Movie Review and Outline: The Young Messiah
2016, 1492 Productions and Focus Features (NBC Universal)
The following movie review was sent to us by member Julie Cole, Director of Children's Ministries at Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Lakewood Colorado. "The Young Messiah" appeared in theaters Winter 2016 and is available on DVD.
The movie does have a long scene showing the boy Jesus in the Temple interacting with others. It's fascinating and thought-provoking, but of course, it is mostly imagined as Luke says very little about what Jesus did there. See Julie's notes below about that scene and others.
This full-length movie imagines what Jesus may have been like, and what he may have been thinking and doing at age 7.
Most of the movie is not scriptural, it is imagined. But much of what it depicts is plausible or reflective of what the adult Jesus did and said.
The movie depicts several instances of Jesus healing other people, and the effect that had on those around him. The Romans are still searching for the boy born in Bethlehem. One of those scenes takes place in the Temple where the boy Jesus is depicted as learning, teaching, healing, and hiding.
The final two scenes come highly recommended by our reviewer: Mary and Jesus at a picnic where she explains to him who he is.
The reviewer gives it a PG rating for some violence (Romans, etc). The movie received mixed reviews, though religious films often do. It succeeds in many ways, particularly in getting us to imagine what it must have been like to be his parents -knowing what they knew, and how that knowledge MAY have begun to unfold in Jesus' awareness -and the impact it would have on his family.
We are grateful to Julie for her thorough review and outline of the film!
The movie screenplay is based on a novel by Anne Rice called “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.” Of course the writers added/changed some things, as they always do, but they were the ones who said this. Forewarning: I am going to tell you about the entire movie, so it will ruin the ending for you! Ha!
Jesus is 7 years old during the entire story. The family (Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Mary’s brother, his wife, and two other children who we are told are Jesus’ cousins) decides to leave Egypt and return to Nazareth. The impetus for the move is two-fold: an incident with Jesus and some other town bully boys, and Joseph’s knowledge that Herod is dead from his dream. The incident with the boys is the beginning of the film; Jesus gets bullied and in the process of the altercation one of the bullies dies. Satan is in the background in this and many scenes, and he is really the one who causes the death, but he whispers into a bystander’s ear that Jesus caused it and that’s what the crowd goes with. Jesus is the only one in the whole movie who can see Satan, but others can hear him whisper to them.
After some interactions with Jesus and his family, some town people tell Joseph they want him to take his family and leave. But here is the first kinda strange (to me) thing. In the process of the town people being upset that this boy died, Jesus sneaks into the boy’s house and touches the boy’s face and he comes back to life. There are flashbacks of Jesus doing this with a dead bird on the beach another day, with his cousins watching. It is one of these cousins who suggests that Jesus go do what he did with the bird to the dead boy, and Jesus does. But he doesn’t really understand how he is doing this or that he actually has power. This is another recurring theme throughout the movie – Jesus keeps asking questions and his parents keep telling him he is too young to know or understand if they answered his questions. In other scenes Joseph and Mary are seen talking/crying and are torn about how much to tell Jesus, but the whole family knows the truth.
Ok, so they leave and start heading toward Nazareth. They take a boat and meet some other travelers, some good, some not. Then they are traveling on foot and Jesus wanders ahead and witnesses a pretty graphic bloody battle between Roman soldiers and Jews hiding in caves along the trail. The main Roman Soldier “saves” Jesus by pushing him down out of the way, and this becomes a key point later in the movie. Another recurring theme throughout is that the Romans have learned that Jesus is still alive and are searching for him to kill him. Again, this is mostly at the ugly whispers of Satan in the ears of Romans. Lots of “just missed him” scenes as they move around harassing all the Jews.
Along the travel, the uncle gets very sick and is dying. Jesus goes up to hug uncle who is wading out into the Jordan, they dip down underwater together (baptism symbolism) and uncle comes up clean and healed. Again it’s a miracle Jesus is given credit for by the family.
They arrive in Nazareth and Joseph and uncle take Jesus and his boy cousin (named James, which makes it a bit confusing, brother? Cousin?) to the Rabbi to enroll them in Synagogue School. It begins with the Rabbi questioning Jesus but then the tables turn and guess who ends up looking the smartest? Yup, 7-year-old Jesus. There are some humorous moments, and this is one.
Shortly thereafter Jesus catches a fever and is very sick in bed. Satan visits him and talks to him (remember Jesus is the only one who can actually see Satan), but Satan isn’t really sure who Jesus is and even asks him who he is. Satan reaches out to touch Jesus and Jesus very firmly tells him not to ever touch him! Just want to shout Hooray! at this point! Anyway, here’s another weird thing . . . the next scene is Satan taking young Jesus up to a mountaintop to see a burning Jerusalem. Hmmm……premonition of their desert conversations 21 years in the future?
Jesus gets better and asks his parents to take him to Jerusalem. While they think and ponder, Jesus sneaks out in the middle of the night and goes there by himself (-which is NOT in the scripture, of course, but interesting). The Romans are still searching for him -including around the Temple, and there are more near-misses as Jesus enters the Temple area. Jesus finds a blind Rabbi in the Temple and questions him about the events of the Messiah’s birth 7 years prior (guess since his parents weren’t too anxious to tell him he decided to ask elsewhere), and he gets some answers. In the process the Romans appear, Jesus realizes they are seeking him, hugs the Rabbi goodbye and sneaks away. All of a sudden the Rabbi can see, and he makes a big scene about that. (This miracle too is not in the scripture, but the adult Jesus healed many people during his visits in the Temple, so it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility or without meaning.)
The Romans find Jesus in the Temple crowds and a standoff ensues. Mary and Joseph show up just in time. Think back to the head Roman who saved Jesus in the earlier battle out on the trail, well he is the one who has been seeking Jesus and now stands to confront him. His orders were to kill Jesus, but of course, this doesn’t happen. The family leaves and goes back to Nazareth.
The final two scenes became my favorites, and are probably the ones that I would recommend showing to children under 12. Mary and Jesus are out on a picnic and she cuddles him close and tells him everything. The immaculate conception, angels, her and Joseph’s struggles on when/how much to share with Jesus, and that he must not use his powers until his Father in Heaven leads him to.
The last scene is Jesus walking over a mountain trail to reconnect with his traveling family while talking to himself and coming to the conclusion that he is there at this time to just be a boy and grow up and wait on God.
Up until this very last two scenes, there are many gruesome visuals – lots of battles, deaths, crucifixions, and so on - mingled into the story. Also mingled in is Jesus wanting to learn more, which would be good for kids to understand except it might be hard to cut out the violence. I’d give this a PG, and more comfortably a PG-13 because of all that.
I personally struggled with the idea that Jesus performed miracles before the ones we are told about in the Bible. Also, if some of the events were meant to be preambles to what we know happened (i.e. going to the Temple when he was 7 when the Bible tells us he went when he was 12), then I guess that is ok; but if they are meant differently, then no. I do understand that making a movie based on three lines of scripture requires some imagination . . .
Director of Children's Ministries
Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian Church