“Just what makes that little old ant-Think he'll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can't-Move a rubber tree plant. But he's got high hopes,
he's got high hopes. He's got high apple pie, in the sky hopes.”
The new Biblically based film, His Only Son is like the little engine that could
or the ant that tried to move the rubber tree plant in: High Hopes, the Sammy
Cahn song that Frank Sinatra song popularized. As the director of His Only Son
claims at the start of his film, it was shot on a budget of only half a million
(much of it raised in donations) while the average film costs approximately
fifty million to make. But His Only Son which was released in theatres to
coincide with Easter season has done unexpectedly well, having grossed over five
million the first weekend. If the film makes enough money (and I think it will)
the director/writer plans to do more films about other biblical figures starting
with the life of Joshua.
His Only Son was distributed by the same company, Angel Studios who put out the
excellent, The Chosen TV series about the life of Christ (the first season is
streaming on HBO). I wanted to like His Only Son because I often root for the
underdog, but at best the film is only a partial success. His Only Son
understandably lacks the flashy special effects of big budget Biblically
inspired Hollywood productions like Ben Hur and Ten Commandments. Unfortunately
it also the professionalism and the creative vision of religious art films like
Last Temptation of Christ, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and The Gospel According
to Matthew. There is no genius like Scorsese, Pasolini or Dryer behind the lens
The film was directed, produced and edited by David Helling, who unlike some of
the other makers of Biblically based films (like Pasolini and De Mille) is a
devout Christian. The name of the film refers both to Abraham’s son who was
slated to be sacrificed as well as Jesus, the son of God as well who shows up at
the films end. The Abraham story is the narrative's focus and makes for a
successful but uneven adaptation of the story. The film presents itself as kind
of like a low budget version of the Biblical epics that were popular in the 50s.
The main problem is that you there isn’t really enough visual material or plot
to make a good feature film from the Old Testament source material. Darren
Aronofsky faced the same dilemma when he made
Noah, and even with the full
budgetary weight of a major studio he too was only partially successful. Here,
the film opens with the climax of the attempted sacrifices and then shows us how
they got there, and there is little suspense along the way since we already saw
the climax in the beginning.
Nicholas Mouwad is adequate in the main role playing a 100 something Abraham
(who looks much younger). The Voice of God promises him he will have an heir and
that child will give birth to a great nation. Then the voice announces Abraham
has to go on a great journey for God has called him to travel to a remote area
of Mount Moriah to sacrifice his only son.
The best performance in the film comes from as Sara Seyed as Abraham’s wife who
is also called Sara. Despite God’s earlier promises that Abraham would give
birth to a nation she has begun to bicker and argue with him. Because of her
advanced age she does not believe she will be able to give him children, so she
begs him to take the couple’s maid, Hagar as a “second wife’ and have the child
with her. Then after he reluctantly goes along with what the wife says she is
jealous and this damages their marriage.
In the film’s most horrific sequence, more for what is suggested than shown,
Abraham and his helpers find a bloody man on the road. The man reports that a
group of bandits beat him and stole his daughter presumably to sell her as a
concubine. When Abraham intercedes and tries to save the girl the men let her go
and refer to her as “used goods,” but they want to steal Isaac’s son and use him
as a male prostitute for men, but he thankfully escapes that fate.
The film has varying degrees of success depicting the concepts of good and evil.
Throughout the film there are also holy presences shown that express God’s
will-they are often depicted as indistinct glowing images. There is a hilarious
scene in which a brothel owner is shown and the makeup wearing sinner is the
almost the spitting image of Ozzy Osbourne. This reminded me of the scene in the
The Passion of Christ which has a suspiciously effeminate Satan, it seems both
films want to equate androgyny with evil.
While His Only Son has its strengths it may not sustain the typical viewer’s
attention for the full two hours. It would have worked better as a TV special.
However, there is nothing offensive in the film and it is a fairly faithful
rendering of the story that takes only few liberties with the source material.
Some traditional Christians might get more out of the film than I did, and it
might be ok viewing for Sunday school class.