Some years ago I watched the “epic” movie, The Ten Commandments, starring Charleton Heston and produced by Cecil B Demille. In my youthful innocence, I really thought this was a true retelling of the actual events surrounding the Passover, the plagues, the persistence of the Pharoah, and so on. In typical Hollywood fashion, the story of a humble Shepherd/Prince was transformed into an epic story. Some few years later, I remember feeling disappointed when I actually read the account in Genesis and Exodus and found that Moses was actually a meek and humble man, afflicted with a speech impediment. My image of the Prophet Moses and the events surrounding the deliverance of Israel from the tyrannical Pharoah was tainted.
Throughout the years, we have seen other productions covering such topics as Ruth, David and Goliath, Solomon and Bathsheeba, as well as the life of Christ. It is dangerous – in a spiritual sense – to try to render onto the big-screen these incredible events. It tends to dramatize the lives of these great Prophets, making them seem larger-than-life. It even makes the life of our Saviour seem unreachable to us. It was the very Incarnation that made God accessible to man. Truly, what justice could a move hope to serve in an effort to try to accurately retell these events. I choose my words here carefully. Using “stories” in place of “events” gives a false sense that these were not actual events, when in reality they were. These events changed the world forever.
Let’s consider for a moment the different renditions of the life of our Lord. How is it possible that they could accurately retell what the Gospels have taught? Ponder on this for a moment, how do you demonstrate the two Natures of Christ without making Him seem scizophrenic? At times the Lord speaks as a man in the Gospels, at other times He speaks with great authority as the Son of God. How does one portray the Transfiguration? How possibly can the movie screen reveal the depth of awe and emotion at the raising of Lazarus? Is it even possible to depict the Lord’s Resurrection? We recognize that it really is not possible to depict these events in a faithful way.
The world is not willing to accept the true and faithful retelling of these great events. Simply look to the number of Biblical translations and different sects of Christians, so-called. There is hardly agreement concerning the Sacred Writ. The portrayal of Biblical events in the media is almost always based on a ‘sola-scriptura’ foundation. In the Orthodox Church we recognize the power of foreshadowing, which appears quite often in the Old Testament. We also embrace the use of symbolism, without getting hung-up on literally interpretations.
The danger of this movie genre is the result of some very practical points. Hollywood has often taken liberty – “poetic license” to make these events more socially acceptable, often watering down elements of the story so as to make it more politically-correct. Additionally, viewers are tainted with new interpretations of these events and will believe what they see as factual. Very few have the depth of knowledge of the Scriptures to recognize when the stories have deviated. Another deceptive ploy with these movies is the determination to script a movie that follows the literally retelling according to the Scriptures. The Old Testament is rich in imagery and symbolism.
Considering these points, it is not the place nor the intent of this author to dissuade you from viewing these movies, which might have some edifying qualities, but to exercise caution. They can certainly make for entertaining conversation afterwards.
The point of this current writer is not totally discount any value in these movies, but rather to raise awareness of the potential pitfalls. Indeed the movies are mostly edifying and can provide a wonderful basis for family discussion to help us deepen our understanding.