FINALLY! Good Christian content!
Give or take, for the last decade, Christianity-focused cinematic experiences have been widely considered to be soapy and unintelligent by nearly anyone outside the faith — providing viewers a “propaganda-like” sermon that only tailors to those inside the faith. However, that all changes with the latest Christian hit that has taken the world by storm. The Chosen brings about the kind of quality writing one would expect in a quality show, while simultaneously blanketing the viewer with a more immersive and relatable narrative of Christ in the world. Being both the #1 highest crowd-funded piece of media of all time and the first multi-season Biblical series ever, The Chosen clearly indicates a hunger for Biblical content not thoroughly recognized by Hollywood-based production companies. How large is this hunger one might ask? 40,000,000+ and counting!
This SPOILER-HEAVY article here will divulge the series premiere’s greatest screenwriting (and directing) strengths. Readers enjoy!
1. Characters and not Caricatures
Perhaps one of the most immediate stand-out differences is the completely different approach to characters screenwriter and director Dallas Jenkins takes. Instead of writing characters as “people should be”, he writes them as “people are”. What do I mean by this? I mean that all of his characters, be them the fishermen or Roman soldiers, have both strengths and weaknesses! For once, even the Roman soldiers aren’t two-dimensional political (or theological) cartoons, but rather they have charisma! Quintas is a jester-ish, straightforward magistrate; Marcus has a confident, carefree, and banter-ish demeanor; Gaius has a more intimidating kind of confidence, with a like sense of charisma.
Meanwhile, the “good guys” of the shows have attributes beyond their strengths. They have weaknesses! Peter is a well-intentioned, funny, and loving husband, brother, and fisherman. But over and above that, he is wily and reckless, something which the show makes clear. Likewise, Andrew is cool and collected, with a strong moral fiber in him. Yet, in almost every scene, he is condescending towards his brother. And Lilith! Lilith is a strong and sweet soul, yet a tortured one — haunted by demons (plural) and a grief that has lasted since childhood. Her many burdens are so much to bear, she may just be the soul one can empathize with the most.
This is the difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional characters. “Good guys” aren’t just good and “bad guys” aren’t just bad. They have “layers”.
2. Immersive World-Building
In many Christian-based movie materials, the movie narratives end up feeling flat. The worlds seem empty — filled only with characters and dialogue and not an in-depth, contextual worlds the characters find themselves in. The Chosen catches onto this, which finally adds an element of immersion that’s been so needed.
There are Pharisees; there are Sadducees; there are Zealots; there are “rogue preachers in the wilderness raving about the coming Messiah”. The Roman Empire is present and clearly has the most control over any of these groups. On top of that, there are common folk like fishermen and Roman-adjecent tax collectors. There are factions! In Capernaum, there is the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, where the latter has “sands to frolic” (indicating a beach). There is a marketplace with beggars, low-life streets with stolen possessions being sold and prostitution of both sexes; there is a secret tavern owned by a eunuch. So there’s a sense of geography and culture! And, there’s a hierarchy! This is indicated when Nicodemus raves about his position as the distinguished leadership of the Pharisees to a common soldier (Marcus), who clearly had the power above Nicodemus. There are laws — one of which is very clearly established that fishermen cannot obtain their seafood on the day of Shabbat.
All of these details make for a rich, indulgent world a viewer can truly appreciate. It sells to the viewers that they have truly entered a different world.
3. Distinctive Personalities
Going hand in hand with the first point, each character has a distinctive personality. In some shows, screenwriters can make the mistake of having every character sound like they have the same “voice”. For example, a screenwriter might accidentally make all of his characters sound cerebral, because the screenwriter himself may be a cerebral person. This is not the case with The Chosen. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses and exudes them differently than the others, which make for good character dynamics. The most powerful character dynamic was perhaps at the end, when Jesus — an authoritative and powerful figure, yet compassionate and intimate, meets with “Lilith” — a soul near-death with a brokenness that’s swallowed up her sweeter side. These kind of unique character personalities mesh incredibly well in scenes, creating character dynamics that have both friction and charm.
Although already raved about, this character has to be talked about more! The story that Lilith goes through is so incredibly powerful. From going to a little girl to a woman tortured by a multitude of demons, who’s as “sweet as an angel” otherwise; to someone who is still grieving over her loving father long past; to someone who’s been raped; to someone who is just so far and beyond any infinitesimal amount of hope to the point of being at the edge of a cliff to die; to someone who by some miraculous grace of God can bring herself into a tavern to drink away all her troubles; to someone who could only be saved by “the One” at the end, Lilith easily has the most degenerative and heart-wrenching journey. It’s very hard not to empathize with her! It goes to show the lengths of honesty a screenwriter such as Dallas Jenkins will be able to go in his storytelling — a world that is, in some way, raw.
Likewise, Nicodemus is a character well-worth mentioning. It’s easy for us Christians to be able to read the Bible and see some of these popular characters such as “Nicodemus” and “Pilate” and vilify them completely. As already discussed, characters such as these, however, are treated as people and not two-dimensional villains. And once a viewer of the faith has seen an episode like this, it’d be very hard for many believers to see these people contextually and not just textually.
Nicodemus, certainly, is a character who can not be seen as either just a “good guy” or a “bad guy”. Nicodemus is somebody who is an esteemed speaker, leader, and regarded as the “teacher of teachers”; he has a position of influence, but he does not necessarily flaunt it publicly. He teaches legalism and perfectionism and is willing to do “corrupt things”, but for the sake of the betterment of his people. Beyond this, he is a person with a conscience — someone who is willing to take a good, hard look at the authenticity of the nature of his work and his level of control. And on top of that, he’s personable with a good sense of humor. If there is anyone who has the most moral depth thus far, it’s Nicodemus.
6. Dramatic Pauses.
Sometimes, less is more, and this is something that Dallas Jenkins captures well in his dramatic pauses. Silence is the tool that creates the most emotional weight to a situation in screenwriting. Likewise, this is directed well, such as when Andrew stops Peter’s story to grasp the full weight of his story or when Jesus dares to place his hand on Mary’s and stops her from drinking, looking into her eyes (and perhaps her soul).
7. That Ending
What could easily be said to be the most powerful moment in the episode was the ending. It is always a goosebump-providing treat when a plot point is ever-so subtly snuck into the first act right under the viewer’s nose and comes to full fruition in the last act.
“Thus says the Lord who created you…” CHURCH BELL! “And he who formed you…” CHURCH BELL! “Fear not…” CHURCH BELL — melodious singing… “For I have redeemed you… I have called you by name… You are mine,”.
It is the very passage that her father recited to her as a child!
And on top of that, right before, there’s the big twist — the big reveal! “Mary.” Mary Magdalene is Lilith! Two powerful screenwriting techniques were put literally back-to-back! This was simply an incredible moment executed by Dallas Jenkin’s screenwriting; he and the rest of the cast and crew truly deserve a lot of praise, beside Him.
God bless, God first,