Christian Movie Interviews, News and Reviews

The Gospel of John Movie Review

<i>The Gospel of John</i> Movie Review

Genre:  Christian

Rating:  PG

Release Date:  September 2003 (in selected theaters – see

Actors:  Henry Ian Cusick, Stuart Bunce, Daniel Kash’s, Richard Lintern, Stephen Russell, Scott Handy and Christopher Plummer as the Narrator.

Director:  Philip Saville

Special Notes:  I’ve already had a few people ask me if this movie will “ruin”, “conflict” or “hurt” Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion” (which will hopefully be released early next year). I even read a quote that said, “There are other Jesus movies in preparation, but 'The Gospel of John' is the one that most Christians have been waiting for.” Folks, please forgive me for bluntly expressing my opinion but shame on any of us for thinking that way. Christians should be thrilled that there are a couple of movies portraying Jesus and his ministry coming soon to a theater near you. Just as there are four different Gospels with four different interpretations of Christ and his ministry, so can (and should) there be a multitude of distinctly different movies telling the truth about Jesus.

I have seen Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion,” and it is a completely different story, focus and interpretation from “The Gospel of John,” so why would anyone think one would hurt the other or that one would be better than another? Isn’t that the beauty of telling a story and that there are many different ways to do so? Hollywood is famous for releasing movies with similar themes and storylines around the same time. Just this summer we were inundated with comic book heroes from “X2” and “The Hulk,” futuristic heroes from “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Terminator: Rise of the Machines” and within a week of each other we were given two very different pirate movies:  “Sinbad:  Legend of the Seven Seas” and “Pirates of the Caribbean:  The Curse of the Black Pearl.”. 

At a time in our culture when Hollywood is most comfortable using Jesus’ name as religious profanity in their movies, the church needs to rally behind the filmmakers who dare to give Jesus honor (and a platform) by making a movie about him. Provided they are good movies and the content is worthy of our money and patronage, let’s pay each film, its director and producers the respect they deserve by supporting their movies and the ultimate “good news” message that will reach the world.

Plot:  This is a three-hour epic feature on the story of Jesus’ life as described by His disciple John from the New Testament book of John. It is the first major theatrical picture of an entire book of the Bible adapted on a word-for-word basis and narrated by the actor Christopher Plummer. Along with the narration, Jesus (Cusick) is shown interacting with his disciples John (Bunce) and Peter (Kash) as well as Andrew, Philip, Thomas and Judas. There are several scenes where Jesus clashes with the leading Pharisee (Lintern), goes through his trial with Pilate (Russell) and meets up with Nicodemus and John the Baptist.  Many will recognize familiar characters:  Jesus' mother Mary, the sisters Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus, Mary Magdalene and the blind and lame men Jesus healed.

Good:  I sat in awe while watching this movie because it took Scripture that I’ve been familiar with for most of my life and transformed the familiar into a profound and intimate look at Jesus. I came out of the screening appreciating Christ, his teachings and his radical personality on a whole new level. Cusick portrays Jesus as an intelligent, manly, charismatic soul who has a tender heart towards women (saving one from being stoned), compassion on those who are sick, lame and blind, a righteous indignation when money changers invade the temple and a bold authority that challenged the pious religious authorities of his day.  Scriptwriter John Goldsmith ("Victoria and Albert", "Return of the Saint", "Great Expectations") unfolds the story of Jesus in an easy-to-understand language using the American Bible Society’s Good News Bible translation combined with Saville’s ("Metroland", "Hamlet", "Oedipus the King") keen directorial talents. The result is an entertaining, compelling and inspirational movie about Jesus that clearly explains why Jesus and his followers were at odds with the religious leaders of his day. As Jesus makes his messianic claims before the Pharisees and Sadducees, it’s like watching Shakespeare for the first time and actually understanding what the dialogue means. The impressive cast of about 75 principal actors from the Canadian and British stage and nearly 2,500 extras creates an international version of Jesus that doesn’t have an “American” look to it but instead feels as if you’re watching a documentary as it actually happened. The original score was recorded by the world-renowned Philharmonia Orchestra of London, using ancient instruments to achieve authentic sounds of the period. The music emotionally moves the film and is a perfect addition for this kind of story.

Bad:  Because this is a literal translation of the Gospel of John, there are a few scenarios and characters missing that are familiar to many people who have read the other Gospels.  For instance, there is no explanation of what happens to John the Baptist after he recognizes Christ as the true Savior. After Judas betrays Christ, we don’t see him hang himself. Jesus isn’t shown praying in the garden and asking that the cup be passed from him. There’s no explanation of who Mary Magdalene is and why she’s constantly hanging around the disciples and Christ. During his trial, Jesus is never taken to Herod, no man steps from the crowd to help Jesus carry his cross and the thief on the cross who's repentant isn’t told he will be in paradise that day with Jesus. And – perhaps most important for a person who might not know the story of Jesus nor be familiar with the Scriptures – there’s no explanation of his appearance before many in that area or his ascension into heaven, so the audience doesn't see or know what happens to Jesus after he appears to his disciples and lets them see the holes in his hands. I'm aware that some of these scenarios are minor points to the story and in no way take anything away from the Gospel of John as it is literally translated. But I feel it’s important to recognize that there may be a few people who see this movie who don’t know the story of Jesus, who aren’t familiar with the Scriptures and therefore have no idea of what happened in the other Gospels. So you may want to fill in the blanks with answers to some of those questions if you happen to attend the movie with an unbeliever.

Bottom Line:  I realize people may be overwhelmed at the thought of a three-hour movie. But truthfully the story is so compelling and entertaining that it doesn’t feel like a long movie. And when it was over, I wanted more. This is an obvious, excellent teaching tool for adolescents and teens to become familiar with Jesus and what he stood for. But I can truthfully say that as a “seasoned” Christian who has been a believer my entire life, watching this movie gave me a renewed appreciation for Jesus and the struggles he went through to bring God’s message to the world. The movie made me appreciate the Scriptures that have (through the years) become so familiar and seeing Jesus’ uniquely human character in dialogue form gave me a renewed intimacy and appreciation for the sacrifice he made on the cross. His radical personality, his passion for the truth to be told so that many would be saved, his compassion, and his heart made me fall in love with Jesus all over again, and I bet this movie has the same effect on you!