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The 2010 Glen Workshop In Santa Fe, NM

Son of Man
Movie Poster for Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet
Directed by Mark Dornford-May
Produced by Mark Dornford-May
Roger Frappier
Camilla Driver
Brigid Olen
Written by Mark Dornford-May
Pauline Malefane
Andiswa Kedama
Music by Pauline Malefane
Sibulele Mjali
Charles Hazlewood
Cinematography by Giulio Biccari
Editing by Ronelle Loots
Anne Sopel
Release Date 2006
Running Time 86 min.
Language Xhosa, English
More Information

Son of Man

If Jesus were alive on Earth today, and if he had been born in an African slum, what kinds of things would he care about? How would the era and culture shape his ministry? Son of Man seeks to explore these questions.  

Working with the South African theater group Dimpho di Kopane, director Mark Dornford-May crafts a retelling of the life of Jesus that manages to incorporate many of the most familiar elements of the story, while at the same injecting life into it because of care he takes in grounding the film in a vividly modern setting.  

Son of Man begins with the timeless story of the temptation in the desert, then abruptly cuts to a BBC-like report about the fighting between Herode’s militia and the insurgents in the “Afrikan Kingdom of Judea.” This juxtaposition of spiritual and real-world drama becomes a key motif throughout the film, as Jesus is shown giving equal concern to spiritual healing and political action. If anything, Son of Man spends more time on Jesus’ social mission.  

We get to know the Jesus in Son of Man first as a child, playing with angels and warning his mother of the Magi’s impending visit. As he grows up, he participates in his native coming-of-age ritual, tells Mary he is leaving, and begins recruiting his disciples, four of whom are women (Simone, Philippa, Thaddea, and Andie).  

After the death of Herode, many of Jesus’ followers want to take up arms against the new interim government, but Jesus tells them they will not need weapons to fight this battle. “Unrest is due to poverty, overcrowding, and lack of education. We must prove we’re committed to nonviolent change; then negotiations can begin.”  

The first of several biblical miracles in Son of Man occurs at the end of a discourse Jesus gives on social injustice, touching on everything from child slavery in Asia to drug companies’ patenting and selling medicine at prices the poor will never be able to afford. Just as he finishes speaking, a sick boy is lowered through the roof, and Jesus heals him on the spot.  

As word of Jesus’ miracles spreads, people in the towns he visits paint street murals commemorating the miraculous events. His increasing popularity, though, also attracts the attention of the interim government leaders, who are eager for an excuse to silence the revolutionary man.  

In addition to the strongly visual elements of the film, Son of Man is also a highly musical story, with Mary singing the Magnificat in an operatic voice, the angels breaking into song at the birth of Jesus, and Jesus’ followers letting loose a visceral dirge when they learn of his death. 

—Tyler Petty

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