In the elegiac drama “Last Days in the Desert,” Ewan McGregor portrays a holy man headed for Jerusalem: a wandering prophet variously addressed as “rabbi” or Yeshua who’s seeking spiritual awareness but who sheepishly describes himself as “a bit lost” to those he encounters.
Shown fasting and praying, weeping in solitude and shivering through frigid Judean Desert nights, he’s the embodiment of Jesus Christ in everything but name. “Father, where are you?” he cries out in the film (which arrives in theaters Friday, May 13). “Father, speak to me!”
The movie implicitly takes up where the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and Mark leave off. But the film’s writer-director, Rodrigo García (“Mother and Child” and “Albert Nobbs”), is quick to point out the existentially fraught father-son relationship depicted onscreen is all poetic license and appears nowhere in the New Testament.
“I liken it to a literary conceit: You take a person from history or mythology — for example, Napoleon while he was a prisoner at Elba or Pocahontas before the Europeans arrived — and invent a few days for yourself,” Mr. García explained.
“In the figure of Jesus, everyone knows his origins and his destiny,” he continued. “I’m freed because I’m not talking about episodes that are in the Gospel.”
Mr. Garcia is hardly the only moviemaker these days to find a certain freedom by using Scripture as a springboard. In the last few months, a spate of faith-based films including “Risen” (released in February) and “The Young Messiah” (from March) has come to present never-told or newly imagined chapters of Jesus’ existence, offering biblical back stories aimed at an audience of roughly 200 million Americans who self-identify as Christians and attend church at least once a month.
What’s more, several other such films are in Hollywood’s pipeline. Sony Pictures Animation recently announced it would release an as-yet untitled Nativity movie in December 2017 that presents the story of Christ’s birth from the perspective of animals in the manger. And later this year, Universal Pictures International and Film4 are scheduled to produce a biopic about Mary Magdalene — who is believed to have seen Jesus on the cross and later resurrected — offering what its producers describe in a statement as “an incredibly powerful new perspective on one of the world’s most well-known origin stories.”
In the past, big-screen biblical adaptations have provoked an outcry over historical inaccuracies or perceived distortions of holy Scripture — “The Last Temptation of Christ” (the 1988 drama featuring Jesus in a dream lovemaking sequence), the 2014 mega-budget “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (which depicts Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt) and the director Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” (also 2014) among them. But these new movies are intended more as spinoffs or even prequels to the Bible than straight-ahead cinematic translations.
“It’s almost a new genre,” said Mickey Liddell, a producer of “Risen.” “Audiences feel they’ve seen the biblical stories in movies. But what if we showed what else was going on at the time? That makes it more interesting, because you get a fresh perspective on the oldest story in the world.”
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SOURCE: The New York Times