Netflix’s ‘Messiah’ TV Review: Religious Hysteria In The Age Of Fake News
In this current day and age, it seems like our world is looking for a savior. Whether it is Greta Thunberg. who inspired millions with her plea for environmental justice or the growing popularity of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, people seem to cling onto role models. Directed by Survivor‘s Mark Burnett and Touched by An Angel star Roma Downey (who also produced Netflix’s The Bible), Netflix’s Messiah attempts to take the public craving for a messiah to its dramatic, eclectic edge.
The journey begins in Damascus, with the appearance of the Christ-like, eclectic figure known as Al-Masih (Mehdi Dehbi), who promises to desperate Syrian refugees that ISIS will be defeated. As he quotes from the Quran, ISIS indeed perishes, and the enchanted mob follows the intriguing character into the unknown.
Al-Masih then captures the attention of CIA Agent Eva (Michelle Monaghan), who notices Al-Masih is leading the Syrian refugees to the Israeli-Syrian border.
Monaghan’s role in Messiah relates directly to her previous part in Hulu’s The Path, which depicts a cult that spirals out of control. In both shows, Monaghan’s character is haunted by an obsessive ambition, and in Messiah, she is determined to expose Al Masih’s corrupt background.
Without revealing major spoilers, it is safe to say that from this moment on Al-Masih becomes a global figure. His high-profile miracles, such as walking on water on the national mall and causing the Israeli military to accept asylum for Palestinian refugees, draw admiration from Evangelical activists like Pastor Felix Iguero and suspicion in Israel, primarily with Shin Bet Agent Aviram (Tomer Sisley). The latter joins forces with his American counterpart Agent Eva, who is keen on revealing Al Masih’s true identity and purpose.
Al-Masih’s path moves from the torn arena of Syria to Jerusalem in which he causes riots, and ends in the rural areas of Texas, a state that gives him amnesty and enables him to unleash his gospel among Christian devotees.
Netflix should be praised for its ability to bring three cultural points of view to the screen. The delicate nuances of Hebrew, English and Arabic all receive their dignified position, constructing a complex fabric of human narratives. The Israeli cynicism is seemingly in a collision course with the American faith-driven enthusiasm. Furthermore, the casting of Monaghan contrasts well to the cult leader role she portrayed in The Path, and Iguero’s role as a devotee pastor hints to the small role he took in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Yet beyond all the Easter eggs, the most fascinating aspect of Messiah is examining the ability of one individual to move the masses by means of psychological control. Like Thunberg, Al Masih ignites the imagination of the masses and even takes hold of spiritual influence on the Latter Day Saint president of the United States. While the mainstream media cherishes him as the new John Lennon, YouTube conspiracy theorists rush to debunk his works and suggest he is perpetrating a hoax.
This blunt side of the plot raises a major issue: what is the line between news and lies in the age of post-truth? While the narratives are being tested in various fields of life, Messiah deliberately questions the viewers’ faith not only on the premise of religious devotion but also based upon institutionalized stories.
Good stories often label the sides involved, and Al Masih playfully moves from being a beloved saint into a demonic villain. On the one hand, Al Masih saves a Palestinian kid from a fate of violence and turns him into an advocate of peace with Israel, but on the other hand, he violently kills a hurt dog instead of resurrecting him, as we could expect from a Christ figure. This core tension in the plot aligns with the lingual double meaning of his name: in Hebrew, Mashaich stands for a savior, in Muslim tradition, Al-Masih is the name of the false Messiah, who will rise to power before the arrival of the true messiah, the Mehedi.
Netflix Messiah is a modern fable on religious hysteria and fake news, that will undermine your faith in truths we might hold as self-evident and blur the line between insanity and ingenuity.