People who ascribe to the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection say Easter movies can be an effective tool by which Christians can share their faith.
Married co-producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey — who have tagged themselves as “the noisiest Christians in Hollywood — today released “Resurrection,” the second film in a trilogy they’re co-producing in partnership with MGM about the life and ministry of Jesus and the early church.
“Clearly everybody’s ready for a story about hope, and there’s no greater hope than the Easter story,” Downey said in a Zoom meeting following an advanced screening. “People are grateful to have the content; people are aware it’s a resource for their church and for their families, and people, I think, are ready for a kind of resurrection in their own lives, an opportunity to step outside these tombs of our homes as we’ve been isolated from one another. … The symbolism of the film is appropriate for these times.”
The story of Jesus’ life has been fodder for Hollywood from the earliest days of filmmaking. Since the inception of film, Christians have been interested in using movies as an evangelistic tool and have tried many different way to depict the gospel message.
“Unfortunately, most of these messages are very effective at reaching the ‘already-believers’ and serving solely as devotional opportunities for them,” said Andrew Rudd, an associate professor of communications and film history at Malone University in Canton. “Of course, there is value in devotional watching of movies when they inspire us to remember the parts of our faith that inspire us to live more like Jesus. “
Can’t make a boring Christian movie
“Resurrection” debuts today on streaming service Discovery Plus.
Burnett and Downey said film is an effective medium for sharing one’s faith.
The first entry in their trilogy was “Son of God,” produced in 2014. The third will be titled “The Disciples.”
Downey is the former star of the hit CBS show, “Touched By An Angel.” Burnett is best known as the creator of reality-TV competitions “Survivor” and “The Apprentice.”
In 2013, the couple co-produced “The Bible,” a 10-part miniseries on the History Channel.
Burnett said their goal was to make the kind of movie that even non-Christians could understand, and challenged believers to share “Resurrection” with an unchurched person and gauge their reaction.
He added that they also wanted to create a fast-paced, action-packed and emotionally connective film that young people enjoy.
“It doesn’t give you the right, as a Christian, to make an accurate but boring movie,” he said. “You won’t achieve anything. It’s the same as having a pastor or priest who’s boring. It’s not going to help.”
Downey said “Resurrection” is ultimately a love story.
“It’s such an incredibly powerful moment to even see a reenactment of the crucifixion; it’s hard to watch,” she said. “We were just so humbled by how greatly we were loved, that Jesus would have endured such a thing for us, that it wasn’t the nails that kept him on the cross but love.
“To see his mother stand there as a witness with so much courage and strength, and yet I feel certain that she remained there so that when Jesus looked down from the cross, he would look into the face of love; he would look into eyes that loved him.”
Burnett noted that a number of books and films have borrowed from the Scriptures, including J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
“How many movies have borrowed from the Bible to collect prophecies?” he asked.
‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’
Rev. Bryan Hollon, director of Malone University’s Center for Christian Faith & Culture and resident scholar at the C.S. Lewis Institute of Northeast Ohio, said his favorite Easter-themed film is based on a fantasy novel that is rich in Christian symbolism.
“Although it’s not necessarily an Easter movie, I’ve always loved the crucifixion and resurrection scene captured in both the book and the movie adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s famous book, ‘The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,'” he said. “In the story, the White Witch captures the child, Edmund Pevensie, and Aslan steps in to offer his own life as a sacrifice to secure Edmund’s freedom. The White Witch sacrifices Aslan on a great stone table, leaving the Pevensie children distraught and confused, much as Jesus’ own disciples would have been.”
Hollon added that the “Deeper Magic” by which Aslan is resurrected is symbolic of God’s power even over death itself.
“I’ve always appreciated (that) scene, which is well-captured in the recent Hollywood adaptation because it places the death and resurrection of Christ in the broad context of God’s love,” he said. “It is precisely these themes from ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ that is often lacking in Easter films. Lewis offers us biblical and theological depth.”
Rudd said he loved “Ben-Hur” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” as a child, “but looking back now, those films don’t focus much on the resurrection of Jesus and now they feel dated and cliched.”
“Maybe most depictions of Jesus’ life suffer from that problem?” he asked. “In their attempt to be as incarnational (and of-the-moment) as Jesus — they end up not translating to broader audiences or across time as well.”
Chocolat an Easter film?
Rudd noted that his favorite Easter film wasn’t made as such.
“It’s the film ‘Chocolat’ (2000),” he said. “That movie juxtaposes life with the restrictions of empty religion, and I love how Jesus focused on that way of thinking. The great film writer André Bazin, who identified as a Christian, suggested that film itself has an incarnational quality — its flickering depiction of human reality is like incarnational glimpses at the face of God.”
He added that Easter films prove that God will use whatever means necessary to reach people.
“I do think that because God speaks to all of us in such different ways, many movies can remind us of the central ideas from Easter,” he said. “God loves us, cares about our lives, understands our sorrow, and gives us hope.”
Downey said “Resurrection” is their way of fulfilling the “Great Commission” as recorded in Mark’s Gospel.
“We’re trying to do our bit; we’re storytellers and filmmakers,” she said. “I believe this movie has the potential to transform hearts and to either bring people either to know Christ for the first time or to bring people back home to the fold.”
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP
Popular Easter movies
Looking for an Easter movie? Here are 10 options:
“Barabbas” (1961, 2012, 2019)
A thief named Barabbas is pardoned by Pontius Pilate and goes free, while Jesus is crucified. The original stars Anthony Quinn as Barabbas.
“Ben-Hur” (1925,1959, 2016)
Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy Jewish prince who becomes a galley slave and champion in chariot racing. He meets Jesus along the way and witnesses the crucifixion. The 1959 epic stars Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur.
“Demetrius and the Gladiators” (1954)
Christian slave Demetrius, played by actor Victor Mature, is sent to fight in the gladiatorial arena. Meanwhile, Emperor Caligula seeks Jesus’ robe. It’s a sequel to “The Robe.”
It’s a film adapted from the 1971 musical Godspell, which is based on the Gospel of Matthew.
“The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965)
The epic tells the story of Jesus Christ. It stars Max von Sydow as Jesus, and Charlton Heston as John the Baptist. Pat Boone also makes an appearance as an angel.
“Jesus” is a television movie that features Jeremy Sisto as Jesus, Jacqueline Bisset as Mary of Nazareth, and Debra Messing as Mary Magdalene.
“Jesus Christ Superstar” (1973)
The musical drama is based on the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“King of Kings” (1927, 1961)
The original is a silent epic film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It follows the last weeks of Jesus before his crucifixion.
“The Passion of the Christ” (2004)
The film, produced, co-written and directed by Mel Gibson, focuses on the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life. Jim Caviezel stars as Jesus.
“The Robe” (1953)
The movie focuses on a Roman military tribune who commands the unit that is responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. It stars Richard Burton as Marcellus Gallio.