Son of Man - Hallelujah
| Son of Man is a brave and beautiful film which sets the Christ story in a modern day African nation torn apart by colonialism and civil war. What struck me most when I was watching this film is how powerful this story truly is.
It’s easy to forget this as the gets bogged down in our modern political discourse. It’s also easy to distance ourselves from the power of this myth as it remains long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Seeing the brutality of the story set in a modern locale that is as real and immediate as it is, puts the importance of these ideas into perspective. Imagine hearing the doctrine of peace in a setting where lawlessness, rape and murder are a fact of daily life.
The power of Son of Man is the rawness with which it throws these images at us and contrasts that with the philosophy of love. It removes two millennia of political baggage that accompanies discussions of the gospels and puts the ideas plainly on the table for us to digest. The film begins with Mary running for her life from armed militia, finding a hiding place in a building only to be horrified at the site of a pile of slaughtered children in the corner. This is the world we live in and this is the world that the son of man is born into.
Relatively new director Mark Dornford-May uses the natural beauty of the continent along with the ugliness of its poverty to frame his adaptation. The film is stark void of much commentary or even dialogue. Instead he lets the actors’ faces do the talking. Often he has them sing. Much of the story is told through song and music. This is an emotional story and a powerful journey.
I especially loved the film’s treatment of angels whoa re all portrayed by little children with white feathers. Their appearances are always both welcome and a bit unsettling. They are powerful and innocent symbols.
Dornford-May shows the utmost restraint and this may be his only fault. The film is far too short and often you wish for more. You want to see more of each character to understand them better and to get a better understanding of what’s happening to Africa. Often, he relies on our preconceived notions of these characters and doesn’t create them originally for us. Son of Man could have been an even stronger, more powerful film if he had taken a little more time with his subjects.
But the film, in its rawness, is still very rich. This is one of the world’s most powerful stories and Son of Man communicates that power. It rings the story truthfully in a way that could have much more meaning for many audiences than a sermon could. It also strips the story of its cultural and political trappings to boil it down to a beautiful, if painful, message of love and peace.
Probably the most powerful moment is when Jesus is killed. He is beated to death and left in an umarked grave instead of being crucified. Political individuals disappear all the time. However, his followers find him and hang him on a cross tied up with ribbons to show his death for all to see. His death is tranformed from a symbol of power to one of survival.