Now that the Oscars have been decided for this year, I’ve been pondering this: if I were to write a screenplay portraying the death and resurrection of Jesus, how would I tell the story? How would I envision it?
I’m reminded, for example, of the cinematic genius of Alfred Hitchcock, a genre-defining master of the suspense movie. (Random? I know. Hang in there with me for a bit.) There was little in the way of actual blood and gore in his films; he didn’t need it. Hitch could invoke terror in his audience by mere implication, using close-ups of actors’ faces, the right music, and creative editing and camera work. Take the classic murder scene with Janet Leigh in Psycho–I shudder to think how some contemporary R-rated filmmakers would shoot that now.
The authors of our four gospels (unlike Mel Gibson) tell us that Jesus was crucified, but don’t dwell on the gruesome details. A similar restraint applies to Easter and the resurrection. But if it were up to me, if I were writing the screenplay or directing the movie, what approach would I take? Might I incline toward a somber score that begins to soar when Jesus emerges victorious from the tomb? Would I tell the special effects people to give me some stunning visuals to convey the miraculous?
Or would I take a more subtle, indirect approach? I could give the audience a silent, empty tomb. Then turn the camera outward, and film the reaction shots.
There might need to be some special effects, since angelic beings are involved. But even then, there are choices to be made. Do we go with Matthew’s angel, who shines like lightning and causes an earthquake as he comes down from heaven (28:1-3)? Or Mark’s, described simply as “a young man dressed in a white robe” (16:5, NIV), sitting quietly inside the tomb?
What I love about the gospel accounts is that the most important event in human history, the watershed moment in the ongoing divine drama, is not portrayed in terms so majestic and otherworldly that the human drama disappears from view. Indeed, the “reaction shots” are intrinsic to the story: the devotion of the women, particularly Mary Magdalene; the terrified paralysis of the men guarding the tomb; the disbelief of the disciples on hearing the women’s report; the footrace to the tomb between Peter and the beloved disciple.
Here’s a thought: perhaps that way of telling the story fits best with the fact of the Incarnation itself, of God in human flesh. The divine drama doesn’t float above the human, daring us to make the leap; it intersects, intertwines, and calls us from within.
Perhaps in these remaining days of Lent, as we reflect on the resurrection, we might look less to the special effects, and more to the miracle that we have life because God has taken our story into his.