A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that most kids probably won't be clamoring to see this serious biblical drama. It includes references to stoning, rape, and the slaughter of innocent people. Mary endures whispers and looks from neighbors (she's pregnant but hasn't had sex -- they wonder how this can be). She and Joseph embark on a difficult trip to Bethlehem, enduring thieves, harsh weather, sandstorms, a perilous river crossing, and a run-in with a snake. The takeaway message (for Christians and non-believers alike) is that hope and faith go a long way toward getting you through life's rough patches.
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What's the story?
THE NATIVITY STORY opens with King Herod (Ciaran Hinds) plotting to kill all the male babies in Bethlehem. In a flashback to the previous year, Zechariah (Stanley Townsend) is told by an angelic voice that his aging wife Elizabeth (Shohreh Aghdashloo) will bear a son. In Nazareth, Elizabeth's young peasant cousin, Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) -- still practically a child and living under the daily uncertainties of Roman occupation -- is informed by her parents, Anna and Joaquim (Hiam Abbass and Shaun Toub), that she is to marry Joseph (Oscar Isaac), a carpenter a few years her senior. Troubled, Mary retreats to a nearby grove, where the angel Gabriel (Alexander Siddig) reveals that she'll give birth to Jesus. Meanwhile, in Persia, the three Magi set out to follow the star westward as Joseph and Mary begin their own difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Once they finally arrive, Jesus is born -- complete with wise men, shepherds, no room at the inn, and just a hint of Hallmark Cardish-ness.
Is it any good?
The movie''s notable in that it takes us inside the biblical characters' experience -- what they're thinking and how people react to their extraordinary situation. With very little source material to go on, it's true that most of this movie is speculation. But thoughtful direction by Catherine Hardwicke and a strong screenplay by Mike Rich give viewers a glimpse into Mary and Joseph's emotions.
Castle-Hughes portrays Mary with all the angst you might expect from someone in her situation. It's heart-wrenching to see Mary endure disparaging looks from neighbors, the threat of stoning, and the doubts of her own parents. Mary and Joseph feel woefully inadequate for such enormous responsibility, yet they quietly shoulder their responsibilities with hope and faith. This movie is a little slow in spots, and it's clearly religious. But its message of peace and goodwill will resonate with non-believers as well.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Mary and Joseph react to their extraordinary situation. Even though they had doubts, they didn't shy away from responsibility. Why do people call on faith and hope when times are rough? Also, when someone trustworthy tells you something that seems unbelievable, should you trust them? How realistic do you think the movie's portrayal of biblical times is? How do kids think the director did depicting this timeless story? How do they respond to seeing religion on the big screen? How do our modern values color the story of Mary and Joseph?
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