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Series / Jesus (1999)

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Jesus is a 1999 Made-for-TV Movie or Miniseries, originally broadcast in two parts, about the life of Jesus from The Bible. It stars Jeremy Sisto as Jesus, Gary Oldman as Pontius Pilate, Debra Messing as Mary Magdalene, and Jacqueline Bisset as Mary the mother of Jesus. Sean Harris, in an early-career appearance, plays Thomas the Apostle.

Its narrative combines and condenses The Four Gospels and expands upon several details like Jesus's human characterization and the socio-political context of the time.

It has been called a "kosher" counterpart of The Last Temptation of Christ due to its similar focus on the humanity of Jesus, while still being more orthodox in doctrinal matters.

This work includes examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • To harmonize the Gospel accounts. For instance, Jesus first meets his disciples Andrew and John in the company of John the Baptist, as in the Gospel of John. Andrew and John take them to their brothers Peter and James, who are fishing as in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (albeit with Andrew and John).
    • The post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus are condensed to just two: First he appears to Mary Magdalene outside his tomb. When Mary tells the other disciples in a locked room, "doubting" Thomas openly voices his doubts, then Jesus appears in their midst.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Quite a few scenes are added to supplement the Gospel accounts.
  • All-Loving Hero: Jesus loves everyone, even the Roman invaders, to the extent of crying over their bodies after a battle with Zealots. Barabbas the Zealot leader is disgusted, so he punches Jesus in the face. Jesus doesn't retaliate and literally turns the other cheek, and Barabbas hits him again. Jesus is even willing to forgive Satan, but Satan doesn't want forgiveness.
  • Anachronism Stew: Deliberate. Satan appears to Jesus as a man in a modern black suit (also as a seductive Hot as Hell Lady in Red, but the former guise is more prominent) that shows Jesus many conflicts from the future, from the Crusades to World War II, in an attempt to convince him that his sacrifice will be in vain.
  • Anti-Villain: Caiaphas the High Priest is given some context as the Jewish religious leader, willing to stand up to Pontius Pilate when he decides to make a big entrance, ordering images of the Roman Emperor to be displayed in the Temple. While Caiaphas decides Jesus should die, it's because he's a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • The film adds some father-son bonding scenes with Jesus and Joseph the carpenter. Early on, they're on the road looking for work. Later when Joseph dies of a heart attack, Jesus pleads with God to raise him... this is before he fully realizes who he is.
    • The film hints that Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, had a Childhood Friend Romance with Jesus, but he believed it was not his Father's will that they marry.
    • The film fleshes out Barabbas as a Zealot, fighting the Romans and butting heads with Jesus on occasion, before Jesus is crucified in his place much later.
    • A Flash Back shows Jesus and John the Baptist visiting the Temple together as children.
    • Matthew first shows up collecting taxes door to door, backed up by Roman soldiers. He goes to Jesus's family house in Nazareth and takes their few chickens. The stress leads to Joseph's death by heart attack. Later, Jesus saves Matthew when Zealots attack and kill his escort, and he recruits him to be his disciple.
    • Satan is made into a visible antagonist tempting Jesus at key points of his life.
  • Badass Pacifist: Caiaphas and the other priests offer their necks to Pilate rather than tolerating him desecrating the Temple. Livio persuades Pilate not to go through with it.
  • Batman Gambit: Judas tells Peter that he betrayed Jesus hoping that this would inspire his followers to rise up and rescue him. Obviously, this doesn't happen, and Judas is Driven to Suicide.
  • Bible Times: Of course.
  • Burn the Witch!: One of the visions that Satan shows Jesus. (She's innocent, by the way.)
  • California Doubling: Filmed in Morocco and Malta.
  • Canon Foreigner: The film has a tag-along Roman official named Livio who is recording the administration of Pilate. He also hangs out at the court of Herod Antipas and watches the crucifixion of Jesus. It is implied that he is Titus Livius, simply rendered as Livy in English.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Little Jesus sees a bunch of crucified men, foreshadowing his own fate.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Having been renamed by Jesus, Peter no longer likes being called by his birth name "Simon".
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The film opens with Jesus dreaming about The Crusades, a witch burning at the stake, and a World War I battlefield where people all invoke his name. This gets a Call-Back when Satan tempts him not to go through with his crucifixion and death and runs him through the same scenes of a Crapsack World.
  • Distant Finale: The film ends with a presumably symbolic scene of Jesus in the present day, wearing modern clothes and walking with children.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: A father-son version.
    Joseph: Jesus...I have loved you...I have loved my my...(dies)
  • Flipping the Table: Jesus, when he goes into Unstoppable Rage mode in the Temple. Peter follows suit.
  • Get Out!:
    • Lazarus says this to Jesus for turning his sister Mary down.
    • Jesus also says this to the merchants, who were trading in the temple courtyard, while using a whip.
  • God in Human Form: Jesus, with emphasis on the "human" part. He isn't as quite as solemn, grave or ethereal as in other Jesus films like The Greatest Story Ever Told and Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Matthew starts out as a bullying tax collector who is at least indirectly responsible for Joseph's death. He then becomes one of Jesus' disciples.
  • Humans Are Flawed: When Satan tries to dissuade Jesus by showing him the evil that will be done in his name, Jesus says people have free will to do good or evil.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Jesus is portrayed as a warm, cheerful man who loves children and starts water-splashing fights with his disciples. While some critics welcomed the departure from past films, others thought the portrayal lacked gravitas.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Satan tempts Jesus to just kneel to him once. Jesus yells at him to go away.
  • La Résistance: Barabbas and the Zealots.
  • Manly Tears:
    • Jesus crying over Joseph's body. And the bodies of Roman soldiers.
    • Peter weeps Tears of Remorse after denying Jesus three times, as predicted.
  • The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: Jesus gives this as the reason why he can't marry Mary of Bethany.
  • Messianic Archetype: Jesus Christ.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Jesus sounds very American. And John the Baptist is the most Scottish Jew around.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Naturally. When Jesus is removed from the Cross, he is lowered into Mary's arms for the iconic pose.
  • Please Wake Up: Jesus, as he mourns for Saint Joseph.
    Jesus: You can give him back to me. You can do it now. Give him back to me! Now!
    Give him to me! I am in need! I cannot walk this road alone! Raise him, raise him up into my arms.
    Let it be your will, Father. I cannot do this alone! Raise him. Raise him!
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Livio, to Pilate's delight.
  • The Queen's Latin: Gary Oldman as Pilate.
  • The Scream: Quite understandably, Jesus screams his head off in agony while his arms are being nailed, dragged upwards to form the cross, and then when he's given a stand, but only so his feet could be also nailed. The close-ups of his tortured, bloodied face do not help matters.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Jesus carries this look (once again, as to be expected from someone post-torture) in the aftermath of his scourging (complete with crown of thorns and a mocking red robe).
  • Too Important to Walk: Herod Antipas and his family are carried around in a litter.
  • Villain Has a Point: Satan tries to talk Jesus out of going through with the crucifixion by showing him all the terrible things that future humans will do in his name. Even Jesus acknowledges that Satan is 100% right about what is to come, but won't let that deter him.
  • We Will Meet Again: Satan to Jesus after he overcomes temptation in the desert. (They do meet again.)
    Satan: See you again, Jesus. It's only just begun.