Jesus of Hollywood

As the Easter season draws to a close, it is time to reflect on our annual family movie ritual. While we did not manage to get through all of The Ten Commandments this year, we did manage to get a pair of Jesus movies under our belts – The Last Temptation of Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.

This got me thinking about the role of Jesus. It occurred to me that Anabaptist theology views the dramatic portrayal of the Savior as somewhere between distasteful and blasphemous. But that’s OK. They aren’t missing much.

According to this (mostly accurate) list, 11 actors have tackled the role of Jesus, though I’d say Kenneth Colley’s portrayal in Life of Brian was little more than that of an extra. So, of the remaining films, I’ve seen four. Let’s review some Christs:


To say that James Caviezel played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ (2004) is stretching it a bit. Director Mel Gibson decided that everyone should speak Aramaic (even though Greek was probably spoken equally at the time) to camouflage the movie’s terrible acting in the first half f the flick. And then Gibson spent the second half turning Caviezel into steak tartar. Caviezel wasn’t so much acting for most of the movie as screaming and falling down umpteen times on the way to Golgotha. His role was forgettable.


Willem Dafoe’s portrayal in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) strikes me as the most unusual and honest of the bunch. Dafoe took a stab at trying to reconcile the disparate personality traits of the Biblical Jesus, but, in doing so, created a Jesus that would be hard pressed to inspire a mob to follow him. His speech lacks any rhetorical flair and his generally wussy nature doesn’t call to mind the man who faced down demons and Pharisees. For a movie with such interesting ideas about the mortal nature of Christ, its leading man appeared to be playing another role all together.


Jesus Christ Superstar (1971) was as much about Jesus as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was about its title character. The real star of this singing, dancing extravaganza was Carl Anderson’s Judas, who totally rocks out in the closing number. Ted Neeley’s groovy, far-out performance seems to have been cast as much for his bell-clear tenor as his appearance or acting ability.



Robert Powell is the Jesus that you show your kids. Jesus Of Nazareth (1977) has the triple advantage of being basically Biblically sound, showing the Jews in a sympathetic light and lasting six hours, giving you an hour of peace and quiet each night during Easter Week. Powell plays a very intense, or stoned, Jesus, depending on your level of skepticism. Rarely blinking, talking deliberately and exhibiting a Buddhist calm, Powell is a very slow, 1970s Jesus who won’t frighten the kiddies.


One Response to “Jesus of Hollywood”

  1. I Believe In One Lord And One Savior And God Himself In Human
    Form Of A Man Named Jesus The One Whom The Father Had Lo
    ved Very Much Because He Sent Him To Save Us! Hallelujah!!!

    PS Jesus Christ Is The Only Son Of The Father Whom The
    Jews Had Rejected His Divine Relationship With His He
    avenly Father!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: