The Nativity Story infuses the story of Jesus’ with humanity. Read on:
There are two kinds of religious epics at Christmas: the old-fashioned, overblown, cast-of-thousands camp classics (“Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool” — Anne Baxter as Nefretiri in The Ten Commandments) and the modern, grittier recreation that comes with the kind of political and racial subtext that made The Passion of the Christ such a controversial hit.
The new epic is reverent and literal. In Mel Gibson’s vision, it’s also brutal and flirts with racism; in Catherine Hardwicke’s The Nativity Story, it’s historical and flirts only with sanctimony.
Hardwicke, of course, has the easier job. The Nativity Story, which tells of the birth of Christ, has no anti-Semitic undertones. Its Mary and Joseph are both Jewish, living in a Jewish community. The villain is King Herod, a bad guy who has no anti-defamation league to stand up for him. There is even some humour in the movie, courtesy of the three wise men, who are treated with the patronizing affection we reserve for ancient exotics and precocious children.
The Nativity Story is, in many ways, the ultimate Christmas movie. It seems aimed mostly at Hollywood’s newest audience, evangelicals, fundamentalists and also ordinary church-goers who feel left out of the usual menu of sex, violence and ironic dismissal of their religion. It strips the Christmas message of its tinsel and twinkling lights, although it adds a few curlicues of its own: the scene where Jesus is born in Bethlehem is orchestrated to the familiar choir of heavenly voices and 1,000 strings and illuminated by a star that looks like it was borrowed from a gala movie opening. The result is a tableau of kneeling shepherds, wide-eyed wise men and innocent farm animals that wouldn’t be out of place at a school pageant.
The story starts with Herod — driven to mad paranoia by the prophecy of a Messiah who will overthrow his rule — sending his men to Bethlehem to kill all the male children. It then goes back a year to Nazareth, where we meet Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes from Whale Rider), who is betrothed to Joseph (Oscar Isaac), but becomes impregnated by a miracle from God. This causes a scandal that brings her dangerously close to being stoned to death, but Joseph believes her, and the two journey to Bethlehem for the birth.
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The Nativity Story Movie Posters
View the trailer
In theaters, December 1, 2006
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