'The Young Messiah' depicts 7-year-old Jesus with 'reverence,' director says

by Michael Foust, Guest Reviewer |

LOS ANGELES (Christian Examiner) – Director Cyrus Nowrasteh knows there will be critics of his new movie "The Young Messiah," which opens nationwide March 11 and depicts the life of a 7-year-old Jesus.

Nowrasteh, though, believes skeptics will change their minds once they watch it. The film is based loosely on Anne Rice's book, Christ The Lord: Out of Egypt, although several key points were changed – such as making sure that the young Jesus in the film doesn't do anything that can be depicted as sin.

Scripture is mostly silent on Christ as a child, and the film largely is historical fiction.

But Nowrasteh – himself a Christian -- says he has screened the film all over the country and has received positive feedback from people of every denomination.

Among its endorsers are Kevin Palau, president of the Luis Palau Association, and Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., who formerly served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention

"I've had a lot of people say to me, 'I came in skeptical, but I fell in love with it,'" Nowrasteh told the Christian Examiner. "There's nothing in this movie that contradicts anything in the Bible. If you're going to go outside the Canon, it's all about how you do it. And I think we've done it with reverence and respect."

Nowrasteh – who along with his wife, Betsy, wrote the screenplay -- said he wanted to make a "faith-affirming movie" that "the entire family can enjoy," especially children.

Christian Examiner spoke with Nowrasteh about the film and why he wanted to get involved in it. Following is a transcript, edited for clarity:

Christian Examiner: How did you get involved with "The Young Messiah"?

Cyrus Nowrasteh: My wife, Betsy, who is a screenwriter, had read Anne Rice's novel when it first came out about 10 years ago, and it was a bestseller at the time. It struck me as: what an original take on the Jesus story. We have a rich history of Jesus movies, but we've never had a glimpse into what His life might have been like as a boy. Several years later, in 2010, Anne Rice wrote a rave review of a film I had directed called "The Stoning of Soraya M," which was a true story of a stoning incident in Iran – which is the country of my parent's origin. So through a series of circumstances, Anne was interested in us making her book into a film, and we were interested in adapting it.

CE: Does the film differ any from Anne Rice's book, or does it mostly follow it?

Nowrasteh: It differs from it quite a bit. I think we were faithful to her book, but are not literal to her book. There are things we wanted to address. There were theological issues we felt were sticking points. Anne knew that some of her source material would not be accepted by a lot of denominations. So we tried to address those theological issues.

CE: Was one of the sticking points you're referencing making a film about a young Jesus, but a young Jesus who did not sin?

Nowrasteh: Yes. She used an incident from the [Gnostic] gospel of Thomas which we had to change and alter dramatically. Fundamentally, our approach was that Jesus as a child had to behave in ways as Jesus is described as an adult and He's revealed in the Bible. He's compassionate. He's generous. He's humble. You want to remain true to the character of Jesus even though you're portraying Him as a child. If we're looking at a situation of how Jesus would react, then we look at how the Bible tells about He reacted to a similar situations as an adult. So we're trying to show Him behaving consistent with Him in the Bible.

CE: When you were casting the role of a young Jesus, what were you looking for in the actor?

Nowrasteh: A lot of things you're looking for are kind of indefinable. First and foremost, I was looking for the best young actor I could find. I needed a bright, energetic child who had the light of God in his eyes -- that's the indefinable. We saw over 2,000 children. I got a call one day from the casting director in London who said that he just saw a child who would make "the hair stand up on the back of my neck." I looked at the actor on tape, and then I flew to London and put him through an audition process. The producers agreed with me. It was a pretty easy choice when it came down to it.

CE: What kind of characteristics were you trying to write into the roles of Mary and Joseph, with as little as we know about Joseph in the Scriptures?

Nowrasteh: I have never been satisfied with the portrayal of Joseph in any movie that I've seen. He's basically wallpaper in movies. The inherent problem is that Mary has been deified; they've been icons – a disappearing icon and a very prevalent icon. In this movie, we've got to go inside the Holy Family and watch them as parents. I wanted people to connect with them as a human being.

CE: You will receive criticism for this film because we don't know much about Jesus as a child. Some people will say this film should not have even been made. How do you respond?

Nowrasteh: We have screened this film all over the country. We've had far less resistance than we expected. I've had a lot of people say to me, "I came in skeptical, but I fell in love with it." I think this is what happens: People come and watch the movie, and they connect with these characters. This movie causes people to think about Jesus, to talk about Jesus, to consider Jesus and to consider Scripture. There's nothing in this movie that contradicts anything in the Bible. If you're going to go outside the Canon, it's all about how you do it. And I think we've done it with reverence and respect.

For more information, visit TheYoungMessiah.com