There are films that are entertaining. There are films that are soul-stirring. And there are films that are faithful to the source material (when the source material is the Bible, this third category becomes an important one for many believers). It is rare to experience a film that checks one or two of these boxes, let alone all three. Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes and opening in theaters February 19, is a film that definitively inhabits all three categories—it delights the eyes, moves the soul and weaves a story that beautifully balances accuracy and artistry.
To attempt to specify why the film is entertaining (a term with subjective definitions, to be sure), I’ll begin by saying that Risen is masterly crafted—the directing, the writing, the acting—and this craftsmanship enhances the overall experience. While watching the film, I was transported to Jerusalem, Golgotha and Galilee; I felt the sun warm my neck as the swirling sands of the Judaean Desert stuck to my skin and clothes; I noticed my pulse racing at the palpable tension between the Romans, Jews and followers of Yeshua. I watched as actors embodied their characters: Joseph Fiennes as the hardened, skeptical, gladiatorial Clavius; Peter Firth as the exasperated and indulgent Pontius Pilate; and Tom Felton as Lucius, an innocent, ambitious aid whose naiveté succumbs to the merciless lessons of his mentor. Add to these things the compelling plotline of Yeshua’s missing body? Yes, the film more than qualifies as entertaining.
In addition to its entertainment value, Risen is deeply moving and powerful. As a Christian, I’ve grown familiar with the biblical narrative in general and with the Gospels’ accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection in particular. But, Risen is told from Clavius’ perspective, and he is a Roman Military Tribune who worships Mars, the god of war. This juxtaposition is exquisitely manifested early in the film during the crucifixion scene. When Clavius arrives at Golgotha by order of Pilate, he has little reason to see Yeshua as significant. Yet, as the scene unfolded, I was moved to tears thinking of both the crucified Christ (the agony of defeat) and the resurrected Christ (the glory of victory). After this scene, we continue to journey with Clavius as he seeks the truth. His unique perspective—that of a nonbeliever encountering the inexplicable—makes for a truly powerful film, one that reminds believers of the hope of the resurrected Yeshua, and one that engages and challenges nonbelievers with the story of Yeshua’s death and resurrection.
Another area in which Risen excels is its filmmakers’ commitment to authenticity. Of course, certain liberties were taken to broaden the scope of the story and to deliver a version of events from Clavius’ point of view, but the film showcases people, places, events and passages that are found in Scripture in a manner consistent with the intention of Scripture. We meet the disciples, Mary Magdalene (played by Maria Botto), the Centurion and tomb guards; we see the influence of Rome in Jerusalem; we hear words taken directly from the Gospels. And we are immersed in the historical context of Jerusalem during the weeks following the resurrection. If you’ve avoided “Bible movies” in the past due to the potential distortion of Scripture, I’d encourage you to give Risen a try. The film’s respect for and faithfulness to the biblical narrative is evident.
Risen opens in theaters nationwide on February 19. It’s a film for a variety of audiences—history buffs, movie buffs, believers, nonbelievers. It’s a film for people wrestling with doubt and seeking truth; for the weary and exhausted, but also for the joyful and hopeful. Risen is compelling, engaging and challenging, and it’s definitely worth the price of admission.
Mary Lasse is a media consultant and freelance writer. She lives in the greater Chicago area with her husband and two children.
Image courtesy of Sony Films.