• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    The Nativity Story Revisited

    It's had been 3 years since I last saw The Nativity Story, indeed, after the hours spent discussing the build up to the film I had only seen it once in its entirety. So this year I decided I really should watch it again in the run up to Christmas.

    After such a long gap I was pleased to see that the film was still largely as I had remembered it. The opening scenes were still striking in their portrayal of 1st century peasant life, the latter section moved far more towards Christmas card piety. The wise men were still irritating and the weak dialogue was still exacerbated by the slightly suspect use of middle-eastern accents. This time around though I even noticed that even in the school scene the children use this exaggerated accents ("steeel small voice").

    There were a few other things I noticed this time that didn't really ring true however. Firstly, the arrival of the tax collectors in one of the early scenes seemed a bit showy. Not only were there a fairly large number of soldiers to carry out what is essentially an administrative duty (albeit one that might cause some trouble, but they all came complete with several standards and so forth. I suppose this may all be in keeping with how these things were generally done, but it didn't really ring true for me.

    But what really stood out this time was once these tax collecting soldiers had actually begun to collect money. The people cue up to offer their excuses and we see the soldiers take a man's daughter as payment. It's a fairly disturbing scene for a PG-rated film. It creates tension, and as the girl is the same age as our heroine we begin to fear for Mary. Thankfully though her father is also unable to pay his full amount, he does at least have a donkey who the soldiers can take instead.

    On seeing this Joseph, who we have already witnessed eyeing Mary up steps in and secretly pays off the soldiers to win back the family's goat. Its function is to establish Joseph as a good man. The thing is that I can't help wondering why Joseph redeems the donkey and not the daughter. It could be argued that he wants to impress Mary, but in all other matters he is happy to do his bidding through her parents. Or that he were trying to impress her father, except that he swears Mary to silence. Surely the actions of a good man with some means would be to save the other girl? This would also impress Mary (who is probably her friend and most certainly knows her), and if he wanted to help Mary's family he can always bring his offer of marriage and dowry forward a little.

    The other two things that stood out for me this time around were more positive. The first concerns the census. Herod, aware of Micah's prophecy, states that he plans to use this to try and smoke out any potential messiah. What struck me is that we only know about the census because Herod tells us about it. There's no arrival of soldiers, or a messenger of any sort, so whilst it's natural to assume that this thing has the backing of the empire, it is an assumption, and this time around there was something about the way that Ciarin Hinds delivered the line that made me suspect that it might have been his fabrication.

    If true this would be an interesting take on this problematic census. The census is recorded only in Luke, but according to non-biblical sources it did not occur until 6AD - at least 10 years after the most likely date for Jesus' birth. Is the film suggesting that Herod invented the census hence why Luke mentions it but the external evidence fails to corroborate it?

    Finally, I also noticed the scene where Mary washes Joseph's bleeding feet. This obviously anticipates Mary's son washing his disciples' feet as an adult. It's a nice detail, particularly as it is one of the few things that Mary actually chooses to do. For most of the film she is acted upon - passive rather than active.

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