The Book of Clarence: Some Initial Thoughts

It’s late and I just got home from seeing The Book of Clarence in the theater and I have no intention of writing a thorough review. But, I did want to document some initial impressions while they’re still fresh on my mind. Fair warning: these are hot off the press and may contain “spoilers”.

1. The Book of Clarence is NOT About Jesus

Go back and read the title of the movie again. This is not the Book of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. This is a film about an “Everyman”. Clarence is meant to represent a regular person who could have lived at the time of Jesus in Jesus’s general vicinity. It’s a story about someone who is layered, flawed, but has great potential (like all of us!) It’s a story about doubt, faith, love, greed, regret, sibling rivalry, and growth as a person. This is not an evangelistic tract about how to become a follower of Jesus (but it also might make some more curious!) If you’re looking for a story centered around Jesus, read the Gospels, or watch The Chosen, or wait until Martin Scorsese comes out with his film on Jesus next year. This isn’t that movie.

2. The Book of Clarence Honors Jesus

I’ve seen a lot of comments decrying this film as blasphemous based solely on the trailers. But one shouldn’t judge a film by its trailers (even though I saw no blasphemy in the trailers either!) Now that I’ve seen the film—and I’m a pastor and a devout follower of Jesus—I can assure you The Book of Clarence isn’t blasphemous at all. If anything, the film goes out of its way to reverence Jesus. Jesus is depicted as the Son of God, divine, a miracle-worker, beloved by the people, a prophet, a threat to Rome, a defender of the defenseless, and the Messiah. It doesn’t get any less blasphemous than that!

I can’t help but think the reason some people might be pre-judging this film as blasphemous is solely because the role of Jesus is played by a Black man. But if one has even a cursory understanding of the ancient Near Eastern cultural and historical context of the New Testament, they would know that it’s far more accurate for a person of African descent to play Jesus than a person of European descent. And there have already been way too many European Jesuses on film!

3. The Book of Clarence is Entertainment

In the middle of this film where people are walking around first-century Jerusalem in sandals and tunics there’s a fun dance sequence set to Nights Over Egypt by The Jones Girls. If that doesn’t signal to audiences that this film is meant to be entertaining, we aren’t paying attention. There are also many surrealist and absurdist elements throughout the film. People float in the air when they smoke “herbs”, lightbulbs appear over Clarence’s head when he has an idea, among other things. Again, this tells audiences: relax, this is fun. After all, this movie is a comedy people! So, if you’re looking for a somber, historical, dramatic depiction of first-century life in Judea-Palestine, this isn’t the film for you. But if you’re looking for an entertaining yet thought-provoking comedy set in New Testament times, then you will likely really enjoy this movie.

4. The Book of Clarence Has a Lot of Heart

While there were several distracting plot holes, overall I found the film really touching. It likely won’t earn LaKeith Stanfield an Oscar, but I thought he did a very good job. His performance was heart-felt and, at times, really moving. He wrestles with a full range of human emotions and experiences, from unrequited love, to the need for recognition, to compassion for the oppressed. And ultimately, he doesn’t become some perfect person; he simply grows as a person (which is one of the main themes of the film). I really liked Clarence’s relationship with his mother. I really liked the way the film depicted racism. And I really liked how the film depicted John the Baptizer and Jesus’s disciples. Is the film perfect? Of course not! But no film is.

Go see The Book of Clarence!