Paul, Apostle of Christ

 

            Let's begin with full disclosure:  I am a Christian, and therefore view this “faith-based” movie as a believer. 

            The apostle Paul is a central figure in early Christianity, having written much of what is now called The New Testament.  But we have little personal information about him, and know nothing of what he might have looked like.  However, it will now be difficult for me to think of the apostle Paul without conjuring up an image of James Faulkner, the veteran English actor who plays Paul with such dignity and gravitas and personal charima, even when he's imprisoned.

            The movie really only tries to cover the end of Paul's life, when he's in the dungeon, and beaten regularly.  His only visitor is Luke (Jim Caviezel, yes, who memorably played the part of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ”).  Luke is a physician who's been accompanying Paul on his travels, and also serves as his scribe.  He's also Paul's active liaison with the Christian community in Rome, headed by Aquila (John Lynch) and his wife Priscilla (Joanne Whalley). 

            This movie depicts a considerable contingent of the little Christian community wanting to take up arms and kill Romans out of revenge, for Nero rounding up Christians and herding them out to his Circus to be publicly slaughtered, for the amusement of the holiday crowds. The Christians are also blamed for the series of fires plauging the city.  The little community is debating whether to even stay in Rome at all, or move someplace more receptive to their gatherings, like Ephesus. (Of course, that city was also under Roman control at the time.)

            Paul sometimes seems to despair in the solitude of his cell.  But whenver Luke comes to visit, he's always strongly encouraging Luke to continue to write down his words.  Occasionally, Paul is called out of prison for personal conversation with the Roman centurion, Mauritius (Olivier Martinez).  The problem is that those conversations don't really go anywhere, and Mauritius has a thick accent which is difficult to understand.  They do arrange for Luke to visit Mauritius' sick daughter, but he treats her with standard medical practice rather than any sort of “faith healing.”

            This movie would have been a lot more interesting had they decided to show much more of Paul's backstory.  As it is, they concentrate on the Road to Damascus experience, and just pull quotes from Paul's other epistles as bits of his dialogue in the Roman prison.  They provide us with no back story on Luke at all, though admittedly that would have been speculative---but no more so than expanding the roles of the briefly-mentioned Aquila and Priscilla.  The community is shown reciting the Lord's Prayer together (in the traditional King James English), and Paul and Luke are shown sharing communion elements in a prison cell, also assumptions about early Christian practice that some scholars would debate.  They gloss over the modern feminist complaint about Paul's misogyny (“Women shall not speak in church”) by emphasizing the co-equal leadership of Priscilla with Aquila.  And Paul's infamous “thorn in the flesh” is conjectured to be Paul's lingering guilt over his early persecution of Christians, as if he didn't quite believe his own preaching of forgiveness.  And, finally, they depict Paul's death in a way not specifically stated in scripture.

            For the believer, there are many points of interest that will generate much discussion.  It's unclear how popular the movie will be among those who do not identify as Christians.  If they go see it out of curiosity, they will at least find that the powerful biblical character called Paul still manages to create controversy, even all these centuries later.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association