• 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


    Monday, October 11, 2021

    The Chosen (2019) s1e02

    A couple of episodes in and I must admit, I'm kind of enjoying The Chosen (2019). I have some quibbles, of course, but nothing major so far and it's seeing this Netflix-style approach to the story of Jesus. Part of this is down to the appeal of the opening episodes as a sort of origins story. Even by the end of episode two Jesus is still a peripheral, and therefore somewhat mysterious figure. We know – roughly, at least – how the story is going to turn out, but it's interesting seeing some of the backstory, that simply isn't present in the gospels, being woven together by the writers. 

    But it's also partly because its technical filmmaking is pretty good. The costumes and sets are not necessarily historically accurate, but they are no worse – indeed better at times – than most other films set in the Ancient Near East, and they are of a reasonable quality. Moreover, the lighting, make-up etc. also feel up to scratch. And the length of this episode, which came in at around 35 minutes, suggests that the flexibility with run times is being used to get the pacing right, rather than being lax or self-indulgent.

    As with the first instalment, episode two mainly revolves around three characters. Mary, who has now been freed from her demons; Nicodemus, who is somewhat shocked to discover this; and Simon (not-yet Peter) who we discover in this episode has something of a gambling problem. We witness him gambling at one stage, and there's talk of debts being forgiven, which is rather foreboding.

    But the episode starts in an ancient beauty salon. On the wall there are paintings of women which look as if they are there to demonstrate some of the cuts available. I suspect this is meant to be slightly tongue-in-cheek, an indicator that the production is not going to be as pompous and self-serious as some of its on-screen ancestors. Mary is now working here and it's a tidy way of indicating that Mary has transitioned from being so overrun by demonic forces that even celebratory pharisees cannot help he, to being integrate into ordinary society. She's relaxed and gives an early smile to reinforce the point.

    The episode is called "Shabbat" which not only informs us when it is occurring (and the socio-religious significance of that) but also is a little indicator of its intentions to portray a Jewish Jesus operating within the Jewish world. The episode is fairly light on plot, instead two different Shabbat celebrations are placed alongside one another, as they being prepared and then completed. In one place there is the one in Nicodemus' house, which I have to say is beautifully lit. There's a reading here too from Proverbs 31, which has been special for me since I read it at my Granny's funeral; fifteen years ago. It doesn't often crop up in biblical films.

    Nicodemus' beautiful setting is contrasted with the more humble preparations by Mary. It gradually becomes clear that she is hosting Shabbat with those cast out from society, some people with disabilities as well as James and Thaddeus. It's the kind of gathering that typifies the communal meals at the heart of the early Jesus movement, so it's little surprise when Jesus turns up with the sounds of crickets chirping in the background. It's an interesting scene. Jesus introduces himself as "Jesus of Nazareth" and one of the new characters quips "apparently something good can come from Nazareth". The joke falls flat. but Jesus winks at him to let him know it's Ok. I've a feeling there might be at least one other example of this, but all I can think of is Kevin Smith's Dogma (1999).

    I have a couple of more points about this episode. Firstly, some of the character names such as "Dominus" and "Lilith" seem like they've been chosen as subtle tip-offs to modern audiences rather than necessarily reflecting 1st century likelihood, but I'd need to go back and get a clearer idea of how they are used. Lilith, for example, is used as an alternative name for Mary Magdalene before her encounter with Jesus, but I don't recall exactly how. Secondly, and not entirely dissimilarly, there are a few places where characters explain things to other characters where it feels like this is included mainly for the audiences benefit. Someone mentions the Macabees' victory over Antiochus IV at one point and it feels a little too much like the person receiving the explanation would probably have been aware of this - like telling someone today about the First World War. But again I can't recall the precise details.

    In any case these are minor quibbles and it says a lot about this production that I'm looking forward to seeing where episode 3 goes. Filling in the gaps from Jesus' life is a different challenge to working with more established material so it will be interesting to see how the filmmakers handle that.



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