Imagine… Risen

Imagine you are a Roman centurion stationed in Judea, tasked with keeping the zealots in line. They were a group of fanatical religious Jews intent on liberating themselves from Roman influence. It does not take much for them to riot, attack Romans in the street, or plan larger-scale battles. Each year, over a hundred thousand people come to Jerusalem for the Passover. Each year, Governor Pilate leaves his palace in Caesarea and comes to Jerusalem, along with King Herod, to maintain a diplomatic and military presence, to avert trouble.

But this year is different. Only days after welcoming the new Messiah into the city on the back of a donkey (perhaps even halting or blocking the arrival of troops in the process), the crowd wants his blood. The Sanhedrin screams for Pilate to put him to death, claiming he threatens Rome. Pilate’s heavy-handed treatment of the Jews forces his hand, because Emperor Tiberius has told him on the pain of death to avoid further riots. He disowns it, and says, “Crucify him.”

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For most men, that is where the story ends… but the Messiah’s continues. Now, imagine that as a centurion, you are given the task of finishing the Messiah off, ensuring his body remains safely in the tomb, and then, when your tribunes go missing and you find the rock that once sat over the entrance of the tomb a good seven feet away on the ground, with finding him again. You are a logical man. The answers you get do not match the evidence. So you start digging… and come face to face with a man you put to death… what then? How do you reconcile truth and belief? What can you trust, your eyes or your heart?

Risen harkens back to an older age in Hollywood, where Biblical epics were told through the eyes of fictional bystanders rather than believers and disciples. Clavius has no believer beside him to guide the way; he must find “the truth” on his own. His Pilate is a cynic, weary of murdering people, annoyed by constant demands on his time and justice, who looks upon Clavius as a son. In a personal moment, they share their desires for the future – men who desire an end to violence in favor of peace… but neither will have it. (Historically, Pilate disappears after Tiberius recalls him to Rome a few years later to account for mass-slaughtering Samaritans; Clavius… well, he must make his own journey forward.)

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I have two nitpicks, and both are minor; the only deviation from the Bible is in believing the myth about Mary Magdalene being a prostitute is true (it’s a major plot point); the only glaring historical inaccuracy is that Emperor Tiberius intends to visit and is arriving at the end of the story. Tiberius never came to Judea; to the Romans, Judea was a dog-hole full of rioters. For those queasy about violence, there is some but not a lot – a battle scene opens the film. Clavius comes in at the end of the crucifixion, so the Messiah is already dead; but we hear the Romans breaking the thieves’ legs. In their quest to find the body, they dig through decomposing corpses and finally choose a bloated corpse to pass off as Christ. The camera tries not to linger too long.

Oh, a final note – Mars is the God of War, Destruction, and Masculinity. The film doesn’t explain that, but it is referenced a few times (“Which God do you pray to?” Pilate asks. It’s Mars, and Pilate smiles knowingly).

It’s a good film, well made, respectful of history and Biblical events, without being preachy. I hope you’ll support it by going to see it.

I wrote a more traditional review here.

14 Replies to “Imagine… Risen”

  1. Yes, the depiction of Mary Magdalene as a former prostitute was a bit annoying, but in the end, I felt it was narratively beneficial because it showed easily and quickly how Jesus came for sinners. He wasn’t hanging out with already-perfect people. They could have talked about Matthew being a tax collector, but even with our modern dread of the IRS auditing us, we still don’t automatically get how horrid tax collectors could be back then. But a prostitute — we understand that still. So to have her welcomed by Jesus and the disciples, included, embraced, fully forgiven — it worked really well. Of course, they could have given her a different name, made there be two characters, etc — but this is a spare, trim film, and that would have added more weight than perhaps was necessary.

    Anyway, I REALLY liked this (as you know by now), and I’m hoping to get a chance to go see it again.

    1. You make a good point.

      I suppose, being so familiar with the period and the story, I sometimes forget that many people do not know much about Jesus. I almost wish I could see the story through their eyes — which is what “Risen” tries to do, but doing it narratively and truly being a blank slate are two different things! I have yet to meet a non-Christian who has seen it, to offer me their opinion. Perhaps one day…

  2. Sounds like a great film. Poor Clavius looks so confused in that top photo . . .

    Hmmmmmmmmm. Mary Magdalene as a prostitute? I COULD see that being true but I don’t really know. I was always taught that she was, you know, what they call a “loose woman,” but that could mean a lot of different things–adultery, prostitution, or something else.

    1. Throughout the middle ages and up until recent years, Mary Magdalene has been commonly taught in Christianity to have been a prostitute, despite any lack of Biblical evidence. Scripture says she was possessed by demons — nothing about prostitution. The misconception came from blending several different gospel accounts into one person (Mary Magdalene) when the narrative probably spoke of separate individuals.

      1. I see . . . Although, isn’t Mary Magdalene the same person who anointed Jesus’ feet with precious ointment at a feast, and the host objected, and Jesus said “her sins are forgiven her, for she has loved much”? That’s why I always concluded she must have been a sinner of some kind.

        1. No, she is not.

          Though that is indeed the passage they mistakenly attribute to her, because in one gospel the woman is an unknown prostitute and in another her name is Mary.

          Because, obviously, there is only one “Mary” hanging out with Jesus.

          Never mind there’s a half dozen Mary’s in the gospels alone, which means “Mary” was a very common name in that period!

          I welcome you, of course, to look her up and read the Biblical passages referencing her yourself, to double-check me.

          Rumor has it some Pope or another in the 500’s started the rumor that Mary M. and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet were one and the same, and since “sinner” in the 500s meant “sexually promiscuous,” she became a prostitute in the eyes of the Church.

          Poor woman. 7 demons possessed her in life, she went on to follow Christ and be one of the first people to see His risen form, and then she’s maligned for centuries by the Church with a reputation she does not deserve.

          1. Interesting! I’ll have to look at the Bible passages again when I have time. Hopefully, that will be soon . . . hopefully. #LifeOfACollegeStudent

            Out of curiosity, if the woman who washed Jesus’ feet was not Mary Magdalene–who do you think she was, and what eventually happened to her?

  3. It’s a truly marvelous movie, one of my favorites so far for 2016. Although I do wish writers would quit portraying Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. That gets old really fast. Still, if that’s pretty much this movie’s only flaw, I can live with it. 😉

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