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Philip Saville’s The Gospel of John (2003) believes in what Jesus is doing, in His mission. Heretical it ain’t. It’s reverent–and, for the most part, sensibly done.
Why, it even obeys all but one of critic Dwight MacDonald’s rules of success for biblical films, propounded in 1965. One of these rules is Use the original script. Another is The story of Jesus should be told with reverence for the text in the New Testament . . . but with irreverence for the sensibilities of contemporary religious groups–Buddhist, Moslem, Taoist, Catholic or Jewish.” Hear, hear! That’s The Gospel of John all over!
Henry Ian Cusick enacts Jesus Christ with necessary charisma and aplomb. He’s very good, just as he was on the TV series “Lost.” There is much in Saville’s directing that is very good too, as witness the Cana wedding scene. There, much to a servant’s quiet amazement, water becomes wine and a happy feast remains happy. Jesus stands apart from the celebrants, whereas before he was sitting with them, and wears a serious look on his face, as though thinking of future events, such as the Atonement, more important than this one. Also worthy is the shot-series where Mary, the sister of Martha, washes the Lord’s feet in ointment and dries them with her hair–a scene of intimacy not even interrupted by Jesus’ mild rebuke of Judas Iscariot. I love the ending of the film, too, with Christ walking ahead of His disciples on the seashore, reminding the perplexed Peter to “Follow Me,” before the final shot of John occurs in a freeze frame. Lovely.
Gospel moves with a proper rhythm, but, as in John’s account, there is a great deal of sermonizing by Jesus. The movie is for those who understand or at least suspect there is genuine value in the evangel, or for those with an interest in the life of Jesus, or for those disciples of His who seek to be edified. Many of them have been, I’m sure.