Movies featuring the life of Jesus have been around almost since the beginning of cinema. The first narrative film about his life was a series of shorts edited by Lucien Nonguet. Historian Charles Keil described these early attempts as a “series of tableaux, autonomous units.” It was up to the viewer to knit the narrative together in his or her imagination.
In his book Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ Figures in Film (1997), Lloyd Baugh makes a distinction between films that depict the life of Jesus and those that include Jesus as a character. Christ-figures are those characters who do as Jesus did, laying down their lives for others or exhibiting traits that reflect Christ.
Baugh divides Jesus films into categories: classic (King of Kings), musical (Jesus Christ Superstar), scandal (The Last Temptation of Christ) and Pasolini’s masterpiece The Gospel According to St. Matthew.
Lent provides the spiritual environment and opportunity to contemplate images of Jesus in cinema. We may be inspired by the filmmaker’s imagining of Christ or challenged about our knowledge of the Jesus of the Gospels.
Most of the following films are available on DVD and may be appearing on television for Holy Week and Easter.
To continue reading Sr. Rose’s column in the April 2012 issue St. Anthony messenger click here
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