Quo Vadis: A Great Epic Film on Early Christianity
Every Lenten season, I try to be more reflective or prayerful by watching religious films. One such classic film I enjoy viewing is MGM's 1951 production of Quo Vadis.
Although I have this 2-disc special edition, I still prefer to watch this movie on the big screen. Why? Because of its panoramic splendor!
Yes, technically speaking, Quo Vadis is a '50s masterpiece that magnificently depicts Ancient Rome. I am awed by everything - the setting, the costumes, the score, the screenplay, and the acting. The scenes that I find spectacular are the march of the victorious Roman legion, the revelry at Nero's palace, the gathering at the catacombs, the burning of Rome, and the persecution of the Christians.
"Quo Vadis" trailer showing scenes of the march of the victorious Roman legion, the gathering at the catacombs, and the persecution of the Christians
Burning Rome scene where Marcus (Robert Taylor) searches desperately for Lygia (Deborah Kerr) and her family
And this is weird - and even my son thinks so! - but I like going over the arena scenes where the Christians are either fed to the lions or burned on wooden crosses. When I first saw these in the cinema, I was horrified! As a pre-teen, I could not understand why the Christians could let themselves be killed in a gruesome manner. Crazy as it sounds, but to this day, I imagine myself as some "super soldier" in these scenes saving the victims by casting nets on the lions or putting out the fire with my "super breath".
St. Peter preaches and the Christians are persecuted.
Yet, in time, I have learned to admire the early Christians who were not afraid to shed their blood for their faith. I am deeply moved by the scene where St. Peter (played by Finlay Currie) is crucified - upside down! This is one dramatic moment to me, for as I watch it, I make a brief reflection on the value of martyrdom.
My people in Rome have need of thee.
If thou desert my people, I shall go to Rome
to be crucified a second time.— Jesus Christ to St. Peter
St. Peter (Finlay Currie) and the young Nazarius (Peter Miles) meet Jesus Christ.
On Peter Ustinov
As for the acting, I have only praises for the late Peter Ustinov who played the tyrant Nero to the hilt. His superb performance just makes me hate his character!
I am also amused by his facial expression whenever he delivers a speech. He would look up dreamily with eyes and nostrils wide open!
Emperor Nero (Peter Ustinov) tries hard to compose a song while his subjects boringly listen.
On the other characters
In like manner, I cannot help but giggle at how the slave girl Eunice (played by Marina Berti) would throw herself at her master, Petronius (played by Leo Genn). This only shows how foolishly coquettish women were back then.
Still, in the film, there are interesting characters whose courage or heroism are worth noting - Marcus Vinicius (played by Robert Taylor), Lygia (played by Deborah Kerr), St. Paul (played by Abraham Sofaer), Petronius, Plautius (played by Felix Aylmer) and his wife Pomponia (played by Nora Swinburne), and Ursus (played by Buddy Baer).
These men and women dared to speak up – even if it meant imprisonment and a painful death.
These people know how to die, Nero. In death you will squeal like a hog!— Marcus Vinicius talking to Nero about the Christians
On the value of suffering
Indeed, I recommend Quo Vadis not just to history buffs, but to anyone who wants to grow in his faith. This film reminds us that Christianity is all about suffering in order to attain eternal salvation. It is worth rewatching if only to make ourselves aware that in today’s times - when neo-paganism has set in – many martyrs continue to emerge, unafraid to bear witness to their faith.
Jesus Christ, after all, says in Matthew 16:24: "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."