Movie Review

The Gospel of John

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence involving the crucifixion

Reviewed by: Eric S. Weiss
CONTRIBUTOR

Excellent!
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults and older children
Genre:
Biblical drama
Length:
2 hr. 59 min.
Copyright, Visual Bible International
Copyright, Visual Bible International
Copyright, Visual Bible International
Copyright, Visual Bible International
Copyright, Visual Bible International
Copyright, Visual Bible International
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Visual Bible International

Learn more about Jesus Christ

Is the Bible’s account of Christ’s life accurate? Answer

How do we know that Jesus was the Messiah? Answer

Is Jesus Christ a man, or is he God? Answer

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are among those who claim that the Bible does not teach that Jesus Christ was God, manifest in human form. What are the biblical problems with that view? Answer

If Jesus was the Son of God, why did He call Himself the Son of Man? Answer

If Jesus is God, how could he die? If Jesus died on the cross, then how can he be alive today? Answer

How can one God be three persons? Answer

Has science disproved the miracles associated with Jesus Christ? Answer

Could Christ have sinned? Answer

What has archaeology shown about the town of Capernaum where Jesus spent much of his life and ministry? Answer

“The Jesus Seminar”—Are their criticisms of the gospels valid? Answer

How did Jesus die? Learn the facts. Go

Some say that Christ’s resurrection was a myth, not history. Is this possible? Answer


Answers to your skeptical questions
about Jesus Christ. Who was he? Read the record, examine the evidence for his divinity, miracles, resurrection and claims

Starring: Christopher Plummer, Henry Ian Cusick | Directed by: Philip Saville | Produced by: Garth H. Drabinsky | Written by: John Goldsmith | Distributor: Visual Bible International

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “An ambitious motion picture that has been adapted for the screen on a word for word basis from the American Bible Society’s Good News Bible. The story of Jesus’ life as recounted by His disciple John, this three-hour epic feature film draws its audience into antiquity by way of meticulous recreation, including an original musical score complete with instrumental sounds of the time. This ambitious motion picture follows the Gospel precisely, neither adding to the story from other Gospels, nor omitting complex passages.”

Wow! Go see it. See it twice. Tell your friends to see it. This movie both raises and sets the bar for religious films. Cusick’s is the greatest film portrayal of the Jesus Christ of the Gospels ever, and reason alone to see this movie. However, the entire movie is excellent as well, especially considering the strictures the filmmakers set for themselves (i.e., to adhere to a faithful and complete word-for-word rendition of The Gospel of John). It is a great movie, and truly gives audiences the best version so far of “the greatest story ever told.”

Henry Ian Cusick’s Jesus sets a new standard. Forget Robert Powell in JESUS OF NAZARETH. Indeed, forget every other movie Jesus you have seen. Cusick has given us a Jesus Christ that is the most intensely human-divine characterization of Jesus yet portrayed on screen. Cusick is so good that he makes weaker characters (like some of the disciples) look bad, even though they’re not really bad, and his performance in my opinion makes up for any shortcomings the film may have. Pilate is quite good, too, as is the character identified in the credits as the “Leading Pharisee.” But Cusick… He steals the movie.

“The Gospel of John” (in both written form and in this film version) pulls no punches in making Jesus Himself the issue. Cusick does not portray Him as a dreamy, melancholy, sometimes other-worldly character like Robert Powell in JESUS OF NAZARETH, or as a “revolutionary,” or as one who is confused about His mission, like Jeremy Sisto in the CBS JESUS movie, or as a reverent but not-quite-real person like Max von Sydow in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. This Jesus—just like John’s Jesus—KNOWS who He is, and He KNOWS where and who He comes from, and He KNOWS who His Father is, and He KNOWS where He’s going, and He KNOWS that those who are opposing Him are blind and liars and hypocrites and do not love God. And He says all these things.

C.S. Lewis, I believe, wrote in his book MERE CHRISTIANITY what was later developed into the so-called “trilemma” (popularized by Christian apologist Josh McDowell), which basically states that a man who said the things Jesus said and did the things Jesus did (assuming the Gospel accounts are accurate) would be either a liar, a lunatic or… the Lord He claimed to be. Cusick’s and John’s Jesus is exactly that. His portrayal comes across as Him being either the brashest, most self-assured megalomaniac—or The Son of Man/Son of God/Messiah He repeatedly declares Himself to be.

John’s Gospel is probably heavier on dialogue and leaner on action when compared to the Synoptic Gospels, but this movie never suffers from that, largely due, I think, to Cusick’s spirited performance and the filmmakers’ inventive staging and filming. Even when there is a lull in the action, Cusick’s Jesus keeps you riveted to His every word, and the authenticity of the sets and costumes and scenes has you looking at every detail. The filming is never static or stagy, and it continually drives the movie forward. The camera work is as “contemporary” as the latest Hollywood movie, and never seems gimmicky.

Some people view John as the “most spiritual” of the Gospels. One view goes, I think, that Matthew shows Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, Mark as the Servant of YHWH, Luke as the Savior to the Gentiles and the Son of Man(kind), and John gives us Jesus as the Divine Son of God. Some say “John” (the author’s name is known only by tradition; the Gospel has no name attached to it) wrote his Gospel as an old man, after a lifetime of theological reflection on “The Word” that had become flesh.

Some say that John at times gives us what Jesus “means,” rather than what He says or does (which may explain some of his apparent discrepancies with the Synoptic Gospels). For those who have a perception that John’s Gospel gives us a Jesus who is wholly or largely focused on the realm from which He came, this movie may come as a shock, for it shows that John’s Jesus is a very earthly/earthy/fleshly/real Jesus. He may have one foot in Heaven, but His other foot is firmly planted on the earth, and Cusick never diminishes the humanness of Jesus in this film.

Most people probably don’t realize how un-supernatural the post-resurrection Jesus in John’s Gospel is. Cusick and this film portray this perfectly. I suspect that’s partly why a reviewer for The Dallas Morning News thought the post-resurrection scenes were anti-climactic.

In every way, this film is many cuts above The Visual Bible’s two previous efforts, “MATTHEW” and “ACTS”. Having seen these two previous films , my expectations for this movie were not very high. My reaction/response to this film: I was blown away. This movie both raises and sets the bar for religious films. I do not think I am wrong to say that this is the greatest film portrayal of the Jesus Christ of the Gospels produced so far, and the greatest film rendition of a Biblical book ever made.

This movie is word-for-word (except for the “he said,” “they said,” etc. for spoken dialogue) from The Gospel of John, per the Good News Bible (GNB—American Bible Society), also published as Good News for Modern Man or Today’s English Version (TEV). Yet this film does so much more than other movies that have tried to merely follow the Biblical text (e.g., the Campus Crusade for Christ JESUS film with Brian Deacon). The film never totally becomes a drama, because Christopher Plummer’s narration of the non-speaking parts of John accompanies the whole movie, so you’re constantly reminded that someone is reading or showing you a story.

This isn’t a movie like KING OF KINGS (my favorite “Jesus” movie—until this one) that is a drama based on the Gospels. This is The Gospel of John, every word, every incident, in the exact order of the book, no words added, no words subtracted (except for the aforementioned “he said,” “they said,” etc.). Even the parts that one might think would make for awkward filming are done well.

The sets and costumes and actors look and seem very authentic (except for the British accents). The Jewish leaders in this film are dark in dress and somewhat ominous, especially the very prominent character identified in the end credits only as the “Leading Pharisee.” (The dark clothing, however, was likely necessitated by the desire for historical authenticity, and the film is scrupulous in this regard.) The blood from Jesus’ scourging unfortunately looks fake, like they poured or streaked blood-colored syrup on His chest and back. In my opinion, they should have done a better job with His wounds and blood. There are no welts, no skin tears, just blood streaks.

The scenes (both landscape and close up) of things like Jerusalem and the Temple look very good—not like cheap sets or obvious and cheap CGI. Also, at the Passover/Last Supper, when Jesus is outside with His disciples, the moon is full—which is how it would be at 14-15 Nisan, when Passover occurs. Reading the credits shows that the authenticity of this film extended to the instruments and the music.

Violence: Mild | Profanity: None | Sex/Nudity: None

Year of Release—2003


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—This is truly beautiful film. Displays great examples of love between men as Christ would have demonstrated himself. I recommend it to all movie enthusiasts as it is entertaining and has a good message. Love your fellow man. Love him hard as you can for, like this film shows, our time on this good earth is limited.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 3]
—Michael Lovejoy, age 16
Positive—My husband and I took our kids (one of which is 10 years old) to see the “Gospel of John.” I have never been so moved by a movie in my life. God anointed this movie. He will use it for His Glory. The actor that played Jesus did such a magnificent job at portraying His compassion and humanness. It was the first time that I have ever watched a movie about Jesus that I actually felt like it wasn’t an actor acting. It brought me to tears on several occasions because it brought to life the meaning of some of the scriptures that I never really understood the context before. I especially was moved when Jesus washed the disciples feet and when Jesus asked Peter if he loved him 3 times. It was evident that He did this to give Peter a chance to “undo” the personal damage that he had done to his own psyche when he denied Jesus three times.

After the movie was over, I had to sit in the theatre for a few minutes (even after the credits were done) and reflect. My family felt the same way, nobody wanted to get up and go home. We had been in “God’s presence” and we didn’t want it to end. The movie is rated PG-13 for the violence in the crucifixion but it entails only the breaking of the legs of the thieves and the piercing of his side. You hear him being whipped and you see them hanging on the cross which are both disturbing but truth. If you go see only one movie this year, I would say let it be this one.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—Julie L., age 39
Positive—Great movie! The music, acting, everything was done very well. When the movie was over the theatre exploded with applause. Highly recommended. What a vivid reminder on who He is, what He did for us and what He offers us.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—John Pruitt, age 26
Positive—AWESOME! AMAZING! BEAUTIFUL! This has to be THE best Jesus movie ever made to date! Henry Ian Cusick was spectacular at Jesus. The entire cast, the set design, but most importantly the screenplay (from the Good News Bible) was perfect! I pray ALL who can see this movie will see it and begin to understand the saving grace of Jesus Christ!
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Jennifer Surles, age 41
Positive—How Excellent it is! I strongly recommend it to you!
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—Nahimana Hilaire, age 35
Positive—Even for a 3 hour film, this was amazing, and didn’t seem that long anyway! I like the cinematography, the actors, the direction, the Word. It seemed very authentic. This portrayal of Jesus was human yet Godly, and someone you would like to be with all the time. I also like that the crucifixion wasn’t gory. It was better than expected and the best Jesus film I’ve seen to date. Awesome!
My Ratings: [Excellent/5]
—Mary Alice, age 36
Positive—Whether or not you are a believer, you should see this movie. Believers especially should see it. It is long (at least 3 hrs.), but worth it. It was produced very well and the acting was good, especially Jesus. The Gospel According to John is just as good, if not better than the classic movies about Jesus.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/3]
—Brady Williams, age 34
Positive—A wonderful film for seekers to know more about who Jesus is and an interesting way to find out.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—Judi, age 50
Positive—I was surprized only that Mary Magdelene was with the Disciples so much, and especially at the Last Supper. Assume this is Bible based but would like the reference(s). Great movie.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/4]
—Harry McClintic, age 71
Positive—What a beautiful Jesus this movie portrays! I have always been partial to John’s gospel, but to see it visually was amazing. The movie so clearly shows the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in a powerful way. What a treat to see the story of Lazarus, the woman at the well and Jesus washing the disciples feet. What beautiful images! My wife and I have encouraged everyone we talk with to see this film.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—Mike Norcom, age 56
Positive—I would not have known that this movie existed had it not been for someone telling me. It is word for word from the Bible and runs three hours. I not only liked it, but I appreciated it. Out of all the movies about Jesus, this is my second favorite, The Passion being my favorite. Rent it when it comes out on video and tell everyone about it!
My Ratings: [Excellent!/3]
—Brady Williams, age 34
Positive—Includes the whole message in context. “The Gospel of John” was a better wholesome movie, but we wonder why it wasn’t promoted by the church leaders as Gibson’s is.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/4]
—Hector Ros, age 37
Negative

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Comments from young people
Positive—I love this movie. I was never allowed to watch THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. This movie is the full word for word Gospel of John. I don’t think one word was removed from the gospel in this movie. It was not very violent. …It was excellent. I give it 5 stars!
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—Taylor Lawrence, age 12
Movie Critics
…profound and intimate look at Jesus. I came out of the screening appreciating Christ, his teachings and his radical personality on a whole new level…
—Holly McClure, Crosswalk
…This is the greatest story ever told—told in the greatest way imaginable… Bravo!
—Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…The Gospel of John is the Scripture coming to life. I just loved soaking in the Word of God. This film allows that experience—you see it, hear it, feel it, and go through the emotions. Take your friends and family to see The Gospel of John.
—Ted Haggard, National Association of Evangelicals
…Highly Recommendable! A must-see film for every Christian…
—Michael Little, Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)