Counter Culture

The website of moral theologian Christopher Klofft

Risen on Easter Monday


Easter Monday: A day celebrating the day God laughed at pulling a fast one over the Devil with the Resurrection. I decided to spend my Easter Monday afternoon taking my mother to see Sony’s Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes.  In short: I liked it a lot.  The rest of this post is hereby labeled totally spoiler-riffic, but really, if you know the premise of the movie, you can fairly well predict what’s going to happen.  Clever plot twists are not really the point, after all, and the basic structure of this film has already been done previously in both 1961’s Barabbas and even more so in 1953’s The Robe.

Joseph Fiennes is Clavius, a Roman soldier assigned by Pontius Pilate to basically deal with the “Yeshua problem’: attending to closing up his crucifixion at the beginning of the movie, securing the tomb so the body wouldn’t be stolen, and then investigating what happened after the body goes missing. This, of course, leads to meeting the Risen Christ, using a storytelling conceit that is not entirely unlike Jimmy Kimmel imposing himself in the background of movie scenes: Clavius ends up present for some key post-Resurrection Gospel moments, making him a Roman spectator on some rather important events.

If this had been intended to be a “Bible movie,” purporting only to tell the Gospel story, this approach would be ridiculous. But this is not supposed to really be an attempt at an accurate portrayal of Biblical events; it is a story, plain and simple, about how one is changed by an encounter with Christ.

Because of this, the portrayal of Jesus is very important, and I was definitely pleased with Cliff Curtis’ Yeshua. These days, some readers may be more familiar with Curtis from his work on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, but here he plays “Follow the Walking Resurrected,” instead.  (That was terrible; please forgive me for that.)

For me personally, the two characteristics I always want (and only occasionally get) in a film portrayal of Jesus are 1) that he be charismatic and 2) that he be masculine. Curtis does very well on both scores.  Yeshua doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in the movie, which is a good choice, because, to paraphrase the Scriptures, “In a flurry of words, you will not avoid sinning.”  Giving too much dialogue to Jesus increases the chances that his portrayal will suffer at the hands of an all-too human actor.

Aside from the insertion of Clavius into Gospel scenes as a storytelling device, I also found very little that grated on me theologically…except for one thing: poor St. Mary Magdalene once again gets reduced to being a prostitute. Boo.  But there were a number of other little details that I liked a lot.

It’s very easy to miss, but the film shows us what Barabbas did after he was released by Pilate. It’s a much different ending than Anthony Quinn’s version.

The film takes a pretty clear stand on whether the Shroud of Turin is actually the burial shroud of Christ.

I liked that Jesus and the Apostles smiled, without being goofy about it (Bartholomew’s first appearance was a little off-putting, but I got over it). They certainly weren’t overly pious “sad-faced saints.”

I liked that the Apostles expressed that they didn’t know what to make of Jesus before the Resurrection, and they were still clearly confused after the Resurrection. That seemed quite plausible to me.  Despite their confusion, though, they had joy in their faith.

The Ascension was not how I would have done it, given the details in Acts, but they certainly made it appropriately supernatural (and accurately quoted Matthew 28 as well). Since the event of Pentecost was referenced two or three times by Simon Peter, I really hoped the movie would end with that event, but I didn’t get it.  Instead, the film ends on a much quieter note, which perhaps leads one to more introspection.

And in the end, that’s what the movie did. It moved me in places and, when it was all over, it made me want to pray. That made it an excellent choice for Easter Monday.  I recommend it.

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