“Risen” March 28, 2020


Risen, the movie
The promotional poster for “Risen”


Back in early 2016, I saw the then-new film Risen.  My wife never did — she was traveling at the time — and she still hasn’t.  But I would still like her to do so; I would like to discuss it with her.  And I myself want to see it again.


Those who see the film and who are familiar with the story of Christ’s death and resurrection (just about everybody here, I expect) will instantly recognize that Risen has changed things around a bit — notably the introduction of a wholly fictional Roman tribune, the movie’s jaded and troubled protagonist — and there are undoubtedly reasons to criticize it.


Some will find Joseph Fiennes’s Clavius too grimly expressionless — especially toward the end, where his failure to join the witnessing of the Eleven (he would have been fully qualified to replace Judas!) was more than a bit puzzling, in my judgment.  I myself thought the apostles (Bartholomew, in particular) a bit too giddy; but then, they’ve just been given the best news that any human could ever have received, so perhaps they should be pardoned.  Moreover, I wish the scriptwriters hadn’t chosen to reinforce the image of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute — apparently still practicing that trade right up until almost the time of Christ’s crucifixion, no less — an image that is based on legends that apparently go back no earlier than the Middle Ages.


However, candidly, everybody will find something jarring, not how they pictured it, in a movie’s retelling of so important and famous a narrative.  That’s probably unavoidable.


I’m not even sure that it’s altogether bad.  It’s a good thing to hear the news “for the first time,” as it were.

Galilean dusk
Sunset over Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee     (Wikimedia CC public domain)


I thought that the film offered a very fresh take on this very old, very well-known story, and plenty of things to discuss.  I liked the portrayal of the apostles as astonished by the Resurrection and not yet even remotely sure of what it was they were supposed to do.  I liked Cliff Curtis’s Mediterranean-looking — non-blond, non-Swedish! — Yeshua.  I also liked the way the film avoided glamorizing first-century Palestine:  Things looked small, on the whole, and rocky and dirty and fairly simple, and the Romans came across as a relatively human occupation force, not (as they often do) as either ancient Mediterranean Nazis or as regimented and robotic imperial storm troopers.  (I’m not claiming that the geography was portrayed altogether accurately.  Those who know Israel at all well will see the inaccuracies:  The filming was apparently done in Spain and Malta, and it was quite clearly not done on the real Sea of Galilee.  And Caesarea Maritima?  Well, I go there at least once a year, and the Caesarea where the movie’s Pontius Pilate nervously awaits the historically fictional visit of Tiberius Caesar shortly after the Resurrection looks absolutely nothing like the gorgeous beach-resort-quality real place.)


That said, I liked the film, and I recommend it to others.


Here’s a fairly mixed review:




Here’s a quite positive one.




I probably come down somewhere between the two reviews, perhaps a bit closer to the second than the first.


I was happy to see a real Hollywood film that took a religious/biblical story seriously.  May those execrable 2014 abominations, Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, never be repeated.



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