It's that time of year again: time to scrub the public square clean of any evidence of Christmas — from baby Jesus on town hall lawns to Christmas carols in school plays — in favor of winter-themed décor or Kwanzaa celebrations. Some folks in Hollywood didn't get the memo.
New Line Cinema's new movie, The Nativity Story, opening today, is the first explicitly biblical film released by a major Hollywood studio in fifty years — the last two being Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. Yes, there have been many faith-related films lately: for example, The Passion of the Christ, One Night with the King, the Narnia tales, and Facing the Giants. But most of those films did not come from major mainstream studios. This one does.
The Nativity Story is a faithful retelling of Luke 1 and 2. Recently, producer Wyck Godfrey joined the "BreakPoint" staff in hosting an early screening of the movie. And as Catherina Hurlburt noted on BreakPoint's blog, The Point, the movie took Mary, Joseph, and others out of the icons and portrayed them in the flesh, the dirt, and the tears of daily life. The Nativity Story reminds us of what director Catherine Hardwicke called "the humanity of the holiday."
In the December issue of BreakPoint WorldView magazine — which, by the way, makes a great Christmas gift — Hardwicke shared with writer Steve Beard her thoughts when she first received the script: "This can't be that interesting," she said. "I have read this story a hundred times."
Well, I'm sure we can all relate to that. We've seen the nativity replayed many times on church and school stages and in figurines in homes and front lawns. Hardwicke continues, "But then I started getting so intrigued with the way [screenwriter] Mike [Rich] had gotten right… inside the heart and soul of these characters."
And that's one thing that makes this film well worth seeing. The Nativity Story brings us back to the real people involved in that scene that we all know so well at the stable in Bethlehem. Contemplating the story, screenwriter Mike Rich said, "I felt a real responsibility. You remember the old saying, ‘What would Jesus do?' For me it was more like, ‘What would Luke write?'" That's a daunting task: to visually portray Scriptural words. And in doing so, as Steve Beard writes, "Rich employed what C.S. Lewis called the ‘baptized imagination,' using speculation that is faithful to the spirit of orthodox Christianity."
And so we see Mary's vulnerability and resolute faith. Joseph's conflicts over being betrothed to a pregnant girl whom he had not yet been with. Herod is shown in all his paranoid rantings about losing his throne to some mysterious new king.
As I said, this is the first explicitly biblical film in fifty years from a major Hollywood studio. If you don't want to wait another fifty years, then take your family, friends, and neighbors to see this film. Then invite them over for dessert to talk about it afterwards. Revisiting Bethlehem in this way will remind us, as director Hardwicke says, of the "overwhelming notion that God chose this manner of sending His Son. God did not go to a king. He did not go to a palace. He went to humanity." And this you can see in, of all places, your local theaters.