Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures
Today’s Prayer Focus
MOVIE REVIEW

The Book of Clarence

also known as “Книга Кларенса”
MPA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPA) for strong violence, drug use, strong language, some suggestive material, and smoking.

Reviewed by: Mike Klamecki
CONTRIBUTOR

Moral Rating: Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults
Genre: Comedy-Drama
Length: 2 hr. 16 min.
Year of Release: 2024
USA Release: January 12, 2024 (wide release)
Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Picturesclick photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures
Relevant Issues

Direct Samuels told Vanity Fair, “I always wanted to explore the Bible stories, but from the angle of the person that sells Jesus his sandals, the woman or man that owns the hair salon.”


What and who is Messiah?

How do we know that Jesus was the Messiah? Answer

List of Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ: His Identity, Life, Death and Resurrection
About JESUS CHRIST—Answers to frequently-asked-questions

How did Jesus Christ die? Answer

Is Jesus Christ just a legend? Answer

MIRACLES—Has science disproved the miracles associated with Jesus Christ? Answer

ARCHAEOLOGY—Have any burial sites been found for the people involved in Christ’s life and death? Answer

Who is Mary, mother of Jesus?

How do we know the Bible is true? Answer

How can the Bible be infallible if it was written by fallible humans? Answer

Is Jesus Christ a man, or is he God? Answer

If Jesus is God, how could he die? If Jesus died on the cross, then how can he be alive today? Answer

Was Jesus Christ God, manifest in human form? Answer

Is Jesus Christ really God? Answer

If Jesus was the Son of God, why did He call Himself the Son of Man? Answer

TRINITY—How can one God be three persons? Answer

JESUS’ CHARACTER—Is Christ’s character consistent with his high claims? Answer

What is “blasphemy”? Answer

Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures
Featuring LaKeith StanfieldClarence and his twin Thomas
Anna DiopJedediah’s sister
RJ CylerElijah
Omar SyBarabbas
Marianne Jean-BaptisteClarence’s mother
Micheal WardJudas Iscariot
Nicholas PinnockJesus Christ
James McAvoyPontius Pilate
Alfre WoodardMother Mary
David OyelowoJohn the Baptist
Benedict CumberbatchBenjamin
See all »
Director Jeymes Samuel
Producer Garrett Grant
Jay-Z
See all »
Distributor TriStar PicturesTriStar Pictures, a division of Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment
Copyrighted, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “A struggling down-on-his-luck man named Clarence living in 29 A.D. Jerusalem looks to capitalize on the rise of Jesus Christ by claiming to be a new Messiah sent by God, in an attempt to free himself of debt and start a life of glory for himself. Struggling to find a better life, Clarence is captivated by the power of the rising Messiah and soon risks everything to carve a path to a divine existence.”

Filmed in Italy and Jerusalem

I wasn’t planning on seeing “The Book of Clarence” (written and directed by Jeymes Samuel). I saw a poster in the lobby of my local AMC of The Last Supper with the cast around the table and said to myself, “Well, I’ll let this one pass me by.” I knew very little about it other than it was another Hollywood film that had something to do with Jesus (or a Jesus stand-in) and a new take on biblical times.

Yes, the main cast consists of mostly all black actors which is fine, since I’ve seen my fill of biblical films boasting an all-white cast. My disinterest was mainly due to the lack of trust in the Hollywood machine to produce a well written and respectful film which features the center-point of my faithJesus Christ the Messiah.

I went to an AMC “Screen Unseen” event which is a showing of a “mystery movie” for five bucks, and our Screen Unseen feature was… you guessed it… “The Book of Clarence”. Oh well, I said. I’m not wasting my five dollars and walking out, so let’s see what this movie is about.

It was… interesting to say the least. Not as offensive I thought it might be, but definitely not as respectful to the setting and source material as I would have liked it to be.

Many Christians who come across these kind of movies and shows (everything from “Jesus Christ Superstar” to “Left Behind” to “The Chosen”) immediately have their theology radar out to determine how accurate the material is to what the Bible says. In almost all cases these movies have material that takes some liberty with the biblical narrative… and in some cases a lot of liberty. The range can be seen from the very accurate the Jesus film (1979) to the “off the rails” biblical narrative of “Noah” (2014).

“The Book of Clarence” is definitely more towards the latter and so much so that I imagined it was an alternate universe being projected to us from another dimension.

“The Book of Clarence” is about Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield last seen in Disney’s “Haunted Mansion”) who inhabits all the qualities of a fool as outlined in the book of Proverbs. When we first meet him is cowardly, a cheat, shortsighted with money, a liar, unwise, and has no ambition than just to get high and keep from getting beat up or worse due to his bad judgment.

Clarence is a self-described atheist in the city of Jerusalem and believes that knowledge trumps belief every time. He is accompanied by his best friend Elijah (RJ Cyler) who we see, along with Clarence, is in a horse and chariot high speed opening race scene to try to win some money to pay back the local thug Jedediah the Terrible (Eric Kofi-Abrefa). Of course things go the way it usually goes for Clarence, and he not only loses the race but is in definite life-or-death trouble with Jedediah with time running out to pay his debt. To make things worse he is in love with Jedediah’s sister (Anna Diop) who isn’t as fond of him as he is of her. Add the regular harassment and bullying by the Roman guards and we see that Clarence is indeed not living his best life.

In Jerusalem, whole city is abuzz with the presence of a Messiah figure called Jesus, who Clarence eschews and takes an intense dislike to. Much of this dislike is also directed at one of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas, who just so happens to be Clarence’s twin brother.

Thomas left Clarence and his mother to be an apostle (which Clarence pronounces the silent “t”), and Clarence sees Thomas’ abandonment as a slap in the face to his family. Yet Clarence also sees that Jesus and His apostles are doing well for themselves, as people give them respect, accolades, and money… all which Clarence needs to save his skin from his debt collectors.

So after he tries to sign up to be the thirteenth apostle and fails, he and his friend Elijah go on a quest to become the next and better Messiah. Their gameplay includes adding to their numbers a bodyguard of sorts in the form of Barabbas (an intimidating Omar Sy), to get vetted and baptized by a very cranky John the Baptist (well played by David Oyelowo), and to begin doing a traveling roadshow performing trick “miracles” and preaching the “knowledge over belief” message.

Soon his following grows and people start to believe he is another Messiah in the vain of Jesus. Eventually he gets enough money to pay off the debt collectors, but he has a rapid change of conscience and decides to buy the freedom of some gladiator slaves (where Barabbas first came from). This change of heart sends him on a quest for the Truth and to understand what indeed he wants and needs to do to change his life.

When Jesus (Nicholas Pinnock) is finally shown onscreen it’s usually with a red head covering, a slow walk, ethereal presence, and friendly but firm demeanor. Jesus does some Jedi tricks such as stopping stones in midair from being thrown at the adulterous woman, unlocking chains by waving his hand, and causing coins to flow from a beggars hand like water. The presence of Jesus is used sparingly in “The Book of Clarence” and I felt was never in bad taste or over the top. As a matter of fact, for a good section of the film, we see how Clarence behaves as a scheming, dishonest Messiah and it’s a natural comparison to how Jesus did live among the people of that time with conviction, courage, and Spirit-driven love.

It’s a good reminder how Jesus would have attracted so much attention and would have been so loved by the crowds because he was so different. There were many false Messiahs before Jesus’ time and many of these so-called Messiahs were in it for themselves—chasing power and influence like Clarence. We read in Hebrews 4:15…

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

Every temptation was present for Jesus to do what Clarence willingly wanted to do: become rich, have others serve Him, set up an authority on Earth, and chase all the worldly things in life. But Jesus knew Himself, His mission, and His sacrifice that He had to make to offer us eternal life through His death and resurrection. He was no ordinary man but the true 100% God/man in the flesh.

Q & A

Is Jesus Christ really God? Answer

Is Jesus Christ a man, or is he God? Answer

If Jesus is God, how could he die? If Jesus died on the cross, then how can he be alive today? Answer

Was Jesus Christ God, manifest in human form? Answer

I was actually on board until the third act when Clarence is brought before the Romans to be punished as a false Messiah. Out of nowhere God (or what seems like God) makes some supernatural things happen to show Clarence may be a lot more than what he and everyone else thinks he is. At that moment Clarence begins to do miraculous feats which get him in even more trouble with Rome.

There is a definite arc to his character, and we see some big redemption moments as well, but it’s at the expense of what impact Jesus would eventually have during His passion and crucifixion. There is a cameo by Benedict Cumberbatch towards the later half that starts out as fun and interesting but soon gets weird and sacrilegious. “The Book of Clarence” is very accurate at times with it’s theology (explaining correctly the virgin birth from Mary’s own mouth and highlighting the gospel of Jesus toward the end of the movie) but it is also way in left field with some of the symbolism that pops up.

Q & A

Is Jesus Christ the answer to your questions?
Discover the good news that Jesus Christ offers

Paradise or Pain? Why is the world the way it is?
Why is the world the way it is? If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving, would He really create a world like this? (filled with oppression, suffering, death and cruelty) Answer

Click here to watch THE HOPE on-line!
Discover God’s promise for all people—told beautifully and clearly from the beginning. Discover The HOPE! Watch it on Christian Answers—full-length motion picture.

Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer

How good is good enough? Answer

No doubt LaKeith Stanfield does an amazing job playing this character in all the various modes and motivations he has to go through. The whole cast is very good and make believable their character motivations and conflicts. Alfre Woodard as Jesus’ mother does a great job as a kind, thoughtful woman who is still in a state of wonder herself at all that has transpired so many decades ago.

The ancient city that holds all of our story is dusty, old, and full of danger. You can feel the uncertainty of the setting and get a sense of fleeting futures. The director, Jeymes Samuel, says he wanted to make an homage to the dangerous, gang ridden South Kilburn/Mozart Estate section of London where he grew up. You can tell that Mr. Samuel saw some real characters and illicit actions as he walked those streets as a youth. This is a well shot film with some creative angles and action sequences that ups the quality of the tried-and-true sword and sandal epic.

Yet the way the scenes play out at the end of the film really waters down and confuses the most important parts of Jesus’ passion, even though Jesus is not actually in these scenes, really put a damper on the effectiveness of the film. As a Christian watching most of the third act I was in definite squirm mode. I can’t get behind this film because of the confusing and offensive imagery towards the end.

When Hollywood is creatively portraying the death of my Savior it’s a very fine line to walk to get it right and have it be meaningful and not offensive. “The Book of Clarence” falters big time on this important element.

There are a few cases of profanity including a few s**ts, d*mn’s and one MF. There are many instances of using and selling drugs, sensual dance, and violence including gladiatorial combat, flogging, and crucifixion (although not as strong as “The Passion of the Christ”).

Am I glad I saw “The Book of Clarence” at that Screen Unseen event? I think so… but only for the fact that I could get a glimpse of what some of the historical false Messiahs would have acted like. This understanding continues to bring praise to my true Messiah that He loved me so much that He faced away from the temptations of self-engrandizment and took the long, hard road of sacrifice for my salvation.

Q & A

How and why did Jesus greatly humble himself for us? Answer

How did Jesus Christ die? Answer

  • Violence: Very Heavy
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Very Heavy
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Moderately Heavy
  • Profane language: Mild
  • Occult: Mild
  • Sex: Minor
  • Nudity: None
  • Wokeism: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


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Secular Movie Critics
…“The Life of Brian” meets “Hamilton”…
Ed Potton, The Times [UK]
…a bombastic journey back to the biblical era…
Rebecca Ford, Vanity Fair
…brash biblical epic… another revisionist twist on a white-dominated film genre, buoyed by a strong, mostly Black ensemble. … runs parallel to the life and death of Jesus in ways both blithely blasphemous and sincerely Christian… It’ll certainly prove a hard sell to the U.S. audience that conventionally turns up for faith-based fare — people who tend to prefer their Bible stories without four-letter words, disco dance interludes and atheistic, weed-smoking heroes. …
Guy Lodge, Variety
…A pop-gospel spectacle… is a throwback to the era of Hollywood Biblical epics, which stops along the way to tap into the funk-powered spirituality of Black Moses-era Isaac Hayes and a touch of Python irreverence. …manages to be both casually sacrilegious and utterly earnest about its ultimate message of faith. …absolutely nothing is sacred.
Wendy Ide, The Guardian (UK)
…Jeymes Samuel has delivered the “wickedly dope” movie he set out to make with “The Book of Clarence”. …
Mike Reyes, CinemaBlend
…wacky counter-gospel action adventure delivers some good turns but drifts into piety… It’s a sort of stoner-spaghetti eastern, with some nice gags, sprightly cameos, monolithic Bible-movie credits, chariot races, gladiator contests, Roman soldiers in silly uniforms and holy men with long straggly hair. …
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (UK)
…It is distinctly British and univerally Black. …sometime silly, but just as serious-minded as can be, irreverant, but never really what any serious person would describe as “blasphemous. …”
Roger Moore, Movie Nation
…Filled with style and energy to burn… a wild, highly ambitious ride that takes the scale and scope of the classic biblical epic, drops in a heavy dose of “The Life of Brian”-esque satirical comedy, and sets the entire thing ablaze. …Blending high-octane action, flashy music video aesthetics, surrealism, and just about every trick…
Patrick Hurst, Next Best Picture