By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
I absolutely love this film, not merely because it tells a story that's central to my beliefs, but because it tells it so well. The Nativity Story is a spiritually edifying film with a keen sense of historical insight, emotional authenticity, and scriptural accuracy. Indeed the only minor change I noted was that the three wise men arrive the night of Christ's birth, as per tradition, not some time later as recorded in holy writ; otherwise the film sticks closely to the Bible. One might ask how a film that stretches into ninety minutes a story that other films (Ben Hur, The Testaments, The Lamb of God) condensed into four or five does so without getting boring. The answer, of course, is in the details.
By examining what life in Nazareth would be like for a pregnant unwed teenager claiming that her son's father was God, by chronicling the hopes of the shepherds and wise men, by giving historical insight into Herod's corruption, and by portraying the perils and travails of the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the film keeps our interest and broadens our insight. It is also quite moving, as Mary and Joseph go from nervous near-strangers to inseparable husband and wife through persecution, tender service to one another, and the daunting task of raising the Messiah. This is a well-written, well-acted, testimony-building film with gorgeous music and lovely cinematography. I've rarely had such a spiritual experience at the movies. The Nativity Story is available for purchase on DVD and download.
IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR FAMILY?
The Nativity Story is rated PG. It portrays the murder of innocent children by Herod's soldiers, and though the actual violence occurs offscreen, the scenes are intense. The scene of childbirth, while not graphic, is also fairly intense. Discussions about the chastity before marriage are handled tactfully. Recommended for older children with solid attention spans, teens, and adults.
ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?
Uh…yeah! The story of the nativity as found in Matthew 1:18-25, Matthew 2, Luke 1, and Luke 2. “Happiness in marriage is not so much a matter of romance, but rather an anxious concern for the comfort and well being of one's companion” – Gordon B. Hinckley. Husbands are to love their wives and put their needs first (Ephesians 5:25).
“BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES…”
“Smart. Artistically and spiritually satisfying.”– THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
“What could have been an after-school special or some somber straight-to-video exercise becomes a gritty and affecting picture that takes the story of Jesus Christ's conception and birth and depicts it as it might have happened. [The filmmakers] do a number of very intelligent things. First, they take whatever is in the Bible and fortify it through research. [They also] take characters from history and then fill them out in imaginative ways that humanize them, explain their actions and yet don't detract from spiritual significance. Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is just an average girl, but with a nice simplicity and purity. Joseph (Oscar Isaac) is the film's most impressive creation. In the Bible, he's almost a complete blank, a nice guy who is upstaged by God, the ultimate case of a fellow getting cut into on the dance floor and making the best of it. But here he's a tough guy with a strong, moral nature — protective, feisty and capable, a real hero. One of the incidental points of the film, particularly powerful, is that doing the right thing isn't easy, even in the face of divine assurance. By grounding everything that went before in an earthy realism, [the director] earns the elevation of the nativity sequence, one of the more beautiful scenes in this year's cinema.” – THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
“The re-creations of the ancient biblical cities bear the stamp of a good production. [The film] wisely keeps the story to scale, realizing that it centers on a young woman, Mary (Castle-Hughes), faced with convincing her skeptical relatives that her conception was immaculate. Even though most of the Western world knows the story, [it] manages to build suspense and [turns] The Nativity Story into an engaging chase, as Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, and Herod (who ordered all men to return to the place of their birth) looks high and low for the savior. Again, we know the ending, but the director still makes us a little nervous. Of course, that only means that The Nativity Story is a real movie, as welcome in theaters as it will be in churches.” – THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC
The Nativity Story is one of my favorite overlooked Bible flicks. What are the others? Have a watch, then…have a watch!
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.