Film Review: Son of Man

12/03/08 | Posted by MattPage

Mark Dornford-May's Son of Man sets the Jesus story in the context of a modern, African township. Were Jesus to come to earth today, it's not hard to imagine that this is the kind of place we'd find him, criticising the politics and corruption that leaves millions living in shacks. Here Pilate's troops pose as agents of peace from a neighbouring country. He maintains his power by using local gangland leaders Caiaphas and Annas to keep control of their people. This Jesus, played by Andile Kosi, is almost the polar opposite of the image of Jesus most of us grew up with. Rather than blond hair and a white bathrobe he's a shaven headed black-African dressed in jeans and a checked shirt. Yet it is easy to relate to him in the role, because Kosi effortlessly blends strength, compassion, and an easy going nature, with a compelling and passionate personality.

 David Bloomer © Spier Films

Telling the story in such a modern setting also makes it a lot more real. Herod’s slaughter of the infants is brought uncomfortably close to home, creating fear and tension even though we know Jesus’ survival is assured. The disciples are drawn from both peaceful men (and women) and from freedom fighters who are challenged to lay down the weapons as well as their lives.

But director Dornford-May also uses various other touches to reinvigorate the story, including shooting some of the film’s narration in the style of news footage, and showing the miracles as is filmed with a camcorder. These are nicely blended with more naturalistic, and intimate footage to prevent them becoming gimmicky, or the film becoming too much of a documentary.

The film also comments on the way Jesus’ activity was recorded and preserved for a wider audience. As well as the filming of Jesus’ miracles his other actions start to be recorded and celebrated in murals on the walls of township, re-telling the stories about him to a wider audience in language they can understand. Jesus’ popularity grows, and he begins to pose more of a threat to those in power.

The film’s handling of the first Easter has upset some. It would spoil the ending to say more, but essentially it tries to tell the story in a way that would be realistic to its modern context. Suffice to say that it’s a political end to a very politically charged version of the Christ story. Whilst the film has little doubt about Jesus’ divinity - showing a number of his miracles and prayers, it’s the political aspect of Jesus’ brief time on earth that is the film’s biggest concern. Many European and American Christians, living in a culture where religion and theology have been almost totally separated, will not be entirely comfortable with this. Yet Jesus’ core belief in this film is that “This is my world” - a statement that is both political and theological. When the early Christians claimed Jesus was King and Lord of all the world, they were also implying that Caesar wasn’t. Such radical, political statements lie at the hearts of Son of Man, and setting the story in a more politically charged context gives us a much needed reminder.

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This movie was breathtaking.  It appeared to be low budget, and yet characteristic of the point they were trying to make.  The movie was basically scriptural and yet if a person did not know the scriptures, it told a great story.  It was cleverly engineered.

#1. By Zenobia Mayo on November 04, 2014




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