• 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


    Thursday, January 13, 2022

    The Chosen (2019) s1e03

    The opening scene of the third episode of The Chosen is hard to place. Jesus is praying, outside, surrounded by trees and seemingly in a degree of anguish. If it weren't for the tent and campfire one could easily suppose this is a flash-forward to Gethsemane. The reason for Jesus's apparent distress is never clear, but eventually it emerges that this is still a time before his ministry (or at least a time he is without disciples) and that he is still working as a carpenter.

    These scant clues emerge from the various conversations with a girl from the nearby village and a growing group of her friends. A title informs us that this is Capernaum AD26 and the girl approaches Jesus holding a (broken?) doll that evokes the scene in King of Kings (1927) where Jesus uses carpentry rather than a miracle to restore a girl's broken doll. 

    When she asks Jesus tells the girl he is a travelling craftsman which includes carpentry, only the conversation summarises a fairly accurate translation of the Greek word tektōn with far more graceful writing than my explanation suggests. This goes some way to explaining the extensive gear he has with him, both for carpentry and for camping, I find myself momentarily wondering how he manages to transport it all.

    Nevertheless the opening scenes bring home to me some of the practical implications of that well known verse from Matt 8:20 "foxes have dens…but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head". It's rare in Jesus films to see him and his disciples sleeping  anywhere besides the open air, or in a rudimentary bed in a home, but of course Jesus (in time with his disciples) was a travelling preacher and must have spent many nights on the road with nowhere to sleep. I have no idea how widely-used the tents that St Paul made were, but this does make me think differently about the day to day practicalities of travelling around a variety of Galilean villages. But it soon becomes clear that this isn't just a fleeting point, it's one of the major points of the episode. More or less, the whole episode takes place in and around Jesus' temporary camp.

    The other major theme of this episode is emphasising that Jesus liked children and they liked him. This is certainly less original amongst Jesus films, but it's usually limited to a scene or two. Even The Miracle Maker (2000) where much of the action takes place from the point of view of Jairus' daughter can only devote a certain amount of time to it. Here however the series has a whole 30 minute episode to show Jesus interacting with children, without the burden of having to move on because there are three more miracles to squeeze in before the resurrection.

    It's clear too that Jesus doesn't just peddle a childish version of his message, even if he blows raspberries and uses other techniques to gain their interest, build trust and make them feel welcome. He talks about the difference between intelligence and wisdom ("Many times smart men lack wisdom") and teaches them that the messiah might not meet expectations. At a first watch I thought this was peddling the idea that all Jews at this time had hopes for a military messiah, and it does voice that idea. (As Candida Moss explains here the Jews didn't share uniform expectations regarding Messiah. Different groups had very different ideas of what it meant including mythical readings, and multiple messiah-figures). Here, however, it's one of the children repeating something he's heard a rabbi say - it's hardly painted as a universal belief and Jesus here seems to encourage the children who specifically go to Torah school as well as praising those who have learnt what is taught in school even though they do not go.

    I'm less taken by the extended scene in the middle where Jesus teaches the kids as they are all around sitting in a circle. There's just something unrealistic about it which makes the whole episode feel a bit too rose-tinted. Anyone who has had their own kids and/or tried to deliver "the serious" bit in a kids church group knows it rarely goes like this. I wonder if scenes like this - welcome as they are - maybe set unrealistic expectations. Jesus welcomed little children, but portraying him as such an exceptional children's worker feels a little much to me.

    There's also something a little overly-innocent about the way Jesus spends huge amounts of time alone with these children. Perhaps there shouldn't be. It's a sad indictment on much of western society that a single man spending that much time alone with that many kids, would raise suspicion today, though partly this is because situations like this have been so abused in the past. The children's insistence that they keep it their friendship with Jesus a secret seems particularly odd in this respect. Again, Jesus is an exception - doubtless the filmmakers consider him far beyond such issues. Still, that line bothers me. Kids! Tell your parents if you meet strange men. Parents tell your kids to do likewise.

    There are couple of nice artistic ideas in this episode. Firstly as nice foreshadowing of the resurrection when the children arrive at Jesus' camp early one day and one of them wonders if he's dead. Spoiler alert - he's not, but the tent and the way it's filmed foreshadow another time when people will arrive together, peer into a (possibly) similar hole/structure with uncertainty about if he that lay there the day before will reappear, and the relief when he does. 

    Secondly, the rain that falls during the final scene, following Jesus' departure, which director Dallas Jenkins reveals in comments after a screening was a late decision, is nevertheless a poetic and poignant one. There's a palpable sense of nostalgia in this episode embodied in this final moment. People of faith often talk about how their path through life is far from straightforward. One day everything is sunny and it feels like Jesus is there beaming down upon you; the next you're alone in the rain left nursing your memories.

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    • At 8:28 am, January 13, 2022, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      This is the least “biblical” episode in the whole show … and I loved it.

    • At 12:09 pm, January 13, 2022, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Glad you enjoyed it

    • At 8:24 pm, May 04, 2022, Blogger Shawn Willox said…

      This episode is actually inspired by the film Whistle Down the Wind (1961) where a group of children stumble upon a vagrant and come to believe he is Jesus. Jenkins tried to imagine what it would have been like if a group of children actually stumbled upon Jesus. The line that bothered you about the kids keeping their relationship with Jesus a secret is a near verbatim quote of the 1961 film. I understand your concern, but I think it was very wittily done.

    • At 5:37 pm, May 14, 2022, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Shawn. I hadn't made that connection - it's been years since I watched Whistle Down the Wind.


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