Film making is a difficult in and of itself, but it's even harder when you're telling a familiar story. That was the challenge facing director Catherine Hardwicke and screenwriter Mike Rich in bringing to life the story of Jesus' birth. Their movie, The Nativity Story, faithfully retells the story and offers satisfying visual and dramatic details.
I saw the movie twice over the weekend--once with my wife and another time with members from my church.
The film tastefully portrays elements not contained in Luke and Matthew's birth accounts and left to our imagination--like the circumstances that bring Mary and Joseph together, Mary's journey to visit Elizabeth, and the Magi's quest to find a newborn king.
One character the movie really brings to life is Joseph, played by Oscar Isaac (Interestingly, the Bible never quotes Joseph. His character is silent. But his actions speak volumes and proves what Matthew says about him--he was righteous). On the long, difficult, and sometimes dangerous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, we see Joseph protecting and providing for Mary. Watching the couple come closer together in marriage and mission made me think that maybe God brought about the trip for that very purpose.
The scene of Jesus' birth was a little too Hollywood for me. I could have done without the multiple shots of light coming down from heaven (The language used in Luke's gospel is a very straight forward, earthy account that resists glorifying the fact that God has come down to earth). However, the portrayal of the shepherds and Magi's awestruck response upon seeing the baby Jesus was amazing and worth the price of admission.
What makes the story of Jesus' birth compelling is the faithful choices made by Mary and Joseph and the irony of earth's creator being born in the lowliest of places. The Nativity Story captures well these subtleties and should be a Christmas favorite for years to come.