Up until the last scene, Son of Man should be called Mother of All, for Mary becomes the self-actualized driving force for all in her community. If there is any hope for her neighbors, it is because Mary develops her self-confidence enough to inspire their hope and influence change. Jesus, on the other hand, walks through his scenes without much emotion and deliberation. Contrasting Jesus’ flat characterization to Mary’s fully developed portrayal; I hope to show how the film comes very close to portraying female self-actualization.
Let’s quickly review what I have determined (from Abraham Maslow’s work) to be the three criteria for self-actualizing: 1) know and accept who you are; 2) resist unhealthy, forced acculturation; and 3) contribute to a better relationship/world.
First, we see her self-knowledge and acceptance. After a boy angel (presumably Gabriel) announces that to Mary that she will conceive the son of God, Mary—though initially confused—accepts her role of the mother of the Son of God just as she later accepts her pregnancy, her marriage, and her son’s birth.
Next, we see Mary resist forced acculturation. Escaping the political decree to murder all male babies, Joseph and Mary hide with Jesus in the bushes as they watch the slaughter. After diverting Jesus’s face, Mary turns him toward the violence. She, unlike Joseph, refuses the paternal mandate to shield one’s child from violence. Forcing her son to acknowledge the violence from which she has saved him and which still exists in this unstable political climate, Mary self-actualizes away from the forced cultural role of submissive wife and nurturing mother.
From here, the movie switches its focus to Jesus who gets himself beaten up, killed, and buried in obscurity. No messiah here.
Finally, we see Mary contribute to a better world. After Jesus’ failed ministry, the film returns to Mary and other mothers of murdered sons and daughters. We assume that it is Mary who has orchestrated the spectacle of a crucified Jesus (long dead) on a raised platform. It is Mary who faces down the armed soldiers. And it is Mary who unites her neighbors to stand against violence—for peace amidst singing and dancing. Mary has contributed to a better village life.
Up until this point, Son of Man has departed from the Gospels, portraying no triumphant, immortal Jesus. Instead, it has afforded its viewers a self-actualized s social activist. The film has depicted Mary as Maya Angelou’s “phenomenal woman.”
Illogically, the film then abandons Mary’s self-actualization and returns to a more patriarchal and faithful Gospel agenda—Jesus as messiah. Mysteriously, the once-dead and now, denim-shirted, immaculately dressed Jesus (who looks like a Golden Corral employee), along with a slew of child angels, climbs a sandy mound, turns to the camera, and raises his fist as if in triumph. Is it a kowtowing to patriarchy or latent faithfulness to the Gospels that compels the film to save Jesus from ignobility and ludicrously portray him as its ultimate savior? I can’t say. And I don’t care why Son of Man, like many Jesus films, ultimately restricts itself to the message of Jesus as messiah. We hear his undeserved triumphant song: “The sun in spring will rise over the mountain. Today we are united. We are one people.” As such, the film falsely credits Jesus with unifying the people and for the spring sun’s rising again over the mountain. Think the end of the first Rocky film. The only difference is that Rocky deserved his moment in the spring sun but Jesus does not.
If there was ever a film that rewarded you for watching the credits, it’s Son of Man. As the film’s credits roll, a quote appears from Genesis 1.26: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness.” How, exactly, does the film support this? And then, photos. As if aware of its own Jesus/Mary saviors contradictions, the film returns to female agency with photo after photo of women and children: playing, cutting hair, retrieving water, etc.—all peaceful activities. Photographically, women and children empower their village’s hope and future. The film returns to female agency. I leave my viewing convinced that whether it’s patriarchy or religion that attempts to overshadow her potency is irrelevant. Rather, what haunt and inspire are the images of the village women who effect a peaceful change. I slip the DVD back into its case and glance at the cover. Without thought, I find myself returning the smile of the film’s most illustrious of those women—a self-actualizing Mary.
Son of Man. Director: Mark Dornford-May. Spier Films 2006.