. Jesus Christ escapes that horrible episode with his family and they hide in Egypt. His father Joseph is alerted through a dream to come back with the announcement of the death of King Herod. But Herod’s son has taken up the position as King and wants Jesus out of the way. The Holy Family travels to Nazareth.

Jesus is played by Adam Greaves-Neal and brings a lot of dimension to the character. Young Christ is troubled with the duality of his human nature and His Divine Purpose. He is filled with questions and declares that he is going to go to Passover. The journey will be filled with problems as King Herod sends Severus, his most faithful soldier, to kill Jesus. There are a couple of close episodes. Herod stops at nothing to accomplish this feat and is driven with hate and madness. An interesting thing here is that he is at war with God directly. As a result he lives in constant fear of venomous vipers and even hears them in his living quarters at all times. That would be enough to convince anyone to stop but his heart is so hardened that he continues his war.

It is interesting to see how the other children relate to young Jesus. Some of the kids hate him and invite him to fights. Some see the beauty in him and are enthralled with his presence. His cousin James is somewhat jealous of him from what I could tell or maybe envious. James used the word hate but is more concerned about him than anything.  Jesus’ uncle Cleopas is most interesting.  The cousins and uncle’s presence and interaction with young Jesus fleshes out a family scenario that we, as an audience, can relate to.

What is a film? It is to provoke thought, entertain and even ask us to participate to some level. It is not to declare an authoritative position. It is not a manifesto or propaganda, (although Leni Riefenstahl might answer differently). A film is there to create an artistic expression overall and that sentiment is going to get lost with theologians, Bible bashers, and clergymen alike.

As a film, it totally works, there is so much to look at. The recreation of the three Wise men are incredible. It is if the art director took direct visual cues from religious paintings from the ages. I see Rembrandt in here, I see Da Vinci, and am transported through time. The film was shot in parts of Italy and the terrain is authentic to the Holy Lands. There is nothing offensive here and everything seems to click. I was most impressed with the Holy Temple on Passover. Those scenes are incredible and the guards were dressed in very impressive outfits. I couldn’t take my eyes off of their battle shields which had the Star of David on them.

One of my favorite moments in the film is when Jesus meets the Rabbis in the Holy Temple. He goes toe to toe in scripture and the Holy Word. He knows them by heart and I have never seen that enacted on a film before and it is fascinating to watch. I have seen paintings of it and have heard about it happening in the Gospel but haven’t seen that dialogue in action.

There is a confrontation with Severus, the Roman soldier and the Holy Family.  I won’t ruin anything here but you get to enter this interesting, barbaric, and violent world through the eyes of a different director. It adds another dimension to the story. It brings the Living World into a fuller context that you can grasp onto and ponder on.  This is a loaded theme and a powerful film experience.

It is also a great film for your family because it opens the conversation up into who Christ was. There are enough conversation starter points for every age level in your family. This brings the message of Jesus Christ into our new modern age and will connect those who have lost hope. No matter where you stand on the issue of details this is one motion picture that will draw you closer.




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