Michelle Monaghan stars in the new Netflix drama Messiah.
Michelle Monaghan stars in the new Netflix drama Messiah. Netflix

Netflix series wants to ask you a question

The creator of Netflix's new series, Messiah, wants you to ask the question.

"What do you think?"

The main character of Messiah is essentially unknowable - Al-Massih, a Christ-like figure that attracts millions of followers around the world when he performs what could be classified as "miracles".

But the show doesn't take on Al-Massih's perspective, instead his story is told through the points of view of the characters around him, including CIA agent Eva Gellar (Michelle Monaghan), Mossad agent Avi (Tomer Sisley), pastor Felix (John Ortiz) and TV reporter Miriam (Jane Adams).

Some of them are people of faith, others are not and believe in other institutions.

Is Al-Massih the so-called real deal, a religious figure offering mankind salvation? Or is he a narcissistic con artist?

 

The real deal or a pretender? Picture: Hiba Judeh/Netflix
The real deal or a pretender? Picture: Hiba Judeh/Netflix

 

"The show is an invitation for the viewer to make their minds up," Michael Petroni told news.com.au. "That way you can never really know the central character's point of view or what his motive is or what he thinks of himself or what he thinks is going on.

"That's up to the viewer. Until the very last scene of the season, that question is always placed back in the viewer's lap.

"The show isn't a singular experience, I think it's the kind of show that you watch with people or discuss with people after you've watched because it's about what you think. You end up with a mosaic of opinions about this person. The show never tells you what or who he is."

Petroni is an Australian-born filmmaker whose most prominent credits include writing the screenplays for The Book Thief, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Queen of the Damned.

He's also directed two films - Till Human Voices Wake Us and Backtrack - and co-created a TV series called Miracles, which followed an investigator for the Catholic Church who tried to verify "miracles".

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Michael Petroni with his lead actor Michelle Monaghan. Picture: Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Netflix
Michael Petroni with his lead actor Michelle Monaghan. Picture: Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Netflix

 

Petroni said the genesis for the idea had been staring him in the face, but it was only when he paired the is-he-isn't-he concept with what's happening in the real world that he felt confident there was a series in this.

"What gave me traction was when I posed that 'what if' in today's world with the way news is reported, the way social media has a vast and fast influence on people's opinions, so to be that became what the show was really about in some ways," he said.

But Petroni doesn't think Messiah, despite its name, is necessarily centred on questions of faith, rather its core is belief systems.

"If you look at one of the central characters, Eva Gellar, she has a very strict set of beliefs, which you can say she adheres to religiously. So to me it's about belief systems and what happens when your belief systems are contradicted but also what happens when your belief systems are confirmed," he said.

"Having your belief system confirmed can be almost as confronting as having your belief system contradicted."

In Messiah, Eva, the CIA agent, is positioned as the sceptic, and the belief system she grounds her life in is a black-and-white view of truth and justice. She's assigned to the case of the mysterious figure gathering followers in Damascus and then subsequently disappearing from a holding cell in Israel.

 

Michelle Monaghan as Eva Gellar, the CIA agent
Michelle Monaghan as Eva Gellar, the CIA agent

 

Messiah is a sombre and heavy show but one Petroni hopes will be provocative.

On that count, days out from its release, Messiah has already provoked the Jordanian Government to request Netflix pull the series from its streaming platform there on the grounds of potentially infringing religious sanctity despite having granted the show permission to film there in 2018.

When news.com.au spoke with Petroni two weeks before the Jordanian Government's request, he was quick to emphasise Messiah is not designed to offend anyone, and it's not supposed to tell people what to think on questions of faith.

When asked if the involvement of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, both known for their religious views and work on overtly religious titles such as The Bible, Touched By An Angel, Son of God and A.D. The Bible Continues, frames Messiah in a certain way, Petroni denied the producing couple's beliefs were prioritised over anyone else's.

"Mark and Roma read my pilot script and loved it and they supported doing what I wanted to do with the show," Petroni said. "If it wasn't for Mark and Roma, I wouldn't have had the very solid introduction to Netflix that I had.

"Mark and Roma, like everyone else who watches this show or is involved in the show, can bring their points of view to the series but it doesn't promise to affirm anyone's belief.

"I want viewers to have conversations, I want them to react, I want them to discuss and I want them to think about what they think the show is about."

Messiah premieres on Netflix today from 7pm AEDT

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