The Young Messiah is loosely based on Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by acclaimed occult writer Anne Rice. Rice’s novel explores the delicate balance between human adolescence and divinity. Using scripture-known characteristics of Jesus, along with historical context of the time period and adding shared experiences of going through adolescence, Rice weaves a believable tale of the origin story of the one who would become known as Jesus Christ. Little is known of this godhead during his formative years, only appearing on the scene with full-blown miracles in tow. Even then, his “history” is all secondhand knowledge passed on years after his death. Rice’s story is just as believable, if not more so, than anything scripture could provide. This is where the divisive controversy enters the conversation, but unfortunately doesn’t transfer to the film.
Screenplay writers Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh and Cyrus Nowrasteh take a novel with the possibility for a real, intellectual discussion and turns it into a Sunday school special about the misadventures of kid Jesus, healing the sick, resurrecting the dead and turning water into grape juice. Okay, that last one was a lie, but the film’s tone was only a stone’s throw away from this sort of docile pandering. Like the Nowrasteh’s previous film, The Stoning of Soraya M., their potentially compelling story is beaten into an easily digestible pulp by their heavy-handed and unoriginal approach. The entire film plays it safe, all the way from its universally agreeable interpretation of the story, all the way to the predictable use of a sepia filter for the film.
Director Cyrus Nowrasteh takes the predictable route to depict symbols of divinity. Well-timed backlighting, ominous rays of sunshine and mysterious dark-cloaked figures are only some of the clichés that plague this film. The entire film’s pacing rested solely on the building up to the next miracle performed. Even then, we were only given the groundwork for his would-be greatest hits of already known miracles he would perform as an adult. It wouldn’t be a complete work of banality without the tried and true trope of the morally self-questioning centurion becoming a believer in the end, played by Sean Bean.
Adam Greaves-Neal does a great job at representing Jesus’ relatable human aspects and tempering them with his divine ones. Every miracle feels natural and unforced, even the most amazing of them. Christian McKay as his uncle Cleopas also makes a lasting impression and is one of the key components in understanding the origins of some of Jesus’ popular view. His great performance and affable character make him the Uncle Ben of Jesus’ origin story, encouraging Jesus to embrace his gifts for the side of good.
Despite every flaw in this film, the biggest lies in the presentation of the ideology. Instead of showing how our humanity and boundless capacity for empathy can be a form of divinity we can all posses, The Young Messiah‘s production ends up proving how our own human fallibility curtails our search for enlightenment by becoming complacent with simple explanations for cosmically complex ideas.
It’s only when you reach the end do you feel like the story will become more interesting. Young Messiah works as a watered-down, run-of-the-mill superhero origin story, but you only become truly interested once you reach the end, and both the main character and the film seem like they have finally found their purpose. With the film ending in the promise of excitement, I’ll look forward to the sequel, The Young Messiah 2: Rise of the Jesus, or even The Teen Messiah.
Rating: ★★★★ (4/10 stars)