Last weekend Jenni and I checked out from the library the DVD One Night with the King, a dramatization of the book of Esther. It was a disappointment.
- official site | DVD at Amazon.com | Wikipedia
- The film is based on the 2004 novel Hadassah: One Night with the King, so my analysis of the film is probably a partial analysis of this novel, which I have not read.
- Reviews: Phil Gons’s review is the most helpful I’ve seen. I significantly disagree with much of the positive tenor in the reviews by Plugged In, Christianity Today, and Dr. Michael Haykin.
2. Brief analysis: The film is deeply disappointing in both content and form.
- Content: Jenni and I have grown up hearing and reading the book of Esther, and the biblical plot is fresh on our minds because we worked through the book of Esther in one sitting both the night before and the morning after watching the film. I am just stunned by reviews that claim that the film’s plot is faithful to the biblical plot. The film’s plot mutilates the narrative that God inspired. It would take a long essay to substantiate this, and I have no desire to take the time to do that. Suffice it to say, most of the key points in the film change significant details in the biblical narrative with both addition and subtraction.
- Form: The film made us laugh—but for the wrong reasons. We laughed because many of the characters and lines are so corny. The film is light and comical with slapstick humor similar to The Princess Bride (but not nearly as funny!). Though not as outrageous as Veggie Tales, the form of the film does not fit the weightiness and gravity of the biblical narrative. Esther, for example, behaves like a flighty, immature teenage girl.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rank the film at 1 or 2. It’s really that bad. I would go a bit farther than Phil Gons, who cautiously recommends watching the film. If you haven’t seen it, my advice is simple: don’t waste your time on it. Read the book of Esther instead. (And if you’re looking for a Bible film to watch, my top recommendation is The Gospel of John.) Films that take dramatic license with biblical narratives almost inevitably compromise the message of the text. Narrative is a literary genre that a film cannot perfectly reproduce. The problem with One Night with the King is not that it fails to reproduce the biblical narrative (that would be an unfair standard), but that it twists and distorts both its content and form.
3. Learning from the story of Esther
In 2002, I prepared a sermon on Esther entitled “Trusting God’s Silent Providence.” I’d no doubt tweak it if I preached it today, but my outline (which reflects Layton Talbert’s Not by Chance—see below) highlights many details in the biblical narrative that the film alters.
- God’s silent providence directs man’s wrath.
- It directed King Ahasuerus’ wrath (because of proud embarrassment) against Queen Vashti (1:12; 2:1).
- It directed Bigthan’s and Teresh’s wrath (because of political hatred) against King Ahasuerus (2:21).
- It directed Haman’s wrath (because of offended arrogance and racism) against Mordecai (3:5; 5:9).
- It directed King Ahasuerus’ wrath (because of a mistaken impression) against Haman (7:7, 10).
- God’s silent providence includes “chance.”
- It included King Ahasuerus’ call for Queen Vashti and her refusal (1:10-12).
- It included Esther’s replacement of Vashti as queen (1-2).
- It included Mordecai’s uncovering of the assassination plot against King Ahasuerus (2:21-23).
- It included Haman’s unexplained promotion (3:1).
- It included the lot (“pur” in Hebrew) that Haman cast to determine when to destroy the Jews (3:7).
- It included Esther’s hesitation to petition King Ahasuerus at the first banquet (5:6-8).
- It included King Ahasuerus’ inability to sleep and the reading of Mordecai’s unrewarded deed (6:1-3).
- It included the timing of Haman’s appearance at King Ahasuerus’ court when the king desired to reward Mordecai and Haman desired to murder him (6:4).
- It included the reversal of what seemed to be certain destruction for the Jews (8-9).
4. Some recommended reading on Esther and/or the narrative genre
- Layton Talbert, “Silent Providence,” in Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God (Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 2001), 120-40, 284-89. This chapter is an outstanding, succinct, and accessible explanation of Esther.
- Karen Jobes, Esther (NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 248 pp. Tremper Longman III, in Old Testament Commentary Survey (4th ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), says this about it: “Without a doubt this is the best commentary to buy on Esther. It is informative about its original meaning and insightful on how to apply it to the contemporary world. Jobes is theologically astute and a good writer” (p. 77). Longman places Jobes’s Esther at the layperson-minister level and gives it five stars (his highest ranking).
- David C. Deuel, “Expository Preaching from Old Testament Narrative,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching: Balancing the Science and Art of Biblical Exposition, John MacArthur Jr. and The Master’s Seminary Faculty (Dallas: Word, 1992), 273-87. This helpful article uses the Joseph (not Esther) narrative as a test case.
- Michael H. Burer, “Narrative Genre: Studying the Story,” in Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis (ed. Darrell L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning; Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 197-219.
(If you’d like to share comments about One Night with the King, I’d recommend doing so here.)