The Nativity StoryDirected by Catherine Hardwicke | New Line Cinema | 102 minutes Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Oscar Isaac, Ciaran Hinds, Shaun Toub
Just in time for the Christmas season, a film about the birth of Jesus Christ will be premiering in movie theatres worldwide on December 1.
The Nativity Story depicts Mary’s pregnancy and the trip she and her husband Joseph made to Bethlehem, the town where her child was to be born. New Zealand actress Keisha Castle-Hughes (Oscar nominee for Whale Rider) plays Mary and does a passable job of bringing to light the story of this strong young girl’s response to her calling. The remarkable Shohreh Aghdashloo (Oscar nominee for The House of Sand and Fog) stars as Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, and mother of John the Baptist.
Director and producer Catherine Hardwicke filmed the movie in Morocco and Matera, the town in southern Italy where Mel Gibson shot The Passion of the Christ. Despite its religious theme, Hardwicke is hoping that the movie will appeal to secular audiences around the globe. Her aim is to draw attention to the unique matrimonial yet chaste relationship between Mary and Joseph. At the beginning of the movie, Mary is angry and infuriated when her parents tell her she is to marry Joseph. As the film progresses, we see how their love grows and becomes stronger as they each encounter their own set of trials. Individually, they are very strong but together, they are indomitable.
The story of the birth of Christ is well-known, but this movie does an incredible job of bringing Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem to life. Hardwicke brilliantly shows the bond between this unique couple — bond that is clearly spiritual, an attachment that goes beyond friendship or a physical attraction. As a Catholic, the relationship between Mary and Joseph helped me to understand why we view marriage as a sacrament and not merely as an institution. But anyone can see how selfless love between two human beings flourishes.
Newcomer Oscar Isaac portrays Joseph. He is undoubtedly the most powerful character in the movie. Half Guatemalan and half Cuban, 30 year-old Isaac was raised in Miami where he had an evangelical upbringing. Going into the movie, I thought that the centre of attention would be Mary and the Christ Child. I was surprised to find myself captivated by Joseph. A silent figure in Christian tradition, Joseph lived his life in an honourable, righteous and devout manner. He was a leader who was a strong husband and a protector of his foster child Jesus. He was a man who had a key role in the history of his people yet never developed an ego-complex. How many men have that kind of humility and selflessness?
Although the film clearly intends to capitalise on the Christmas market, it is much more than commercial entertainment. To me, it conveyed a very powerful, message about contemporary men and their attitude towards the notion of family.
Joseph’s qualities are qualities that many men lack in today’s society. While many men (and women) say that they are meant to be family people, marriage and birth rates are at an all time low. Arrogance, egotism and greed dominate. As a result, marriage is put on the back-burner.
The Nativity Story highlights the importance of a man’s role as husband and father. The absence of fathers and male mentors is well-known. Children are growing up in homes without fathers and with mothers who must work at multiple jobs to keep food on the table. Lacking adult supervision, they must fend for themselves. This leads to reckless behaviour and a lack of self-worth.
This film shows the universality of Christian values. Joseph’s main priority was to be a provider for his family. Despite the scrutiny and gossip he knew he would face, Joseph still decides to honour Mary and stick by her. Crossing treacherous mountain passes, swiftly flowing rivers and barren deserts, Joseph walks the entire way, doing everything he can to live up to his promise to Mary’s parents: “I will protect your daughter and the child, with all that I am.” From their journey to Bethlehem to the birth of Jesus, the gallantry and nobility displayed by Joseph in the film makes one realise why God must have chosen him.
Joseph gave up the freedom of a single life but found fulfilment in taking on responsibility for a family. This quiet leader was given a very difficult task in life but he accepted the challenge willingly and lovingly. Isn’t that what every husband and father should do?
Guiomar Barbi lives and works in Washington DC. From 2001-2003, she lived in Rome where she worked at the US Embassy to the Holy See.