I know I have been saying I will publish the third part in this religious/spiritual series for a while now, but they take bloody ages to write. With it being the Easter season though, I’ve been in the mood for all of the religious content I can consume and have been struck with sudden inspiration. So… please enjoy this little appetiser: part 2.5 of the “Movies I’ve Had a Religious/Spiritual Experience With” series.
Anyone who has read the first two pieces of this series – here and here – will have noticed that I haven’t actually written about many outright religious movies; this is partially because my intent has been to illustrate the power of cinema as a medium, but it’s also because my experiences are massively affected by the Judeo-Christian tradition and I therefore do not want to exclude any readers from my journey. Furthermore, I don’t really like writing about Jesus on the internet because people often look foolish to say the least, and I’m honestly hoping to avoid being tagged as a moron like so many of my faith are so often. Often, people of my faith come across as having a poor grip on reality because of how we are (apparently) so convinced that a magic bearded man in the sky will solve all our problems. However, after watching The Miracle Worker (2000), I’ve decided to be forthright about such matters…
In this day and age I, of course, have my doubts; do you have any idea what it is like to keep faith during these times? Everyday supposed people of faith commit horrendous atrocities on a much larger scale than at any other point in human history – dropping enormous bombs, poisoning water supplies, taking away aid and benefits from the needy, cutting people’s heads off, enslaving people, shutting our borders on refugees, and leaving millions in poverty. On many an occasion, in personal prayer, I have asked and even begged God to put a stop to these horrible things and it feels like every time I have been left with silence. I also contemplate the audacity of how I pray asking for God to protect me from these horrible things – through all the millennia God has been known to man, people have suffered terribly; who am I to ask God to answer my prayers? I still do believe in God, of course, but some days I feel he has no power in this world.
The Miracle Maker is a movie which is so often unfairly tossed aside as a Children’s movie as it is an animation produced jointly by the BBC and Icon. But I remember when it was first aired on the BBC at Easter, where as child I was enraptured by it. I hadn’t seen it for years, but decided to watch it during this year’s Easter period – I do enjoy watching content like this around this time as I feel watching Jesus’ life dramatised helps to invigorate my faith in a way scripture reading cannot at times. Re-watching it as an adult has actually helped to deepen my faith in a profound way by giving me a better appreciation and understanding of the person, Jesus of Nazareth. It was very much a case of watching a movie at the right time in my life, as witnessing the gentleness and love of the man in an era of seemingly endless terrible world events gave me hope and relief.
After 2000 year, the essence of who Jesus Christ is, is still a mystery. As a Catholic you would assume that I believe he is the Son of God, which of course I do, but what does that mean? A Catholic belief about God is the Trinity, one God made of 3 people: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Jesus as the Son of God was a human, but in all entirety, was God – the word made flesh. But what even does that mean? How can you be mortal and immortal at the same time!? Even after centuries of theology this isn’t fully understood. The Miracle Maker as a film is extraordinary in the way it represents Jesus and invokes a great empathy and affection in the audience, specifically those with beliefs, and it even helped me to make sense of worship.
The film starts with Jesus doing his last job as a carpenter (a career he inherited from his foster-father Joseph), before starting his mission on Earth. Before he begins preaching to people, he fasts for forty days in the desert where he is tempted by the devil three times. He resurfaces and makes waves throughout the countryside, with his novel teachings emphasising the importance of love, forgiveness, and acceptance of social pariahs over following the letter of the law which has lost its heart. As such, he quickly makes enemies out of the religious elite, who eventually plot his death. With the help of a breath-taking blend of stop-motion and 2D animation, and the tremendous voice talents of Ralph Fiennes, the film does a remarkable job of making sense of the duality of Jesus’ identity, making him more tangible and relatable than the mythical being we’re so often presented with.
Jesus’ life is steeped in ordinariness; but he transmits an incredible charisma that causes people to be drawn to him. There is a humanness in his character: he loves meeting new people, eating and drinking with friends, and being generally social. But there is something else that goes beyond the capabilities of a human; far much more than just being a nice man. A large part of the film is through the eyes of a young girl Tamar (Jairus’ daughter in the Gospels – spoiler alert for you Bible nerds) who is one of the people drawn to him and follows him throughout his mission. Out of everyone else in the film, it is Jesus who has the greatest patience with Tamar, respects her as a person and never disregards what she has to say because she is a child. Literally what adult person can keep up with that attitude towards children constantly? But in all seriousness, he keeps on achieving things beyond what is capable of oh-so easily corrupted humans. He reaches into the hearts of those who have been hardened by cynicism, turning them into avid followers. He offers friendship without judgement to those despised by many, such as sex-workers and the tax collectors who are considered traitors. Most importantly, his abounding compassion never goes to waste and he uses it at every opportunity. It may seem like I have missed out the most obvious indicator of his divinity, which are the many miracles he performs and yes, it is these stories which you first learn about as a kid, but re-watching this movie as an adult you can look through these amazing acts to see the real God. Jesus encounters many sick people during his travels and every time he stops whatever he is doing to heal them, but he also offers healing beyond that of physical illness, and that is in the forgiving of sins. It is these immense acts of mercy that eventually led to his death (for this was considered blasphemy). This was so important for me to realise because as a Christian, the best way to understand the nature of God is by observing it in Jesus and, in the interpretation of The Miracle Maker, you can see a God with an insatiable love for mankind who cannot stand to see us suffer. Even though I don’t expect God to come down to wave his magic wand, it is of great comfort to know that he is not indifferent to all the suffering going on in the world today, but that it instead causes him grief.
The Miracle Maker goes beyond simply stating the different events and miracles of Jesus’ life: very often you hear the rhetoric that the teachings of the Bible are irrelevant today because times have changed. But… oh my sweet summer child, nothing changes. History repeats itself over and over again. Like the people of the world today, the people of Palestine in Jesus’ time lived in times of political uncertainty and upheaval. Jesus lived under Roman occupation, and the one thing everyone remembers about the Romans from history lessons was their brutality. Like today, there were many people who opposed this occupation, and some were attracted to the more violent methods of resistance, there were even those whose violent aspirations had gotten tangled up in their religious beliefs: many Zealots during the time believed that the prophesied Messiah would come as a warrior leader who would trample Israel’s enemies. On the flipside, there were those who aspired to power by being sycophants to the Romans, content to let the ordinary people suffer under the hefty Roman taxes so long as they could still enjoy the small pleasures they got from life. In fact, they had gotten so used to it, they were prepared to silence anyone who may incite the people against them and the Romans. Again, this is a very similar story to the scandals that come out about politicians almost daily in our modern times.
The Miracle Maker shows that Jesus’ human life is strewn with the same corrupted people as our current lives are. More astonishingly, it also shows Jesus going through the more painful trials of human life. One moment that really sticks out is when Jesus is told the news that John the Baptist (who was a relation of Jesus) had been executed by King Herod. It cuts to Jesus crying his eyes out on the ground only turning to the sky to utter a very tear-stained “Father”. Man, I can’t even begin to describe how this blows my mind. The spiritual dryness I have had some experience with is the feeling of God not answering or acknowledging prayers. And remember, in Christian belief Jesus is God yet he goes through the all-too-human experience of feeling forsaken by God. This is seen again in the Garden of Gethsemane scene, moments before Jesus is arrested. Jesus Christ’s Passion is full of pain; mental and physical torture as shown in his time in Gethsemane e.g.
Matthew 26:38, Then he said to them “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me”.
Like The Prince of Egypt, The Miracle Maker introduces children to dark and heavy material without being condescending, as was delightfully demonstrated in this scene. The animation transitions into trippy 2D animation as Jesus descends into a moment of terrible depression and distress, begging God to let there be another way, crying out “TAKE IT AWAY! TAKE IT AWAY!” Conveniently, Satan turns up offering Jesus an escape route, but Jesus stays resolute to the will of his Father and allows himself to be captured.
To conclude, this film represents the complexity and humanity of Jesus more than any other film that focuses on his life, and works to illustrate how despite his divinity, he knew exactly what it was to be human, experiencing all of our temptations and crucially our pain. Witnessing this, his willingness to suffer and die becomes that bit more incredible. Many people in this world are not Christian, but for myself and others of my faith, this film succeeds in helping us to understand the love God has for us, especially when you can see that he knows what it means to live a human life.
John 3:16, For God so loved the World that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The Miracle Maker displays the extraordinary potential of cinema, introducing children and adults alike to the most existential of questions and opening our minds to even more. What a movie to watch at Easter; what a movie indeed.