erik lundegaard

The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John (2004)

“The Gospel of John,” a three-hour Canadian/British film about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, was released in the Bible Belt last year and is only now premiering in Seattle— one assumes—because of the phenomenal success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Ironically, it also unintentionally highlights just how personal Gibson’s vision is.

Written byJohn Goldmsith
Directed byPhilip Saville
StarringChristopher Plummer
Henry Ian Cusick
Stuart Bunce
Daniel Kash

In defending his film, writer-director-producer Gibson said his script came from the Gospels. Yet the Gospels don’t always agree with one another—and they certainly don’t provide stage directions. Take John 18:38: “Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?” In Gibson’s film, Pilate speaks this line beseechingly; he wants to know. In “John,” Pilate says it dismissively; he doesn’t think it exists.

Gibson’s vision is violent, vengeful. But as distasteful as I found it, I almost prefer it to the bland, matter-of-fact version of Jesus’ life we get in “John.”

“John” is what it says it is. The other Gospels aren’t dealt with here. There is no Sermon on the Mount, no “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Only what is in “The Gospel According to St. John.” In fact, everything that is in “The Gospel According to St. John” is in this film. Every line of dialogue. Every line of narration. Every trip Jesus and his disciples make from Judea to Galilee to Samaria.

The production values are low, and the acting isn’t great. The actor playing Jesus (Henry Ian Cusick) has a bit of a jaunty walk that seems out of place for the role. It’s a straightforward, unimaginative narrative, and thus not very memorable.

Its value—and I believe there’s always value in presenting what is, after all, the most influential story in the history of mankind—lies in its particularity. In “John,” Jesus teaches more by metaphor than parable, as in the other Gospels. He speaks metaphorically (“I am the bread of life”), people misunderstand him, problems result. This happens so often it gets tiresome, but it does provide a kind of linguistic support for Christians: the idea or object (man) that represents another (God).

“The Gospel of John” is the first of many proposed films by Visual Bible International Inc.

—Origianlly appeared in The Seattle Times on April 2, 2004

© 2004 Erik Lundegaard