The Greatest Manhunt in History: On the New Movie RISEN

The Greatest Manhunt in History: On the New Movie RISEN February 1, 2016

From the movie Risen. Sony Pictures

RISEN, a new movie from Sony Films, arrives in theaters February 19, just after we’ve begun our collective Lenten journey toward Easter. In this latest, big-studio rendering of the epic Biblical story about the Resurrection, Joseph Fiennes stars as Clavius, the powerful Roman military tribune — and incidentally a “non-believer” — tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus in the weeks following his crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumors of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem. The movie’s tagline is: “The manhunt that changed the course of human history.”

I’d never quite thought of the search for the resurrected Christ as the greatest manhunt in history; it sweeps a little overly dramatic for me. Yet, I rather like it all the same. It captures well humanity’s collective epic search for Jesus … every one of us Christians, and seekers, and even non-believers, over the past 2000 years, searching in earnest for the risen Messiah in an often high-stakes game of hide-and-seek. Each of us, pursuing our own dramatic “manhunt” for Jesus – the living Jesus – in spite of our doubts, challenges, seasons of unbelief, dark nights of the soul, anger, or emptiness. And yet lured back, even so perhaps, by some strange clue, some miraculous event, some unexplainable outcome … winding us back to the scene of the crime, if you will – and the One who is peace, justice, joy, wholeness, truth, and love.

Writer-Director Kevin Reynolds, who previously directed the blockbuster action film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and produced the Emmy®-nominated miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, realized he had a challenge at hand in portraying the famous biblical account that’s been chronicled on screen numerous times before.

“We wanted to do something completely different from what had come before, so I came up with the idea that Risen would be told as a detective story,” Reynolds says. “We wanted the film to feel big and epic, but seen from a single character’s perspective,” he explains.

Lead actor Joseph Fiennes also appreciated the detective approach to the film. “When I read the script, I marveled at the fact that I’d just digested a biblical story that came across as an extraordinary murder mystery,” says Fiennes.  “The script kept me turning pages without me really knowing how it would end, because when you see it through this fresh set of eyes, Yeshua’s resurrection really is the mother of all murder mysteries.”

So, if Risen is a detective story, then our detective — and each one of us, really — is searching for clues that reveal something out of the ordinary, intriguing and strange. Something “in” this world, but not “of” this world. Clues that are mysterious and surreal, stories that don’t make head-sense, but make heart-sense. Events and accounts that speak to a deeper mystery, a greater truth. And then one day, our detective turns around and comes face to face with the risen Jesus and his heart is changed. Or one day, we turn around, and there’s the elusive Jesus again, taking our hands and dancing with us, with abandon and joyThe greatest manhunt in history.

This Lenten season, as I begin my own (man)hunt for the living Jesus again in my life, I trust that I, too, may be open to the unexpected clues, the small mysteries, the divine moments that don’t make head-sense, but resonate deeply in the heart, as I walk toward the Cross to embrace the resurrected savior. To discover, again, the One who surprises us with shimmering glimpses of grace, and comes to enchant us, challenge us, change our lives, and inspire us anew.

Visit the Patheos Movie Club to view a trailer of Risen, and read other eye-witness accounts of the movie!

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