‘The Young Messiah’ Tells the Story of Jesus as a Boy
“The Young Messiah” is a biblical story that isn’t in the Bible, filling in a narrative gap in the New Testament by depicting Jesus as a 7-year-old boy.
“This is the greatest story never told,” says producer Chris Columbus.
It’s hardly an overstatement to call this a career departure for Columbus, a Hollywood heavyweight best known for blockbusters like “Home Alone,” “A Night at the Museum” and Harry Potter films.
But then “The Young Messiah” is being positioned as more than just another faith-based film. Adapted from a novel by Anne Rice, the film seeks to appeal to believers and non-believers alike by telling a speculative and fictional story about the Son of God without drifting into blasphemy.
As National Catholic Register critic Steven D. Greydanus notes in his review of “The Young Messiah,” that’s something contemporary Bible films usually can’t do. Movies like “Risen” and “Son of God” tend to play it safe to appeal to the devout while films like “Noah” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” take so many liberties they drive believers away.
“Films of the first sort are often seen as rehashing familiar Bible stories; those of the second sort are often seen as making hash of them,” he writes.
For source material, “The Young Messiah” draws on what is Rice’s own professional departure, the bestseller “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” written by the “Vampire Chronicles” author during her temporary return to Catholicism. The book imagines the boy Jesus – what he feels and does, who his friends are, how he interacts with his family.
‘The Young Messiah’ Taps ‘Religious Influencers’ for Approval
It takes things a step further by introducing a divine narrator – fictionalizing God – a device the movie largely abandons in one of many nods to the target audience, who were involved throughout production. Clergy and other “religious influencers” were shown both the script and early prints of the movie, and changes were made to reflect their responses.
“When you got advisors and theologians behind you, and they say this doesn’t contradict anything in the Bible, that’s all we were concerned about,” says director and co-screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh. “I didn’t want to offend.”
And neither did the studio. Focus Features, which became involved after the project got off the ground with independent financing, sent a clear message to the creative team.
“Focus believed in what we were doing and the way we were trying to tell the story,” says another producer, Michael Barnathan, who’s worked with Columbus on the Harry Potter series and other major movies. “They said to us: We don’t want to mess with what you’re doing; we just don’t want to get into trouble.”
The actors, starting with the star, Adam Greaves-Neal, whose first movie role had him playing a young Jesus of Nazareth, appreciated the weight of the subject matter.
“He’s such an iconic figure to so many millions of people in the world,” says Greaves-Neal. “It’s quite a responsibility.”
Adds Sara Lazzaro, who plays Mary: “Of course I was daunted, and also privileged.”
But they all insist that the film retains Rice’s unique vision and power – and that it stands on its own as a movie.
“It’s just a beautiful story about a little boy and his family and their trials and tribulations,” says composer John Debney, who also did the music for “The Last Temptation of Christ” (and the upcoming “The Jungle Book” reboot). “He’s trying to figure out who he is. His parents are trying to figure out what the heck to tell their little boy.”
And Columbus – for all the sensitivity filmmakers afforded to believers – flatly rejects slapping simple labels on the film.
“I don’t consider this a faith-based movie. I consider this like other movies I used to watch when I was a kid: ‘Ben-Hur,’ ‘The Ten Commandments.’ It’s a biblical epic – on a minor scale – but a great story. All moviegoers will want to see it. It’s a phenomenal story about a kid.”
“The Young Messiah” opens Friday.