Paul: Apostle of Christ – A brief review
Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in a pre-screening for the new movie Paul: Apostle of Christ. I purposefully steered clear of other reviews and reactions to the movie so that I could try and approach it as objectively as possible. I was especially interested, given my background in New Testament studies, to see how historically accurate the film would be. I will begin with three commendations and finish with three critiques of the movie.
1. The city of Rome was re-created well. The landscape, housing, streets and clothing were well done and lent an authentic feel to the movie. I was impressed with the attention to detail.
2. The main premise of the movie is that Paul is experiencing his second imprisonment in Rome and will soon be executed for being a Christian. Nero has recently burned part of Rome and has blamed the Christians for the disaster, so Paul and the other Christian leaders are excellent scape-goats. The film shows people from all religious and political backgrounds in Rome acknowledging that Nero actually started the fire. Even though it was common knowledge that he did so, the Christians were still killed because no one could stand up to the emperor, who was god in human form according to Roman ideas. They represented this historical reality well.
3. Also, the premise of the movie was believable. Luke travels to Rome to try and see Paul and write down his final thoughts and a history of his life. Luke sneaks into the prison several times and begins to write what the movie indicates to be the book of Acts. But here is where things begin to get a little fuzzy.
1. We know from history that Paul has already written all of his New Testament books except II Timothy. In one sense, the movie accurately depicts this fact, but in another sense, it seems to completely miss it. Throughout the movie, Paul is constantly quoting his already written books as if he is saying these things for the first time. While this provides some authenticity of sorts, it also makes Paul’s words rather wooden for any viewers who are familiar with his New Testament letters. This is exacerbated by the fact that Paul will say a line from one of his books to Luke -as if Luke is hearing this for the first time- and then he will tell Luke to “write that down.” As if to say: “Oh, I think what I just said was rather good, perhaps you should write that little nugget of wisdom down for posterity.” But of course, all of this had already been written down and was well known by the church from Paul’s letters.
2. Furthermore, much of what Luke writes down in this movie has little or nothing to do with the book of Acts. Paul actually tells Luke very little throughout the movie that is not already contained in one of Paul’s letters. Perhaps the most notable exception is the passage concerning Paul’s conversion from Acts 9 which the movie seeks to consider at length. This makes for a bit of a disjointed movie. Instead of Paul telling the story of his life and travels that the book of Acts records, we are left listening to Paul sporadically quoting his previously written letters. This is odd since the narrative aspects of the book of Acts would seem to fit nicely in the story-telling genre of the film.
3. While the movie contained some good chemistry between Luke & Paul, and a helpful sub-plot concerning their interaction with the prison warden, there was one sub-plot that was not satisfactory. One premise of the movie is that Priscilla and Aquila were still living in Rome and were trying to hide as many Christians from Nero as possible while they tried to figure out if they could escape. This leads some of the young men in the Christian compound to try and break Paul out of prison by force. Of course, all of this drama is unnecessary. If one reads the book of Acts, and if the movie had given more from that New Testament book, there would have been more than enough action and intrigue without this sub-plot being added. While the sub-plot is somewhat believable, it was unnecessary and the film spends far too much time on it.
These are only a few thoughts on the movie, but I would highly recommend others to watch it and see what they think. I was pleased with the quality of the film, the acting, and with the film as a whole. One aspect that I should mention was the way in which the director shows you how Paul had originally persecuted Christians before becoming one himself. Without spoiling this excellent element of the movie, the final scene connects well with the glimpses of Paul’s early life that we see in the movie. I was deeply impressed and moved by the final scene and how it brought many of the elements of the movie together. The power of forgiveness – a major theme in the movie – is well-represented in the conclusion of the film.
So why not go out for a movie night and see what you think. Better still, why not invite some friends to see the movie with you and then make plans to have a discussion about the movie afterwards over some good food. There will be plenty to talk about.