Making the Grades
A few decades ago, epic biblical productions were a common find on the big screen. Today, the least likely place to see religion depicted in a respectful way is at a movie theater, making The Nativity Story a welcome and unusual cinematic present for those audiences with Christian beliefs. Thankfully, the outcome includes everything you would expect in a film bearing this title and despite some artistic license, the presentation should please most followers of Jesus Christ.
The story opens with Zachariah (Stanley Townsend) and the heavenly manifestation he receives, telling him his aging wife, Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo), is going to have a baby. His disbelief is quickly quieted when he is struck dumb until the infant's arrival.
Meanwhile, a hundred or so miles away, a young girl named Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is betrothed to a man named Joseph (Oscar Isaac). She is depicted as reluctant to accept the arrangement, but obedient to her financially desperate father's request. Following Jewish law, the two are married, but no sexual relations are to take place until after their first year of matrimony is complete. But when a heavenly messenger intervenes and the conception that will change the world takes place, Mary decides to evade her difficult situation by visiting her much-older cousin Elizabeth for a season.
After the birth of Elizabeth's son (who will grow up to be John the Baptist), the virgin mother returns to her home, now obviously with child. Immediately questions and accusations are levied against her, but what concerns may have rested in Joseph's heart are soon quelled after he also has a vision identifying the babe Mary is carrying as the Son of God. With the prospect of being the Earthly father of this precious infant, he has the tremendous responsibility of protecting his wife and the child. This includes evading King Herod's oppressive regime -- which most recently has ordered all citizens to return to their birthplace to participate in a census.
The script uses lines from the New Testament, yet isn't afraid of rounding out characters with additional dialogue and situations. This dramatic interpretation may not sit well with those who feel there is no room for embellishment of biblical scripture, but others will enjoy the warmth that radiates from this movie. The relationship between Mary and Joseph is especially endearing and provides a thoughtful (although fictional) glimpse into the little known life and personalities of the Earthly caregivers of Jesus Christ.
True to the facts of the story, a few scenes depict Roman soldiers causing mayhem as they intimidate the impoverished Jews and scour Bethlehem in search of infant males (which they have been ordered to kill). These moments may be frightening for young children, but the violence is kept to a minimum. This creative decision will allow a wide age range to enjoy this film, which is sure to be one of the few Christmas jewels in theaters this holiday season.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Nativity Story.
How does this movie’s interpretation of this well-known story differ from your imagination? How could you reenact this story in your own home?
For the definitive Nativity Story, read the accounts found in The New Testament.