Armand J. Azamar
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
- Matthew 1:21, NKJV
The Nativity Story is a 2006 film directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Mike Rich. Keisha Castle-Hughes stars as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph. The story gives a full-picture of the nativity of Jesus, from the vision of Zachariah to the flight to Egypt.
Overall, I enjoyed The Nativity Story, although I do have a few criticisms. All actors fit the role they played. Castle-Hughes conveys the challenges Mary faced: an angel told a teenage virgin that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. This is not something comprehensible or even conventional. The plan of God was not easy; it was intrusive, embarrassing and could have gotten her stoned. The plan of God tested Mary’s faith, as it did Joseph’s faith. On that note, Isaacs delivers the honor of Joseph really well. The Magi surprised me with their role in the film, as they played the much needed comic reliefs to the overall serious tone.
The cinematography is well-done, better than many indie Christian films. This includes shot composition and editing. You can definitely see the influence of The Passion of the Christ, which was released just two years earlier. Both even carry a similar contrast and dark tone, with the only difference being The Nativity Story carrying more of an indigo tone and The Passion carrying of a burgundy tone.
The story structure is clean and strong, as it simply follows the accounts found in the Gospels. This is unlike many “secular” Bible films, such as Noah (2014) and Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). A few additions made, such as the attempted stoning within the dream of Joseph, work.
But, there are a few additions that do not work for me. Mainly, when additions distract from the simple account or alter it. First is the background melody of the Carol of the Bells, which plays during the climax of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Although minor, it struck me as out of place and distracted me. This is in contrast to the melody of Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel, which fits. The latter fits in The Nativity Story due to the Jewish overtones in the song, which fits with the setting of the film.
Another minor alteration is the timing of the wise men. A common misconception is that the wise men arrived at the manager of Jesus at the same time as the shepherds. In reality, the text in Matthew 2 shows Jesus was no longer in the manger. The passage also implies Jesus could have been up to two years old when the magi arrived. Although this change isn’t as bad as other past biblical movies, is still distracts. Similar to The Prince of Egypt, this alteration is not enough to not recommend the film. Personally, it would have been interesting to see The Nativity Story break away from this misconception of the magi.
But these minor additions and alterations do reflect a bigger issue in modern Christianity. This is the influence of Western tradition on Biblical understanding. We are taught certain concepts from youth that we think are scriptural. We may even adamantly state them as being in the Bible. However, if we were to actually take time to research these concepts, we would find them to be skewed or outright false.
The Nativity Story does what it is supposed to do. It tells the simple story of the birth of the Messiah, God becoming flesh. I really wished this film carried the weightiness of The Passion of the Christ, which it could have easily accomplished. Still, it is perfect to show around Christmas for a congregation, youth group or Bible class. It is a reminder of the reason for the season, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us (Matthew 1:23, NKJV).”