The Book of Clarence parents guide

The Book of Clarence Parent Guide

No miracle comes to save this bloated, incoherent mess of a film.

Overall D

Theaters: Down on his luck, Clarence decides to mimic the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth by becoming "another Messiah".

Release date January 12, 2024

Violence D
Sexual Content B-
Profanity C-
Substance Use D

Why is The Book of Clarence rated PG-13? The MPAA rated The Book of Clarence PG-13 for strong violence, drug use, strong language, some suggestive material, and smoking.

Run Time: 136 minutes

Parent Movie Review

Desperate to get a woman’s attention, Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield) made a bad decision. He borrowed a horse and a racing chariot from Jedediah the Terrible (Eric Kofi-Abrefa), only to be ambushed and robbed. Now he has thirty days to repay Jedediah or be killed.

Clarence’s first priority is self-protection and his thoughts turn to his estranged brother, Thomas (also played by Stanfield). Thomas is one of Jesus of Nazareth’s (Nicholas Pinnock) twelve apostles, and Clarence figures a group with that kind of power and public profile would keep him safe. There’s a hitch, though: Clarence doesn’t believe in God.

When his bid to become the thirteenth apostle fails, Clarence gets another brain wave. He’s going to become another Messiah, using religiosity as a cloak while collecting donations to settle his debt. Full of excitement, Clarence starts his “ministry”. He speaks to small crowds, which rapidly grow larger, performing fake miracles and preaching his core message, “Knowing is better than believing.” People are impressed and money starts rolling in.

Then the problems pile up. First, Clarence doesn’t like the person he’s become – and he’s inconveniently concerned about the welfare of others. Second, Rome has decided to crack down on Jewish Messiahs and their radical ideas. And, third, what if Jesus is exactly who he says he is and God turns out to be real?

Before I wade into the religious dimensions of this story, let me cut to the chase: from a critical perspective, this is a dreadful film. It’s massively bloated, clocking at two-and-a-quarter hours of long-drawn-out boredom. The comedy feels clumsy; when it tries to be arch it’s simply pretentious. And when the plot labors to deliver significant existential messages, it stumbles over its own silliness. Not even the director’s intriguing decision to add a layer of racial politics by casting all Jews as Black actors and all Romans as white is enough to center the story. It simply increases its incoherence.

The real division of opinion regarding this movie will be among Christian viewers. Some will see this as a redemptive tale; a journey from doubter to believer; a manifestation of unearned grace. Other Christians will find the movie blasphemous and deeply offensive. Personally, I have no issues with a good tale of spiritual transformation, but I am always opposed to extra-canonical stories about Jesus. (I’m equal opportunity here: I dislike syrupy non-Biblical Christian material too.) I personally feel that using details of Christ’s life as material for a dark comedy is inappropriate and deeply disrespectful to those who view the Bible as a sacred text. I will also point out that I would feel the same about any film that was equally insensitive to other religions.

Other problems with the movie come in its constant substance use and bloody violence. Clarence is a “seller of herbs” who is constantly smoking and sometimes high, a state which is emphasized by having drug users literally float off the ground. The violence is more problematic, with frequent, bloody scenes of physical combat, many of which involve weapons. There’s also a public stoning, and an agonizingly detailed crucifixion. The negative content only magnifies the film’s tonal confusion, as it tries to jump between comedy, social commentary, and religious drama. It would take a miracle to make this movie work and there are none to be found.

Directed by Jeymes Samuel. Starring LaKeith Stanfield, Teyana Taylor, James McAvoy. Running time: 136 minutes. Theatrical release January 12, 2024. Updated

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The Book of Clarence
Rating & Content Info

Why is The Book of Clarence rated PG-13? The Book of Clarence is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for strong violence, drug use, strong language, some suggestive material, and smoking.

Violence: There are frequent bloody scenes of physical combat. People are stabbed with bladed weapons and spears. Two men fight with fists, swords, and nets. A crowd throws stones at a woman, who is already injured and bloody. A character is shot with a dart and one is hit with a rock. A woman slaps a man in the face twice as does a man. A man is whipped while carrying his own cross; he falls from exhaustion. There are graphic scenes of a man being crucified. The nails are hammered in outside the frame, but his pain is visible, as is the blood all over his body and in his eyes.
Sexual Content: A man and woman kiss passionately. A man walks through a “harem” where scantily dressed women dance suggestively and couples are seen kissing in the background. A mother tells her son she doesn’t want him to “die a virgin” and alludes to masturbation. A man says he and his friends need “testicular fortitude” and he apparently grabs his genitals (his hands are below the screen). Roman buildings have naked statues with visible male genitalia.
Profanity:  The script contains a handful of terms of deity, scatological curses, and minor profanities. One sexual expletive is heard, and another is started but cut off. A racial slur is heard in song lyrics.
Alcohol / Drug Use:   Main characters constantly smoke unknown substances and are sometimes seen high. Adults consume alcohol.

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The Book of Clarence Parents' Guide

Why does Clarence decide to become a fake Messiah? What are the results of his plan? How does the experience change him? Why does he buy the slaves’ freedom instead of saving himself?

Why do you think this movie features Black Israelites and white Romans? What do you think it’s saying about racial oppression? Do you think this adds to the story or detracts from it?

Elijah sees Jesus perform a miracle but he continues to follow his brother. Why do you think that is? Why does Clarence discount his own brother’s experience? What does it take for Clarence to reconsider his beliefs?

Home Video

Related home video titles:

Another non-canonical tale inspired by the events of the New Testament is Risen, the story of a Roman soldier tasked with finding the body of Jesus Christ.

Religious conversion or spiritual transformation is a key plot element in A Christmas Carol, Malcolm X, Les Miserables, Amazing Grace, The Other Side of Heaven, and The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis.