Mary Magdalene gets bumped to Easter

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Looks like Mary Magdalene won’t be getting an Oscar campaign after all.

The film, starring Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, was originally going to open three months from now, on November 24.

That would have been right in the thick of awards season, and almost exactly one year to the day after director Garth Davis’s previous film, Lion, came out.

Lion was nominated for six Academy Awards including best picture, and many people had assumed that the Weinstein Company was gearing up for an awards campaign for Mary Magdalene, too. But today, the Weinsteins announced that Mary Magdalene will now open next year instead, on Good Friday a.k.a. March 30.

While the new release date suggests the Weinsteins are no longer interested in pursuing an awards campaign for the film, it could make sense from a box-office perspective. The days and weeks leading up to Easter have been profitable for a number of “faith-based” films in recent years, such as The Shack and Miracles from Heaven.

Mary Magdalene, however, has been described as a “humanistic” take on the Jesus story, and it remains to be seen whether the film will fit within a traditional reading of the gospels or adopt a more skeptical approach to its subject matter.

Indeed, knowing Harvey Weinstein and his publicity-seeking ways, it would not be surprising if Mary Magdalene came out on the Easter weekend precisely because the timing might seem provocative to all the right people. But it’s possible the film will be well-received by the “faith-based” audience, so who knows?

Incidentally, while very little information about the film has been released so far — there are no official pictures, clips or trailers — there is an interview with Mara in the current issue of Empire, in which she alludes somewhat vaguely to what drew her to the project:

You worked with Garth again on Mary Magdalene — how did that come about?
We were talking about doing this other thing I had been developing for a while, then he emailed me: “How do you feel about Mary Magdalene?” And I was like, “Oh, f—.” I said, “Garth, don’t make me do this.”

Your family is Catholic, right?
Uh-huh. And I really did not want to make a religious film at all. I was really hesitant. But I knew I was gonna do this. I was pissed off at him. Like, “F— you, don’t make me do this!”

Does the film focus on her relationship with Jesus?
[It takes place] just before she meets Jesus to a little bit after his death. But it’s her story. Most people think she was a prostitute. That’s what I thought. Not true at all. Not even slightly true. And I was fascinated by that. I was like, “This is shocking, that everyone thinks that.” She was his first female disciple. She was chosen by him to be witness to his death. And [yet] she’s known as a prostitute and all those other guys have churches all over the world in their name.

It’s subject matter that some actors would avoid, but you didn’t. Do you think, “That seems dangerous. I’m going to go after that”?
Yeah, I’m a contrarian person. I like to stir the pot a little bit.

Three comments in reply to the second-to-last paragraph:

First, it is not quite true that everyone thinks Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. While this is, indeed, a common tradition in the Catholic and Protestant churches, it does not exist at all in the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Second, I don’t know where Mara is getting the idea that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ first female disciple. Mary Magdalene is the first person mentioned in the list of female followers in Luke 8, which is the only passage in the entire New Testament that mentions her outside of the passion and resurrection narratives. But that doesn’t mean she was the first female disciple to actually follow Jesus.

Finally, it’s not just “those other guys” who have churches named after them. There are churches named for Mary Magdalene, too. Wikipedia has a list of such churches, and I’m sure it’s not complete.

As noted above, Mary Magdalene is now coming out March 30. The other films currently scheduled to come out that day, according to Box Office Mojo, are Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, Tyler Perry’s She’s Living My Life, and… God’s Not Dead 3. Hmmm.

— The image at the top of this post shows Mara and Phoenix in Spike Jonze’s Her.

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