National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

March 18-24, 2007 Issue | Posted 3/13/07 at 9:00 AM


The Nativity Story (2006)- Pick

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - Pick

Hollywood has never had a shortage of Christmas movies, yet even at the height of Hollywood biblical epics the real meaning of Christmas was essentially ignored.

The Nativity Story, new this week on DVD, goes a long way toward redressing this omission. Written by Mike Rich and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, the film weaves and elaborates the biblical infancy narratives into a character-centered tale of faith, calling and sacrifice.

Where other retellings follow Luke’s emphasis on Mary, The Nativity Story is a Matthean exploration of Joseph’s story, struggles and heroism. The film’s faults, such as they are, tend to be of omission rather than commission. The Annunciation scene includes “Let it be done to me according to your word,” but not “I am the Lord’s handmaid.” Mary’s Magnificat, omitted at the Visitation, is used in a closing voiceover — but in a highly edited form that robs it of much of its meaning.

Even so, despite claims to the contrary from a few critical Catholic voices, The Nativity Story’s imagining of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth in no way contradicts defined Catholic dogmas concerning Mary. (For more, see my article “The Nativity Story and Catholic Teaching” at The Nativity Story has been a long time coming. It’s a most welcome addition now that it’s here.

Sony, which recently released special editions of A Man for All Seasons and Gandhi, has a number of new special and collectable editions this week. One, Lawrence of Arabia, is one of the cinema’s grandest spectacles. At turns exhilarating, devastating and puzzling, it ponders the mystery of a man who was a mystery to himself.

Based on the autobiography of the eccentric, flamboyant WWI-era British officer, David Lean’s nearly four-hour epic is most often praised, justly so, for its desert cinematography, its sweeping score and Peter O’Toole’s career-defining performance.

First-time screenwriter Robert Bolt, who later wrote A Man for All Seasons and The Mission, makes Lawrence a kind of counterpoint to Thomas More. Lawrence seems to have “an adamantine sense of his own self,” as Bolt later wrote of More. Yet More has something that Lawrence finally lacks — a place to stand, an unshakeable foundation on which his sense of self is founded.

Who is Lawrence? Can one not know oneself and still be anyone? God help us all.

Content advisory

The Nativity Story: Brief, mostly implied deadly menace to infants; a girl taken forcibly from her parents; a pair of fairly brief, non-graphic, but somewhat intense childbirth scenes. Might be too much for younger kids. Lawrence of Arabia: Recurring battlefield violence; implied sexual violence. Mature viewing.