It’s not typical Christmas or even holiday viewing fare, but DreamWorks’ Joseph: King of Dreams, released in 2000, is one of my favourite animated, straight-to-DVD movies, because there are so many themes explored here: hubris, jealousy, betrayal, [sibling] rivalry, faith, and sacrifice.
Joseph: King of Dreams recounts the life of the youngest son of long-lived patriarch Israel’s (Jacob’s) twelve sons. Declared a God-given miracle by Jacob, by virtue of his birth from a previously-barren Rachel, and adored by his father and mother, Joseph grows up an extremely privileged and very handsome youth; he does not toil in backbreaking labour in the fields, nor shepherd sheep from dawn until dusk, as his eleven, much older half brothers do.
Instead, he is given a higher education, taught to speak and read in both the tongues of Hebrew and Egyptians, and lavished with the finest clothes–all of which earns him the growing resentment of his brothers. Joseph also possesses the power of divination through his dreams, a gift that incurs scorn from his brethren, and, at the same time, unstinting praise from Jacob. Jacob’s constant favouritism of Joseph moulds the latter into a resourceful, intelligent, but arrogant and naive teenager, and that combination repays dividends of humility upon his head a thousandfold not much later in life.
At times, I can’t help but feel the sudden reversal of his fortunes is much like Job’s suffering. His brothers sell him into slavery, and mislead Jacob and Rachel with the lie that Jacob was attacked and killed by wolves. In becoming a slave, Joseph loses everything; his mother, his father, his fine clothes, his home, and even the right to call his soul his own. Joseph’s successful attempts to please his new Egyptian master by re-organizing his household for greater efficiency unfortunately also attracts the unwanted attentions of his master’s wife, and leads to his unjust imprisonment in the royal jails, where he languishes and despairs. He questions both the irony and God’s purpose in sending him the gift of prophetic dreaming–until he learns to let go of everything, including his hopes, and his fears, embraces humility, and places his faith in a higher power.
‘You Know Better Than I’ is one of the most inspirational pieces of music I have ever heard.
When Joseph goes from being jailed slave to Vizier, the second most powerful man in Egypt, thanks to his ability to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams and advise accordingly to avert a seven-year famine–the shock of his chance meeting with his brothers is understandable; he has not forgiven them for orchestrating the ultimate betrayal. He imprisons one of them, and commands that they bring their youngest brother to Egypt as both proof of their words and the condition of Simeon’s release. When they not only produce Benjamin, but are all willing to serve jail time for Benjamin’s (staged) theft of the Vizier’s golden goblet, in order to “spare their father further suffering”, and openly admit to 20 years of guilt over selling Joseph to slave traders, Joseph is moved to tears (as am I!) and confesses that he is their long-lost brother.
Although the story of Joseph is primarily a Judaic one, the redemptive message of forgiveness is universal and non-denominational. It takes a great heart to forgive, and I am moved and inspired by the stories of those who can do so.