The Young Messiah offers a unique perspective on our Savior that no other story ever has, and will cause viewers to contemplate Jesus, Mary and Joseph in ways they likely never have before. 3.5 out of 5.
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Based on the novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice, this fictional but reverent account imagines Jesus at age seven. The Holy Family – Mary, Joseph and a young Jesus – have been in their Egyptian exile since fleeing Judea, hiding from King Herod after his infamous Massacre of the Innocents. Now, with Jesus as a boy and King Herod dead, an angel instructs Joseph to return to their homeland. As they set out with Mary's extended family, Jesus's miracle-working power continues to grow. It's something his own young mind can't fully comprehend. Mary and Joseph struggle with how much they should reveal to Jesus about who his Father really is, and whether he's ready to hear about the fullness of his identity. Meanwhile, Roman soldiers have been commissioned by Herod's son – who's as paranoid as his father was – to find this family and kill "the boy."
The premise itself is a Jesus story we've never seen before, so that alone offers a fresh perspective... and intrigue. And while there's no scriptural detail of Jesus at this age to go by, The Young Messiah's fictional narrative remains true to the nature of how Jesus is revealed in the Gospels. It allows for a deeper exploration of the "fully human" side of Christ, and how his "fully God" essence – both in power and in wisdom – may have expressed itself just as his humanity was beginning to mature. The film's most fascinating moments, which include miraculous acts, are when Jesus begins to express himself in the prophetic. They're depicted in exchanges with a Rabbi that reveal just how wise beyond his years Jesus really is, with a deep understanding of Scripture and how the Father operates. We also see the burden of responsibility that Mary and Joseph bear as parents to a child like no other, and the climactic moment between Mary and Jesus – packed with maternal weight and emotional power – is the film's most moving.
The subplot involving the Roman soldiers on a mission to kill Jesus offers little tension or dramatic stakes, as we know their efforts are destined to be futile. Overall, the film's efforts at suspense rely too much on Jesus being in peril. As the lead soldier, Sean Bean provides a credible internal conflict about his mission, but the film's emotional and contemplative core lies elsewhere. Also, in an age when culture is more sensitive to ethnic authenticity, the mostly-British (and all-British-sounding) cast keeps us from experiencing a full immersion into this time and place.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
The very basis evokes a contemplation of Christ, who he was, is, and what he came to do. While it does (by necessity) take scriptural liberties – from miracles being performed long before the Wedding at Cana, to assuming Christ wasn't self-aware of his own divinity and needed to come to the realization, to the assassination attempt on young Jesus's life – these liberties do not diminish or theologically transform what Christians generally profess and believe. More specifically, scriptural inference can be cited for two of these liberties: Jesus learning about the fullness of who he was (Luke 2:40 & 46) and a possible assassination attempt upon his return to Judea (Matthew 2:22-23). For the third – performing miracles before the first "water into wine" citation of the Gospels – a late conversation between Mary and Jesus provides a context to reconcile that disparity.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
- Language/Profanity: One use of the D-word. A few slurs.
- Sexuality/Nudity: A man pushes a woman to the ground (the insinuation being an intent to rape). Implied sexuality with a dancer in Herod's court. Men bathing in the river while only wearing their loins.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: A mysterious devil/demon figure lurks at times, but more of a deceiving presence than a scary one (and a benign looking human figure). Some bullying. A boy dies following an accident. A woman stabs a man who attempts to rape her. Bible-era violence, but not overly graphic, including Roman soldiers in fights, battles, and wielding oppression. Some children are in peril during these scenes. Bodies hanging on crucifixes. One man on a crucifix begs to be killed to relieve his pain (he's stabbed to meet his request). Brief shots of blood (on a hand, on a knife). Various scenes of people getting hurt (as setup for Jesus healing them). Some moments of peril for Jesus and his family. A flashback to Herod's slaughter of babies.
Drugs/Alcohol: Some drinking of wine.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone intrigued by the premise – believers and otherwise – and fans of the biblical epic genre. Safe for middle schoolers and up, and some grade schoolers (depending on the child's general sensitivity).
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: People who only go to the movies for lightweight escapist entertainment, or biblical literalists who prefer not to ponder any art that delves into what Scripture leaves out.
The Young Messiah, directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, opened in theaters March 11, 2016; available for home viewing June 14, 2016. It runs 111 minutes, and stars Adam Greaves-Neal, Sara Lazzaro, Vincent Walsh, and Sean Bean. Watch the trailer for The Young Messiah here.
Jeff Huston is a writer/director/editor for Steelehouse Productions, a film & video production company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is also a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. In 2015, his short film Pink Shorts was a finalist in HBO's Project Greenlight competition, and was one of six winners in that show's online "Greenie Awards."
Publication date: March 10, 2016