Gordon Monson: The best Jesus film? Here’s why I choose ‘The Chosen.’

Actor Jonathan Roumie’s Redeemer is “smart, benevolent, hardworking, understanding, loving, forgiving. He is exactly what you desire a Savior to be.”

(The Chosen) Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) and Simon the Zealot (Alaa Safi) feed the 5,000 in a scene of Season Three of "The Chosen." Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson says Roumie's depiction of Christ hits all the right notes.

A disclaimer right from the jump here: Don’t know about you, but I have not liked most — read: all — modern depictions of Jesus Christ in videos and film, whether they’ve come from Latter-day Saints, other churches or straight out of Hollywood. And I’ve watched what seems like a hundred of them.

They always clank off my mind and, more importantly, my spirit, and, as a believer, I’ve found them awkward, off target and unbelievable.

Until now.

There’s one that has hit the mark in darn near as flawless a way as the Son of Man was himself.

The Jesus character in the show “The Chosen,” as portrayed by actor Jonathan Roumie, is not just what I picture Christ to be but also what I hope him to be. In attitude. In humility. In humanity. In demeanor. In divinity. In personality. In power. In mercy. In fortitude. In sense of place. In sense of humor.

It’s perfect.

(Brandon Thibodeaux | The New York Times) Jonathan Roumie, center, who plays Jesus on "The Chosen," during filming in Midlothian, Texas, in June 2022. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson says Roumie's depiction of Christ hits all the right notes.

The rest of the show — I’m powering through Season Two as I write this — is darn good, too. The representations of Christ followers Mary Magdalene, Simon, Matthew, John, James on down the line, as well as other biblical figures, such as Nicodemus and those who were favored or not favored by Christ’s teachings and miracles, are engaging as well.

The whole thing is fun to watch. And if I’m going to get all personal here, and be completely forthright and transparent in what I’ve experienced with this show, I’ll go ahead and reveal that I’ve even felt the spirit — gotten chills, if you’re a nonbeliever and have no clue what that phrase is supposed to mean — as I’ve watched and absorbed the episodes.

Maybe I’m one of the last around here to this party. I know “The Chosen” — now airing its third season — has been and is extremely popular in Utah, especially since some of the scenes were filmed in the state, captured at the outdoor movie set built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near Utah County’s Goshen. It’s kind of amusing seeing the Utah mountains in the background of scenes set in, say, Samaria, but, hey, that’s a side note.

The rest of the show hits a tone that must be appealing not just to Latter-day Saints, but Christians of all sorts, here and around the globe. The primary producer and director of the show, Dallas Jenkins, is not a Latter-day Saint and his illustrations of Christ and his disciples are not directly from a Latter-day Saint view. And that makes the show that much better. It’s offered to believers — and nonbelievers — of all kinds, of all walks of life, of all places and perspectives.

Often, which is to say always, in portrayals of Christ — a pursuit that, granted, is a huge challenge, presenting a man-god in a manner that isn’t so divine, so holy, so serious, so unapproachable that he’s impossible for regular Janes and Joes to relate to — he is either too mysterious and mystical and, thereby, separate and aloof, or he’s made to look too human, too gritty, doubting himself, betraying his own connection to the God in heaven whose work he’s supposed to be accomplishing.

Roumie’s version divides the difference with a sublime touch. He makes Christ seem like an all-powerful, yet-restrained individual you not only would trust with any personal problem, with any secret or need or sin or shortcoming, but also like to sit down and watch a football game with at your favorite eatery, and maybe with whom you might want to knock back a cold beverage or two.

(AP; The Chosen) Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, left, and "The Chosen" actor Jonathan Roumie.

Speaking of football, my only reservation about Roumie is that he looks a lot like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which isn’t bad in and of itself, it just feels, at times, as though he should be huddling up with his receivers, running backs and offensive line, not with Andrew, Philip, Thomas and the other fishers of women and men. But that’s a minor distraction. Roumie, a devout Catholic, also recently spoke enthusiastically at an anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C., alongside former NFL coach Tony Dungy, so take that as you will.

Either way, Roumie’s Redeemer is smart, benevolent, hardworking, understanding, loving, forgiving. He is exactly what you desire a Savior to be, but not on some highfalutin level, rather down in the dirt where all of us sinners live.

And the coolest thing about this character, this characterization, is he’s a rock star, the rock star of the New Testament, more powerful, more brilliant, more capable than all those he encounters — friends and foes alike — and still he sees no need to prove it at every turn, only at some turns. It’s impressive when he lets it all out and when he reels it in.

He heals, and he holds back. And, in between, he teaches and listens to and laughs with not only the righteous and the clean, but also — and especially — with the unrighteous and the unclean. He instructs the saints to be less sanctimonious. He’s there, as he says it, “Not to condemn the world, but to save it.”

And the people he works with, his apostles, as sketched out in the show, are a bunch of untrained and sometimes uncouth dudes, fellows who know what their great rabbi is capable of doing, spontaneously calling upon him in a fit of insult and rage, at least on occasion, to zap evil folks with lightning bolts from on high.

Christ chuckles in amazement at their intermittent faithful indignation but restrains himself. Always thinking: What would Jesus do?

The development of these other characters is captivating.

(The Chosen) Paras Patel, who plays Matthew in Season Three of "The Chosen."

Matthew’s peculiarities, Simon’s impetuousness, Mary’s vulnerability and strength and generosity, Mother Mary’s concurrent love for and distance from her divine son, Nicodemus’ dilemma, and so many others — they’re all good.

There are some exaggerated characters, including a Roman ruler who comes across as the villain in a superhero flick, but, on the whole, the presentations in “The Chosen” are … what’s the best word? … real.

That’s it, they’re real. At least to me and perhaps to many of you.

And when a series in 2023 paints the pictures of an individual who told all around him that he was the Messiah, to “come, follow me,” leaving his devotees and detractors to decide all those years ago for themselves whether he was deity or devil or something else, a decision that is left to an entire world to this day, a depiction that is exactly that — real — is what any faithful believer loves to absorb, loves to feel, loves to have substantiated.

And it’s entertaining theater, too.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gordon Monson.