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Ron Reed

Son Of Man (2006)

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(There is another thread with several posts and links about the film over in the "Film Awards, Festivals and Lists" forum, but that thread deals with a number of non-white Jesus portrayals in various films, but this film needs its own thread, here in the main Film forum.)

I saw SON OF MAN on Saturday at the VIFF, and I simply loved it. Enough that I'm going to see it again at its other VIFF showing, Tuesday night.

I don't want to get all superlative about the film, and diminish other people's response when they see it. The fellow I went with is also a film buff, and he was unmoved, found it uneven. But I just want to move in to that movie like a house, drop my nets and follow.

It's got elements fairly early on that put me on edge, pushing my "uh oh this is heresy" or "darn they're completely humanizing/politicizing the story" buttons. But frankly, I like my Jesus movies that way: otherwise, I'm too sure where they're headed, and I just sit in my theatre seat checking off the Bible stories, nodding at the orthodoxy. This one rattled me enough, and shuffled the story around enough, that I was leaning forward in my seat right through.

Certainly foregrounds the danger and violence of Jesus' first century context under the Roman occupation forces to watch his story through a modern African lens. The horrors of the original story are horrific again.

Also certain is the fact that this film is made by a director (and ensemble - the company develops its ideas collectively) with a vividly visual, impassioned, utterly theatrical sensibility. (It comes out of South Africa's dimpho di kopane theatre, who also created the wildly acclaimed "Yiimimangaliso: The Mysteries," a contemporary African version of the Chester mystery cycle that ran for two years in London's west end). Watching the film, I kept thinking, yes, that's a dazzling stroke, from a truly theatrical imagination - but never stage-bound, always visually, filmically conceived. An aesthetic that's both bold and sophisticated.

There are now three films at the top of my 2006 list; L'ENFANT, SOPHIE SCHOLL and, now, SON OF MAN.

P.S. Okay, there's a dvd version of Yiimimangaliso! Time to get out the pocketbook...)

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Glad you liked it, Ron -- though I'm not exactly surprised! :)

I'm actually tempted to see it with you on Tuesday. Don't know if my schedule permits that yet, but it would be nice to see this on the big screen, after seeing it on a mere screener.

Ron wrote:

: Certainly foregrounds the danger and violence of Jesus' first century context under the Roman

: occupation forces to watch his story through a modern African lens. The horrors of the original

: story are horrific again.

You know what jumped out at me? The scene where the men are about to burn the prostitute alive (burning with gasoline, similar to the "necklacing" that Winnie Mandela endorsed, is a perfectly setting-appropriate substitute for stoning). Leaving aside for now the fact that the woman in the biblical version of this story is only an adulteress and not an out-and-out hooker, I was struck by the way the men say that she is "spreading disease". I can't say I had ever thought about the biblical references to prostitution this way, but I wanted to slap my head, after seeing that scene, it was so obvious now. And of course, the fact that HIV infection is such a rampant problem in Africa right now gives the scene an extra oomph.

Interesting to see how prominent the Devil is becoming in Jesus films these days. Jesus, The Miracle Maker and The Passion of the Christ all put him in Gethsemane (and beyond, in The Passion's case), and now there's Son of Man. Really heightens the mythical, and perhaps even theological, aspects of the story, in a way that the old good-humanist-teacher movies didn't quite do.

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Cool! You've got a blog! I'll need to spend some time there. (And learn how to set up an RSS reader for people's various blogs, to keep me up to date.)

Replying to your question about my "uh oh this is heresy" and "darn they're completely humanizing/politicizing the story" buttons....

What did I find heretical?

Probably nothing, in the final analysis. But en route... When Mary and Joseph, and then Jesus, turn away from the angel figure (who represents God, as shown even more directly later at the culvert of Gethsemane), and says "This is

my world," that's dodgy, wouldn't you say? Like I said, I don't mind it being dodgy, and by the end of the film that apparent rift between Jesus and "the company of heaven" is mended, but between then? I was nervous it might turn out to be a completely de-mythologizing, Son of Man (but not God) flick - though clearly it doesn't elide the miracles, or ultimately, those angels.

Too, the film recasts Jesus message as almost entirely political. Now, I'm pretty sure that in the African context, Christianity might very well call on people to take that sort of political stand, so I'm not complaining. But I almost wasn't hearing the "what" of what Jesus was saying, so much was I in thrall to the "who" of who Jesus was, and the ingenuity of the film, and all that. I see it again tonight: maybe I'll have slightly more distance to get a better sense of what he actually says. (And then there's your transcription to help! Thanks.) Again, I'm not complaining the least bit, but wouldn't be surprised if other viewers feel the film has neglected the core of Jesus' message to emphasize somebody's (maybe not even Jesus') politics. Now, they're probably my politics, or should be at any rate, or would be if I lived in Africa, but... Are they Jesus'? I just don't know yet.

And yeah, Peter, dead right about the "woman taken in adultery" scene. And how perfect that she would be accused of spreading AIDS, as one can only think "well, it takes two, doesn't it?" - especially given some of the horrific ideas held in some parts of Africa about curing oneself of AIDS by raping a virgin, for example, in which it's far more likely to be the men culpable for "spreading the disease" than the women. Just one of so many examples of the film's uncompromising immediacy, and the exceptionally powerful "dynamic equivalents" it finds to gospel events. I've got to think that some of the richness and depth of the film in that way is a result of the company's process of developing their work collectively, though I don't know much detail about that, or how extensively it was used in creating this film. But it feels that way, being so rife with ideas and so intricately textured.

I'm seeing it again tonight with some close friends who are very involved with work in Africa - I can't wait!

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A theological friend saw SON OF MAN with me tonight, and was as enthused about the film as I am. Found it very sophisticated, theologically - and I'd say it's very sophisticated, aesthetically.

I've mulled the crucifixion a lot, since it turns things so inside out. Thought of two scriptures, which I'll conceal in spoiler tags so people can make their own discoveries. But I'm thinking of

Luke 12:2 "Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known."

and

John 12:32 "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." Indeed, my friend points out that there is a fit with all of John's theology of the cross. He was also very excited about connections with Rene Girard's work, about which I know only enough to see some points of contact - but I can't wait to sit down with him and learn more.

Seeing the film a second time confirmed how thoroughly this Jesus's teaching is political. Very little talk of God (virtually none, maybe none at all?), much talk of resistance and oppression and so on. Also, "Every human life has value," those themes - which of course carry a divine resonance, particularly when framed with the scripture that ends the film. Not that he's a "non-spiritual" or demythologized Jesus - the transcendent, miraculous aspect is very clear.

I think the strongly political point of Jesus's teaching seems right to me in the life-or-death African context: if you don't stand up for your brother who is being wronged, are you following the gospel? Very strongly reminiscent of Clarence Jordan's Cotton Patch Gospel, and his social conscience / social action. An element which is moderated somewhat, but certainly not completely, in the stage play. (I don't know liberation theology, but I wonder how much a liberation theologian would find in SON OF MAN? Yet I also think of that as a theologically liberal movement, in a way that I don't necessarily see in this film. I wonder.)

Rich film, one I'll be living with for some time, coming to terms with. Count me a fan.

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I saw this at the St. Louis International Film Festival, and I thought it was very well done. The music is joyful and the colors are vibrant. I liked how some of the images of Jesus' ministry were expressed through art, depicting Jesus' miracles in murals painted on the sides of buildings. It brings beauty in the midst of urban decay. And the image of the resurrection is maybe the most striking image I've seen on a movie screen all year.

At first, the politicizing of Jesus' ministry made me a little uncomfortable. As someone who grew up in the conservative end of American Evangelicalism, I was reminded of the tactics of some liberal theologians who would use the politics to discount His divine mission to atone for the sins of people on the cross. However, I realized that I have to look at this film through the eyes of the intended audience. I cannot put myself into the shoes of a South African who grew up in the shadow of Apartheid and have vivid memories of violent struggle. This film may be the thing that brings Jesus off of a page in a book, and makes the Savior real to them, illustrating his mission and his love in the only way they can understand. In fact, it's probably a good thing to remind people that Jesus' mission did have a political component as well as a theological one.

Besides, to take what we've learned to expect from a "Bible film", and turn it on it's head, that is revolutionary.

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Has anyone heard anything about distribution, or a release date for this? It seems to have won raves at Sundance then, apart from some festival showings (not even noted on IMDb), to have disappeared without a trace. Such a shame, if that's indeed true.

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Not heard anything for a while. The plan was to distribute it through churches and african development organisations, but I think the churches have been lukewarm in responding, partly because they don't like what some of us have been troubled by but ultimately embraced I guess.

But all that was a while ago.

Matt

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I just saw this at the Wisconsin Film Festival and loved this film - even though the person behind me, who I knew, spent the entire film chomping on pop corn without closing his mouth. How one can watch some of those scenes while stuffing one's face with tasty goodness escapes me, but I digress.

I loved it as well. Along with the things already mentioned (especially the music) I loved the restraint of this film. Scenes that other Jesus films tend to drag on or melodramatize (is that a word?) this film effeciently handled without feeling rushed. I loved the editting in this film. Plus there was some powerful scenes where action in hinted at but not fully shown (

for example, the resurection of the child, the beating of Jesus and Jesus' resurrection

) The scene that introduces Mary has to be one of the best scenes I have seen in any movie in a long time. It's incredibly original, very powerful, and establishes the deep connection this movie has to the essence of the Jesus story.

I remember growing up reading the Joshua books - stories that tried to show what it would be like if Jesus visited today. I would much rather have my children (of which I have none - but imaginary ones for this point) have a film like this stimulate their imagination about what it would be like if Jesus' earthly ministry was to happen in 2007. True it is very political, but I would rather err on the side of over politisizing the Jesus story (and Jesus had a lot to say to people with power / money) rather than making him look like a Precious Moments statue.

I could go on and on. This film will become a regular for me, once it comes out on DVD, during Holy Week.

I wonder how this film is being received in Africa. I could see churches using it in evangelism.

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True it is very political, but I would rather err on the side of over politisizing the Jesus story (and Jesus had a lot to say to people with power / money) rather than making him look like a Precious Moments statue.

Absolutely! People with power / money, like me - that's what stings. The right kind of sting, I'd say. Though I'm certain this is the very reason the film hasn't been picked up for any sort of distribution whatsoever, anywhere: people are dead sure that the crowds they targeted after THE PASSION made trillions simply won't be interested in a Jesus who talks about taboos like money and power. And I fear they're right, though not as right as they think they are. Flog the guy 120 times, we're fine with that, but if we feel a bit of a sting in the audience? No sir.

This film will become a regular for me, once it comes out on DVD, during Holy Week.

Me too! If you hear anything about it being released anywhere, post something here, alright?

Ron

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Flog the guy 120 times, we're fine with that, but if we feel a bit of a sting in the audience? No sir.

One of the better comments I've read here in a while. Well put. You summed up what I felt throughout a lot of the film.

From a personal discipleship / spiritual development point of view I would rather have the uncomfortable feeling that this film evokes, than the uncomfortable feelings from the violence in the Passion. I guess it says something about us as a Christian culture when we are more drawn to a violent story that in some way makes us feel good about ourselves, both legitmately and not, as in, "Jesus went through that for me," with emphasis on "me," whereas Son of Man reminds me of some of the corporate claims Jesus was making and how his work was not just for "me," but for "us" as well.

I suppose there is a place and need for both Son of Man and the Passion in the Christian world. Jesus died for my sins, but he is also about the work of advancing his Kingdom and bringing his reconciliation to all of creation. One without the other creates a fairly lopsided gospel.

It brings sadness to think of this film not getting a wider audience.

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...I suppose there is a place and need for both Son of Man and the Passion in the Christian world. Jesus died for my sins, but he is also about the work of advancing his Kingdom and bringing his reconciliation to all of creation. One without the other creates a fairly lopsided gospel.

Exactly! I'm totally with you on both points. PASSION had a massive effect on me, undeniably spiritual / devotional: I have a tremendous appreciation for the film, it deepened my appreciation of Christ's sacrifice. But the vividness, compassion, call to discipleship in SON OF MAN stirred me, carried on the work of challenging my tendency to middle-class North American complacency.

It brings sadness to think of this film not getting a wider audience.

Amen.

Well, as soon as I can get a copy or two on DVD, I'll be working to widen that audience at least a little bit!

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Just a heads up that this is FINALLY coming out on DVD in the UK, apparently this week, if this vendor is to be trusted. Still no word on an US release.

And for the search engine, because finding this thread was a giant pain: dornford-may

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Another brief update: according to IMDB, this is set to come out in the US on DVD on March 23rd. About bloody time. Been waiting for this since Chattaway's blog post way back (exactly four years and one day ago).

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Watched it on Netflix last night. It's interesting. The movie does a balancing act of including traditional things like the annunciation and some of Jesus' miracles, while also imagining what his mission would have looked like and what he would have spoken about were he to live in Africa today. It's worth seeing.

My favorite parts were the street paintings showing the miracle scenes, and the part where

the women put down their children in the street so they can protest and Jesus and the Disciples come along and hold them.

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This is one of the more interesting and engaging retelling of the Jesus story, this time placing it in a contemporary African context. The film goes a long way to making the life and ministry of Jesus matter in everyday life. In this, it seems to me, the film has a deeply incarnational concern. The Jesus in Son of Man cares deeply for a people in turmoil, speaking out in their favor and seeking to ease the violence that marks their lives. In accomplishing this task, the film focuses on the political impact of Jesus more than His theological impact. Thus the title Son of Man makes good sense, maybe the identification for Jesus that aligns Him most with humanity.

In the choice to portray Him as a more political figure is where the film is most interesting. You'll find no "render unto Caesar" here. Instead we have a Jesus who heals social inequities and speaks truth to power. While it tips the balance toward politics more than is probably warranted by the Gospels, the film seems set firmly in the tradition of Flannery O'Connor, particularly in her use of distortion to help her readers see the world more clearly. It's this distortion of Jesus through a more socio-political lens that places the film outside a strict Gospel tradition, but also what makes it helpful as an insightful look into the life of God's Son.

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Note to Top 100 admins, on our Top 100 site this film is missing it's original Xhosi title - Jezile. Could someone be so kind as to add it at some point.

Matt

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Coming to a bookstore near you in 2013:

Son of Man

An African Jesus Film

Edited by Richard Walsh, Jeffrey L. Staley, Adele Reinhartz

The remarkable, award-winning film,
Son of Man
(2005), directed by the South African Mark Dornford-May, sets the Jesus story in a contemporary, fictional southern African Judea. While news broadcasts display the political struggles and troubles of this postcolonial country, moments of magical realism point to supernatural battles between Satan and Jesus as well. Jesus’ Judean struggle with Satan begins with a haunting reprise of Matthew’s ‘slaughter of the innocents’ and moves forward in a Steve Biko-like non-violent, community-building ministry, captured in graffiti and in the video footage that Judas takes to incriminate Jesus. Satan and the powers seemingly triumph when Jesus ‘disappears’, but then Mary creates a community that challenges such injustice by displaying her son’s dead body upon a hillside cross. The film ends with shots of Jesus among the angels and everyday life in Khayelitsha (the primary shooting location), auguring hope of a new humanity (Genesis 1.26).

This book’s essays situate
Son of Man
in its African context, exploring the film’s incorporation of local customs, music, rituals, and events as it constructs an imperial and postcolonial ‘world’. The film is to be seen as an expression of postcolonial agency, as a call to constructive political action, as an interpretation of the gospels, and as a reconfiguration of the Jesus film tradition. Finally, the essays call attention to their interested, ideological interpretations by using
Son of Man
to raise contemporary ethical, hermeneutical, and theological questions. As the film itself concisely asks on behalf of the children featured in it and their politically active mothers, ‘Whose world is this’?

Richard Walsh is Professor of Religion and Co-director of the Honors Program at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Jeffrey L. Staley is an independent scholar living in Seattle, Washington.

Adele Reinhartz is Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa.

Series:
, 52 978-1-907534-00-0 hardback Publication June 2013 (not yet published)

Contents

1.
Richard Walsh, Adele Reinhartz and Jeffrey L. Staley,
Introduction

PART 1.
SON OF MAN
IN AFRICAN CONTEXT

2.
Gerald O. West,
The
Son of Man
in South Africa?

3.
Sam D. Giere,
‘This Is my World’!
Son of Man
(
Jezile
) and Cross-Cultural Convergences of Bible and World

4.
Thabang Nkadimeng and Lloyd Baugh,
Strategies of Sound: Revolutionary Music and Song in
Son of Man

5.
Jeremy Punt,
Thula
’ (Be Quiet): Agency in
Son of Man

6.
Sarojini Nadar,
‘Wathint'Abafazi Wathint'imbokodo’!
—The Son of Woman in the
Son of Man
as an Embodiment of the Struggle for Justice

7.
Saheed Yinka Adejumobi,
Empire and Utopia: ‘Resurrecting’ Postcolonial Visions and Beyond in
Son of Man

PART 2.
SON OF MAN
IN THE JESUS FILM TRADITION

8.
W. Barnes Tatum,
Son of Man
’s ‘Son of Man’: Becoming Human and Acting Humanely

9.
Jeffrey L. Staley,
What Hath New York City to Do with Khayelitsha? An Intertextual Reading of Two Jesus Films

10.
Reinhold Zwick,
Between Chester and Capetown: Transformations of the Gospel in
Son of Man

11.
Lloyd Baugh,
The African Face of Jesus in Film: Two Texts, A New Tradition

12.
Darren J.N. Middleton and S. Brent Plate,
‘Who Do You
See
That I Am’?
Son of Man
and Global Perspectives on Jesus Films

13.
Jane S. Webster,
Teaching
Son of Man
: A Dialogue with Biblical, Global, Film, and Theological Studies

PART 3. IDEOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO
SON OF MAN

14.
P. Jennifer Rohrer-Walsh and Richard Walsh,
Mary and the Mothers

15.
Erin Runions,
Son of Man
and Resistance to US Imperialism

16.
Richard Walsh,
A Beautiful Corpse: Fiction and Hagiography in
Son of Man

17.
George Aichele,
Film as Betrayal: Some Thoughts on
Son of Man

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