A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Many thought-provoking themes. One is the conflict between knowledge and faith; at first movie sides with knowledge, but it eventually argues that faith is equally important, as humans are flawed and confused creatures, and faith allows us "enlightenment, not punishment." Another theme is representation; the movie's take on Jesus' history is peopled almost entirely by Black characters and teasingly shows how the story was turned "White" almost by mistake (or perhaps by prejudice). Cries for tolerance and against slavery throughout, questioning the vile idea of one human being "owning" another.
Positive Role Models
Clarence starts out as a scoundrel who's more or less a thief, schemer, and drug dealer, but once he starts earning money from his false-messiah idea, he puts it to good use, freeing enslaved people and trying to do good in the world. When he's arrested, he refuses to give anyone else up, and (spoiler alert) he dies a hero. Characters are cruel to an unhoused man who's asking for change.
Depictions of main characters, who are almost all Black, cover a wide range: strong, bold, criminal, caring, etc. The only White characters are villainous Romans, with one specific White character saved for an ironic reveal at the end. British writer-director Jeymes Samuel is Black. Male characters drive the story; women are mostly mothers or romantic partners. Varinia is under her brother's controlling thumb, and while Mary Magdalene beats Clarence and Elijah in a chariot race, she later needs rescuing.
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Violence & Scariness
A screaming woman with bloody wounds on her face is pelted by rocks from an angry mob. A man tries to protect her by taking the brunt of the attack. Crucified men hang on crosses, nails piercing their hands and feet. Main character is brutally whipped and bloodied while dragging his own cross; blood in his eyes, on his teeth, etc. Screaming in pain while hands are nailed (off screen). A person is impaled by spears; blood spurts, squishy/gushy sounds as he pulls them out. Arena fight between two characters includes hitting, punching, clanging swords, whipping with rope, choking, etc. Blood spatters. Characters are shot by darts and hit in the head with a rock (POV of rock hitting). Main character is slapped in the face twice.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Couples kiss passionately. Scantily clad women dance in the background of the villain's palace. Joking dialogue about virginity and masturbation. Characters in love are kept apart by circumstance; they briefly kiss through the bars of a jail cell. A character grabs his genitals (below the frame) and uses the phrase "testicular fortitude." Other, brief sex-related dialogue. Naked male statues.
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A use of "motherf----r," plus uses of "s--t," the "N" word, "damn," "whore," "bastard," "dumbass," "hell," "scum," "stupid," "idiot," "dumb," "nincompoop," "dingbat." A character says, "what the f--" and trails off.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The main character is a "seller of herbs," and characters smoke what appears to be pot throughout. Characters also smoke from a hookah and literally float off the ground. During a party/dance, characters drink something from cups; a character says "get this man a drink." Reference to a "delicious honeyed wine."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Book of Clarence is a comical satire of a biblical epic, with sharp commentary on race, faith, and tolerance. So many jokes and ideas are packed into it that it might seem unwieldy, but it's funny, audacious, and often electrifying. There's some notable violence: A woman is pelted with rocks, a man is brutally whipped as he hauls a large wooden cross, a character is impaled with spears, people are crucified (mostly off-camera, but screaming is heard), and there's lots of blood, from wounds, fighting, and more. Characters also kiss and have jokey sex-related dialogue, and women dance while wearing very little. Language includes a use of "motherf----r," plus uses of "s--t," the "N" word, "damn," "whore," "bastard," "dumbass," and more. The main character is a "seller of herbs," and there's frequent pot-smoking throughout. In one scene, characters smoke from a hookah and float off the ground. Drinking is also implied and/or referred to. Led by Black British writer-director Jeymes Samuel, the nearly all-Black cast teasingly shows how the story of Jesus was turned "White" almost by mistake (or perhaps by prejudice). To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Jeymes Samuel's second feature is a king-sized biblical epic, a wickedly funny comedy, and a bold examination of race and faith. And even if it doesn't always find balance, it's often electrifying. The Book of Clarence is broken up into three parts, or "Books," with the title of each designed to look like a 1950s-'60s biblical epic (The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Spartacus, etc.). The first two parts are hilarious and energetic, finding ways to slip modern cadences into the world of 33 A.D. Jerusalem, as well as some eye-opening camerawork and unusual effects, such as characters floating, carefree, after smoking from a hookah. (Samuel's anachronistic soundtrack is full of original hip-hop, funk, and disco tunes, too.)
The dialogue offers a lively discourse on faith and logic, and Stanfield, with his vulnerable face, his cool swagger, and his unfailing comic timing, makes a commanding "messiah." Taken along with the fact that he also plays his own twin brother, it's a fantastic performance. But the movie's third book changes everything. It drops the humor almost entirely and leans into faith and genuine miracles—but it also looks into concepts of perception and storytelling that bear continued pondering. The Book of Clarence is unwieldy and sometimes perplexing, but it's also ambitious, audacious, and worth celebrating.
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