by Greg Taylor
September – December, 2006
The Nativity Story treads on holy ground, the most beloved event in history and celebrated by up to half the earth every year. So when I go to a movie that portrays events such as the birth of Christ, I’m cringing, wanting producers, writers, directors, actors to all do right by the story.
I’m not talking about exactitude of the biblical text as in some of the good work that has been done on Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, using word for word texts and scenes that match. While accurate to one translation and interpretation of the text, that doesn’t assure authenticity and faithfulness to the story.
In the past, also, I might be concerned that writers not harmonize the Gospels but stay with one writer’s perspective and so more fully understand the message. But as I watched The Nativity Story with my wife and children and two families from my church, I slipped off my scholar’s hat and lost myself in the story again.
Director Catherine Hardwicke, Producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, and Writer Mike Rich paid their dues to detail and authentic place and time in this New Line Cinema film. They got the film in the hands of as many scholars and historians as they could and filmed in places that resembled Bethlehem and Nazareth but are not modernized today: Matera, Italy, and Quarzazate, Morocco.
Actors were not white pasty Americans trying to speak King James English, but there was this odd sense that we are watching Jewish and Arabic actors speaking English for our sakes and speaking in thick accents, but that, for what it’s worth, feels more authentic than a British Joseph or a full-figured Hollywood Mary.
Instead Keisha Castle-Hughes plays Mary with a sensibility and sincerity that makes the conflict of how she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit real and believable. We hear Mary thinking aloud about how she can make her parents and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) believe this IM from God, the Angel who told her “Nothing is impossible with God.?br>
Even Mary’s three-month visit to her relative Elizabeth’s house is played beautifully and the scene where John the Baptist “leaps in the womb?and the reunion of Mary and Elizabeth is worth twice the price of admission.
Joseph’s dream to convince him to marry Mary was also more dramatic and intricate than the standard angel standing by the bedside. We don’t realize the dream sequence has begun when Joseph is handed a rock in a crowd that has cornered Mary. Then the Angel’s words wake him.
If you’ve ever wondered what the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem might have been like, the film does well at showing the kind of travel that would have been required. And if you can have comic relief in a movie like this, the three wise men/astrologists, subtly play that card as they poke and jab each other in search of the star.
Is this PG movie appropriate for young children? The movie begins in a dark moment with Herod’s militias riding through Bethlehem to kill babies, but we see no actual blood or killing. The scene is repeated later in the movie. Hints of violence and villainy are there, as in any good story, real or imagined, and I would recommend the movie for any age. Parents will have to use discretion in these dark scenes in relation to their children’s ages and sensitivity. Also, the issue of Mary’s pregnancy and the belief that she is lying is pervasive and integral to the story, so parents ought to be ready to explain or discuss.
Keisha Castle-Hughes Mary
Oscar Isaac Joseph
Hiam Abbass Anna – mother of Mary
Shaun Toub Joaquim
Alexander Siddig Gabriel
Ciarán Hinds King Herod
Shoreh Aghdashloo Elizabeth
Release Date (UK): 2006-12-08
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Producer: Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey
Studio: New Line Cinema
Writer: Mike Rich
Movie Web Site: [http://www.thenativitystory.com/]
Listen to an MP3 excerpt from “The Magnificat” as performed on The ZOE Group’s album, In Christ Alone. Click album art to purchase CD.
Greg Taylor is managing editor of New Wineskins. He is also associate
minister for the Garnett Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His
newest book, co-authored with Anne-Geri?Fann, How to Get Ready for Short-Term Missions, was released by Thomas Nelson in May 2006. His novel is titled High Places (Leafwood, 2004). He co-authored with John Mark Hicks, Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work. Greg and his wife, Jill, have three children: Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Before moving to Tulsa in 2005, the Taylors lived in Nashville, Tennessee four years, and they lived in Uganda seven years, where they worked with a church planting team. His blog is http://gregtaylor.cc.