Film Review: Kanye West’s “Jesus is King”

Kanye West’s “Jesus is King” film is, true to form, a strange watch. 

Released last night in IMAX theaters, supposedly in conjunction with the record of the same name, the film was billed as a documentary that would show “the process of making Kanye West’s first gospel album.”

In reality, “Jesus is King” isn’t a documentary, but a performance piece- one that features not a single line of dialogue, and consists almost entirely of gospel performances. It’s also only thirty minutes long, which left plenty of fans fuming on the way out of the theater. 

The fact that the film is only being released in IMAX makes sense, but it’s more for the impressive sound than for the massive screen. The film is meant to be immersive- and it mostly achieved that goal through the powerful choir performances featured throughout. At times, the volume was comparable to that of being at a real concert, and the audience was entirely locked in: you could have heard a pin drop during the film’s quiet moments. 

Visually, “Jesus is King” is heavy-handed in a way that can induce eye-rolls: gospel performances were at times intercut with footage of mountains and dandelions, and a deep fascination with circles was present in every aspect of the film, from its settings to its transitions. It’s hard to escape the feeling while watching the film that it’s trying much too hard to be “art.”

The focus of much of the film is on its gospel singers, and close-up shots of individual performers dominate the first few scenes. West doesn’t make his first appearance until halfway through the short runtime, and spends much of his time on screen with his back to the camera or his face obscured. 

The film only pulls away from the choir towards the end, for two intimate performances by West, the second of which is simply a close-up of his child cradled in his arms as he sings.

If the film serves any purpose, it’s to announce that West’s signature self-indulgence and self-importance haven’t waned in the face of his newfound Christianity. He’s still creating only for himself, whether we like it or not.

As of this writing, Jesus is King, the album, still hasn’t been released.

“Jesus is King” is showing throughout the week at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science Autonation IMAX theater. Tickets can be found here: www.imax.com/theatres/autonation-imax