• 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


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    Saturday, December 16, 2017

    A.D. (2015) - Part 5

    This is part 5 of a series of posts covering A.D. episode by episode & are initial impressions not a review. You can read them all here.
    Having enjoyed episode 4 of A.D. The Bible Continues more than I expected I was kinda keen to watch this episode. Perhaps that led to heightened expectations, but if so, they were not fulfilled. The disappointment set in straight away with the fallout from the last episode's Ananias and Sapphira incident. Where the last episode featured a level of ambiguity, shock and even a degree of horror in proceedings, all that gets quickly mopped up. Peter is entirely cleared of culpability and the blame is laid firmly at God's door. The question of how a God of love could commit such an act is raised, ever so briefly, but it's quickly flitted over and swiftly brushed under the (historically appropriate) rug. Even the thought that this issue might be a serious concern for some of these believers seems to be overlooked. Ultimately it not only fails to portray the fear that the believers felt, but, at the other end of the scale, fails to present a response that seems consistent with either how they would have felt about it, nor mirrors what it's modern day audience might feel.

    One strange detail that becomes more apparent in this episode is that the early Christians seem to be living in a large camp. There doesn't seem to be any real precedence for this. These chapters of Acts (4-7) are set generally in, and perhaps around Jerusalem. There's even a reference to them being together in Solomon’s Portico, which was close to the temple. That said the idea of such a gradually increasing camp evokes the various Occupy camps that sprung up in 2011, which fits with a community where "no one claimed private ownership of any possessions" (Acts 4:32).

    The Stephen character, who we only met for the first time in the previous episode, soon becomes this one's focus. It's pretty clear from all of these early appearances that he's a hothead who has something of a martyr complex. In the last episode he pretty needlessly stood up to Roman soldiers, and here he's disappointed to be asked to "look after the camp"  - presumably referring to how he's first introduced in the Bible as someone picked to "wait on tables" (Acts 6:2-5). Stephen makes a point of the excellence of his training, and that he can speak four languages, arrogantly arguing he's "meant to preach". The foreshadowing here is too over-done.

    The second major weakness comes with the climax of the attempted assassination of Pilate story-line. As far as I know there's no evidence of this incident, so whilst it certainly not unlikely, the subplot's continuation over three episodes feels ever so dragged out. at the end of it all it's difficult to really figure how it has moved things on. It does end with a curious moment of interfaith harmony as Peter and Caiaphas end up doing an acapella duet of Psalm 69. The singing is a little out of tune, which is a nice touch, and the two men, for moment, see eye to eye. But then Peter turns it into an opportunity to preach the name of Jesus and Caiaphas has him arrested, allowing Stephen to escape back to tell the others.

    When the others turn up to help Peter, they too are arrested and we get the first of the miraculous escapes from prison (Acts 5:19-20). This done particularly crassly. The angel - who as with previous angels in this series is needlessly clad in armour - neatly stays still under a white spotlight whilst the rest of the prison stays fairly dark. The padlocks zing themselves off, and there's far too much glowing and smoking, but I suppose I should be pleased that at least he doesn't feel the need to chop through all the guards to lead his wards to freedom.

    Peter senses that they are to return to the temple and so the group end up preaching there again, this time (again in keeping with Acts 5) they end up before the council and Caiaphas is about to have them executed when Gamaliel steps in and offers his wisdom that if their movement is not from God  it will whither out but if it is from God they will not be able to stop it. I guess Christians and atheists will have quite different takes on this passage, but after 18 months of Brexit and Trump, Gamaliel's wisdom does not hold quite the same appeal it used to have.

    The result of Gamliel's pragmatic 'tolerance' is a fairly brutal flogging, with an odd configuration of whipping posts that is a little too obviously arranged for the cameras. The flogging seems both inspired by that of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004), but is also a little more restrained. It's one of the rare places that the violence in this series and its forerunner The Bible (2013) makes me actually think more deeply about something, rather than just feeling like it's ramped up to provide entertainment.

    Whilst the flogging leads Peter to a moment of introspection, Stephen is incensed and marches off to confront the Jewish council. He argues vehemently with Caiaphas, but it is an angry mob that drags him off while he's still yelling out lines from Acts 7. It's all a bit different to how it happens in the text with Stephen "full of grace" and the "appearance of an angel" nevertheless his passion here is an interesting take from the more placid character of my imagination. Either way, it's the same grim ending, which seems all the more brutal by the fact that he is tied to a post and so unable to bury his head. Again the violence here is justified and again it makes me feel a little differently about its source material. For me, it raises an interesting question: Why, given the end result is the same, is it more uncomfortable to see someone stoned to death if they can't bury their head.

    And so, with this episode having picked up the pace a little, we arrive at the start of Acts 8. Having recapped the end of the gospels and taken its time to get here, we finally get a glimpse of Saul who's role is pronounced, but rather awkward. I guess it's not difficult to predict what will be happening in the next episode.



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