ONCE WE WERE SLAVES is about two brothers, the tribulations they face under the Romans, and the redemption of one. The movie opens in a Roman jail, where three men await sentencing. Two of them are brothers. The movie flashes back to their story. Demas gets into trouble for stealing while Benyamen dutifully prays in the temple. Then, Benyamin incites Demas to help him steal from the Roman soldier who raped Benyamin’s wife. Now, they are waiting in jail to be crucified. After the third man, who happens to be Barabbas, is released, the two brothers are crucified with Jesus. However, only one of them will see Paradise with the LORD.
ONCE WE WERE SLAVES has some surprising twists but the flashbacks get a little tiresome. The movie ironically points out that even the most sinful among us can be forgiven, while those who claim to be religious could be the very ones who turn their back on God. Though well done, some parts come off as cheaply done. The amount of blood, violence and mature subject matter in ONCE WE WERE SLAVES warrants caution for children.
(CCC, BBB, VV, S, N, AA, MM) Very strong Christian, moral worldview with central message of forgiveness of sin, redemption, sacrifice of Christ, a depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus, sin is punished, and story connects the importance of Passover with the sacrifice of Jesus; strong violence includes large pool of blood shone on stone floor, Jesus' bloody body shown dragged by Roman soldier, thieves are whipped, bodies covered with a generous amount of blood, nails clearly shown in wrists and feet, Roman soldiers being rough, plate thrown against wall in anger and broken, brothers beat a Roman soldier, crucifixion, and the subject of rape is brought up but not shown; no sexual depictions but the subject of rape is brought up though not shown; iupper male nudity; one brother drinks and is shown slightly drunk in jail later; no smoking or drugs; and, breaking in and stealing shown twice, it’s implied a father is leaving his family, vandalism, revenge, and crowd taunts Jesus.
ONCE WE WERE SLAVES opens in a Roman prison cell where three men are chained and awaiting sentencing. It then flashes back to a Jewish home one night where two of the men are arguing. They turn out to be brothers. Demas lets his temper get hot over new taxes that the Romans are implementing, while Benyamin tries to keep him calm. Demas decides to take a walk and leave his brother to study the Scriptures in peace. He goes to his father’s grave and spews anger toward him, upset that he had forsaken him in their family.
Back in the Roman prison, the guards come for the other man whom we learn is Barabbas. It is the night of the Passover and the people have chosen to pardon Barabbas instead of Jesus, the soldiers announce. This confounds the brothers as they don’t understand how such a vile criminal could be chosen over someone whose worst crime is blasphemy.
We are then treated to a flashback montage of Demas stealing and vandalizing, while Benyamin dutifully prays in the temple. Later, Benyamin visits Demas in jail, telling him that he’s used a favor to get him out. He also tells Demas he’s getting married and wants him at the wedding.
Moving forward again in time, the Roman soldiers come to take Demas and Benyamin. When the brothers ask where they’re going, the soldiers tell them they’re going to the same place where Jesus is going.
What follows is a quick montage of them witnessing the brutal treatment of Jesus, them being whipped, and then crucified. A small crowd surrounds them, mocking Jesus and they readily join in.
In another flashback we see Benyamin inciting Demas to criminal behavior when he finds out his wife has been raped by a Roman soldier. They decide to break into his house and steal his possessions, but they are caught, leading to their crucifixion.
For the final time, we cut back to the cross where Demas hears Jesus ask why his father had forsaken him. This strikes a chord with Demas, who begins to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and is redeemed at the end. Ironically, his brother, who had been the religious one, rejected Jesus. The movie closes with images of the rain washing away the blood from Demas’ dead body on the cross.
ONCE WE WERE SLAVES is structured in a way that you are surprised when you learn who the two brothers are and their significance in the Bible. Perhaps there wasn’t a better way to do it, but the constant cutting back and forth between the past and the present got a little get tiresome after a while. It is clear that the moviemakers weren’t too strict about realism, as some parts feel more theatrical as if being performed on a small stage with minimal scenery. The accents of some of the actors are different from each other, which can be a bit distracting in an otherwise serious scene. The final few shots of rain washing Demos’ dead body of its blood is difficult to decipher. One can only guess that it is metaphorical for the washing away of sins, but it could easily make the squeamish avert their eyes.
For some of the movie’s shortcomings, the amount of blood and violence shown is somewhat jarring. There is no attempt to shield the viewers from the graphic images of nails buried in the wrists and feet of those being crucified, and the makeup artists were very generous with the blood. All of this, plus outbursts of anger resulting in objects being thrown against the wall, stealing and vandalism, and the subject matters of rape and revenge warrant caution for children.
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