A critic of faith-based films, such as myself, could look at The Chosen with easy skepticism: “Why is someone trying to make yet another Jesus biopic? It’s not like we’re hurting for films inspired by the gospels. Why play it safe rather than branch out and take some real creative risks?”
Nevertheless, I have good news of great joy: The Chosen is anything but your typical faith-based project. This streaming series (at TheChosen.tv), led by writer, director, and producer Dallas Jenkins, boldly goes where no gospel story has gone before.
These filmmakers use the format of a multi-season TV show, giving the narrative room to breathe instead of just hitting the highlights of the gospels before credits roll. Furthermore, the show approaches Jesus’ ministry not primarily from Christ’s perspective but from the perspective of those around him. As Jenkins himself has stated, “If the audience can encounter Jesus through the eyes of those who met h, the audience can be impacted in the same way they were.”
The genius behind this approach seems obvious in retrospect. There are limits to how a sinful and finite audience can relate to a holy and infinite character.
To be sure, Jesus is the focus of The Chosen. But it is his work in others’ lives that drives the story forward. As such, we connect better with the characters because we are just like them. When they encounter Jesus and are transformed by his presence, we can relate that much more fully to their experience.
Make no mistake, The Chosen is historical fiction, imagining what may have happened alongside the gospel narratives. As a work of historical fiction, the show is similar to other cinematic Bible stories embraced by the Christian community over the years, including The Passion of the Christ (2004), The Ten Commandments (1956), Risen (2016), The Prince of Egypt (1998), and The Young Messiah (2016). All of these films embellished their biblical source material for dramatic efficacy.
The Chosen’s use of artistic license always exalts, not dishonors, the Biblical narrative. Its fictional details are healthy speculation and not subversion.
Some Christians would shy from embracing this approach. Fortunately, the show’s producers have taken great pains to show reverence for God and his word. This reverence is evident, even when the story inserts dialogue into well-known scenes, or adds completely new scenes not detailed in the Scriptures.
The Chosen’s scripts are smartly written, fleshing out characters we know and love so much that we know and love them even more. Most episodes are structured, at least loosely, with a small narrative arc. Of course, with this being a multi-season show, some episodes end with soft cliffhangers. Viewers may spy anachronisms here and there, but nothing drags down the quality of the production.
Production values are all top-notch, including the cinematography, sound mixing, costumes, editing, and set design. Visual effects are also outstanding, and mesh so well with practical sets that some effects might pass unnoticed.
To top it all off, the actors are uniformly good, and some actors—such as those who play Matthew (Paras Patel), Nicodemus (Erick Avari), and Peter’s wife, Eden (Lara Silva)—are outright superb.
If I had to critique something, it would be the musical score. While it more than adequately serves the dramatic needs of the show (sometime to powerful effect), I’d have preferred less musical “droning” and more thematic texture. Viewers hear a few repeating motifs (including one for Jesus), but it would have been stellar to hear more recognizable themes associated with each of the main characters. Of course, this is only the first season, so it’s possible that those character themes already exist in part and will come to greater fruition later on.
Moviguide.org says of The Chosen season 1, “At the core of its success is brave, artistic storytelling choices. They bring new life to the familiar tales. The writers balance perfectly between faithful biblical interpretation and a willingness to use their imagination. . . . There’s little doubt that THE CHOSEN will soon become one of the most well-known and celebrated pieces of Christian media in history.”
That last may seem presumptuous. Still, I believe The Chosen may truly become one of the most well-known and celebrated Christian stories in our lifetime.
Yes, The Chosen is that good—not by playing it safe, but by taking creative and calculated risks. By veering so deeply into uncharted waters, and by choosing a long-form multi-season format, The Chosen paradoxically upholds rather than undermines the gospel narrative. It does not seek to replace Scripture, but to complement Scripture. And it needs to be seen to be believed.
An earlier version of this article was published Feb. 7, 2020 at SpeculativeFaith.com.