Last night the Egyptian hosted a screening of the film Son of Man. It was excellent, but that is not why it has stuck with me through the next 24 hours. When introducing the film, the Sundance programmer for the evening noted that the movie caused him to realize that he is a "closeted Christian". This phrase stuck with me, and I continued to mull it over during and after the film. What does it mean to watch a film that can change the way you view religion, mythology, or the supernatural? Does it mean that people are too easily swayed by the ideas of others? Or does it show the lacking attention paid to this area of human existence? I contend that it is a little of both. However, the question of how easily people accept new ideas is a far longer discussion, so I will focus on the lack of films with a good religious discussion.
Many religious films and especially texts are aimed at a particular audience, but Son of Man overcomes those boundaries by taking liberties with several elements of the New Testament. In this way, it becomes applicable to individuals with a far wider range of religious persuasions; it is not a story of Christ but a story of good and evil doing battle over the power of convictions. Among the changes are locale and nationality (Judea is in southern Africa), time (modern, Jesus wears jeans, and a few disciples sport golf shirts), and gender (disciples Simon, Phillip, and Judas Thaddeus become Simone, Phillipa, and Thaddea). Skewing the accepted narrative of the Bible allows one to remove him- or herself from the constraints of the traditional story [but why would one want to do this? Perhaps to be able to keep themselves unabstracted? A film called "Adam's Apples" which is screening this year at the festival seems to be doing a similar thing with the traditional biblical narrative. -Ed.].
I attribute the strong reaction of the audience (including myself) to the need for a movie about sacrifice that was moving but not aimed at teaching us something. Indeed, one woman became so choked up that she was unable to ask the director her question. Despite the religious origins, the film only told the story: no assertions were made about God and no laws were laid down. One curious spectator asked the director how he thought the film would compare to Gibson's The Passion of the Christ; the director replied that he had no idea because they were so different at their cores. Son of Man told a new story, and thus was newly engaging.