His Only Son

Peter Malone MSC 20 March 2023

The story of Abraham asked by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac, with flashbacks to Abraham’s life, his wife Sarah and his covenant with God.

HIS ONLY SON, US, 2022. Starring Nicholas Mouawad, Sara Seyed, Daniel da Silva, Luis Fernandez-Gil, Edaan Moskowitz. Directed by David Helling. 100 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and violence).

A faith-based feature film referencing Genesis 22 – God’s request of Abraham that he sacrifice Isaac, a story significant for the three Abrahamic faiths. At the end, there is a particular Christian focus with a crucifixion scene and God’s only son, Jesus, dying on the cross.

The introduction tells us that the book of Genesis gives us the full story of Abraham. However, the final credits also indicate that a number of incidents in Genesis have been amplified/fictionalised for dramatic purposes. (The publicity for this film states that this story has never been seen before – although George C Scott and Ava Gardner were Abraham and Sarah in John Huston’s The Bible, 1966, and Richard Harris was Abraham in the television film of that name, 1993 – the latter well worth checking.)

In most ways, this is straightforward telling of the story of Abraham, his experience of God asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac and the journey to the mountain where the sacrifice was to take place. However, there are many flashbacks during the journey, especially focusing on the memories of Abraham (Mouawad, looking patriarchal). And, the desert and mountain scenery creates a sometimes eerie atmosphere of vast plains, overpowering mountains and caves.

The flashbacks include, of course, Abraham (Abram), his sense of destiny, and a visual focus on the many stars of the sky and the sands, God’s covenant promise (though the covenant and fire of chapter 15 is not included). The main flashbacks concern Sarah, Abraham’s meeting with her, courtship, their life together, on the move, the fact that she could not have children. In fact, one of the strongest parts of the film is the relationship between Abraham and Sarah, a lot more time given to this relationship than other Genesis stories. In fact, it is Sarah who urges Abraham to relationship with Hagar because God’s promise was not to Sarah but to Abraham. But, she regrets this, turning against Hagar. It is surprising, in this context, that the visit of the strangers who receive hospitality and speak of Sarah’s pregnancy are briefly and sketchily shown.

Abraham and Isaac do not travel alone. There are two servants accompanying father and son, a great deal of discussion along the way, one of the servants rebellious, the other trying to control him, and quite an amount of dialogue between them as they camp in caves during the journey.

On the way, several dramatic incidents have been inserted, a group of horsemen threatening the travelling party, attacking both Abraham and Isaac. They also have a captured girl and Isaac willing to sacrifice himself for her freedom. And, along the way, they meet a procurer who has a range of young women he wants to make available to the group. So, there is a certain earthiness about this storytelling.

However, there is a certain atmosphere of unearthiness in how God is presented – a glowing figure, white, translucent, human outline. Which, for many audiences, may be too ethereal and unconvincing. Perhaps a sense of God’s presence and the use of voice alone might have been more persuasive.

One of the problems with the film is that Isaac is not so will delineated until the very end of the film, audiences not quite identifying with him Abraham somewhat aloof in his fear and grief, Isaac bewildered, but, ultimately the dramatic sequence of the sacrifice, knife poised, and God’s voice of reprieve.

The writer-director served as a Marine in Iraq for some years, reading the Bible, coming home, making some short films and then this his first feature.

There is quite a New Testament focus in the final moments of the film, Abraham’s sacrifice moving into the crucifixion scene, the kneeling Centurion, and after the final credits, on screen five quotations from St Paul.

The film is designed for communities who tend to take biblical narratives literally. With some background, the film may be useful for church groups.

Heritage Films
Released 30 March