• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Saturday, April 17, 2010

    Father Figures in Bible Films

    Over at Arts and Faith, Steven D. Greydanus has been asking "about father figures in mainstream Hollywood filmmaking". It's a subject I've thought about a few times, particularly in writing my chapter on "Men In Movies" for Cut to the Chase 0.5. So I've contributed a few ideas over there, but, unsurprisingly, I got to think of the depiction of Father's in Bible films.

    This is interesting to me because the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is full of spectacularly bad parents. Jacob favours one son so much his brothers sell him into slavery. Jesse thinks David is so unimportant he pretends he doesn't exist when the important man of God comes by. Adam brings his son up so badly that he kills his brother (even without video games). Moses' dad leaves his wife to float him down the river, and Abraham actually tries to kill his son. And don't get me started on Lot. Not exactly a great track record.

    Bible films, on the other hand, are another matter, reflecting not only the original text but also contemporary culture.

    The first film to spring to mind was the father-son relationship in The Bible Collection's Jesus (pictured). Admittedly the film focuses on the relationship between Joseph and his grown up son, but there is clearly a very strong relationship between the two. The film's pre-credit sequence shows Joseph comforting Jesus after a nightmare whilst the two are on the road looking for work, and as the credits roll we see a long shot of the two walking across the landscape talking, joking, touching and Joseph passing on his wisdom. It's such a nice shot that I'm surprised I've not noticed it before. The two men work together and there's a good mix of banter, humility and respect displayed in the opening scenes. Joseph's death propels Jesus into pursuing his ministry, but not before his moving, and unanswered, prayers for his heavenly Father to bring back to life his earthly Father.

    Another Bible film with adult Father to Son relationships is the African film La Genèse. The film, in one sense is about two fathers, Jacob and Hamor, and their wayward sons who trouble them and dishonour their names.

    The Bible story which most often features a child is the Moses story, though sadly it's not Moses' frequently ignored son Gershom, but the son of the Pharaoh who is fleshed out. There are a variety of approaches here. DeMille's original Ten Commandments depicts the boy as a brat who even kicks Moses so there's very little sympathy when he's wiped out in the tenth plague. This changes a bit in DeMille's 1956 version where Ramsees' care for the boy is one of his redeeming features. The most striking depiction of the Pharaoh and his son is from the silent film L'Exode which depicts the relationship between father and son so positively that you end up wondering which side you are meant to be rooting for.

    And then, of course, there are the films about Abraham and Lot, none of which really stick out in their portrayal of fathers, save perhaps Sodom and Gomorrah which I watched recently. There Lot is the over bearing father of two adult daughters, but he's one of those fathers who makes strict rules, but spends so little time with his daughters that he really has no idea what they are up to. Perhaps therein lies the lesson.



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