So my wife and I on Wednesday went to see the special Christmas episode of “The Chosen,” now playing at theaters around the country for a limited time before it is streamed.
This media event has generated a lot of buzz — it’s reportedly broken records around the country — and when we ordered our tickets a few days back. we were impressed to see that most of the seats in the small auditorium were sold out.
So imagine our surprise when we got to the movie theater and it was, in fact, empty. We were the first to arrive, about 10 minutes before the 7 p.m. screening time. A few others wandered in as the lights dimmed — including some friends from our parish — but most of the seats were unoccupied.
So how is it? It’s okay. I’m glad I saw it. Is it worth the price of admission? Not really. The first 40 minutes or so is a recorded concert of familiar, rock-tinged carols (and a few new pieces) from Christian performers (including, notably, Matt Maher). After that, it segues into the main event: a rather short re-telling of the Christmas story, with a few creative twists along the way. (Joseph is quite a chatterbox, and he and Mary on the journey to Bethlehem exchange details about “The Messengers” who told them of what was to come.)
The tale is told in flashback, as the middle-aged mother of Jesus, nearing the end of her life, recounts to Mary Magdalene an important detail of The Visitation that she needs to be relayed to St. Luke. The evangelist is in Rome, collecting information to preserve the story of Jesus’s birth. The important detail that’s missing just happens to be The Magnificat. (It’s unclear why The Virgin Mary forgot to include that part when Luke first interviewed her.) Mary Magdalene dutifully takes down the words Mary recites and responds at the end: “That is amazing.”
The highlight of this episode is the gritty flashback depicting Christ’s birth. Joseph shovels manure to clear a space; Mary’s water breaks, and she grimaces and cries out in pain; a small child comes wailing into the world. Joseph dutifully cleans him and places him in the manger — really, more of a trough — and the Life of Christ begins. (A few eyebrows have been raised over the issue of Mary experiencing pain during childbirth. Jimmy Akin has a good overview on that topic and its long history here.)
We chatted with the people from my parish after the screening and the prevailing opinion was “We could have done with less singing.” The concert portion feels like padding, and it gets repetitious after the first six or seven numbers. I would have liked more of an actual story in the dramatic portion; there’s a lot here to say and a lot of story to tell, and I wish the filmmakers had explored that. How about a glimpse of the shepherds? The wise men? Herod?
Or how about a glimpse at what the early married life of Mary and Joseph was like? They are an endearing couple. One of the great strengths of “The Chosen” has always been its ability to make Christ’s life credible and relatable; you watch it and think, “Yeah. I bet it could have been like that.” I would have liked to have felt that way about the domestic life of the parents of Jesus. It might have added depth and dimension and rounded out their backstory. It seems like a missed opportunity.
Big fans of “The Chosen” (and I’m one) will probably appreciate this pretty thin slice of the show being shared for Christmas. But I imagine many will be disappointed there wasn’t more.
Maybe next year.