By Rev Dr Charles Roberts
Pastor-Reedy River Presbyterian Church
Pastor-Reedy River Presbyterian Church
The new motion picture Risen was premiered on most movie screens across the country on February 18th, 2016, with generally positive reviews.
As a pastor, and one whose life has largely been devoted to the personal and academic practice of religion generally, and the Christian faith in particular, I was eager to see this film.
I have typically not cared to see films that attempt to convey a “Gospel message” in an “evangelistic” way because they usually are not, from my perspective, very well done.
The pre-release reviews of Risen praised the film for decidedly not being in that category, hence my interest in seeing it.
Although I am strongly in favor of using any valid form of media to share the message of the New Testament, there are some parts of that message that are profoundly difficult to portray on film, such as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or the signs and wonders that were done by Jesus during His earthly ministry.
So as not to keep the interested reader in suspense, I am giving the movie Risen a B+ (or if you prefer, an “8” on a scale of 1-10).
I will not go into great detail about the movie’s plot since that information is readily available at such web sites as IMDB and CBN.
As a motion picture, Risen is well done, with great film editing and acting. The locations used in the filming were Spain and Malta, and they create a realistic setting for events that took place in ancient Palestine and Judea. Affirm Films are the SONY owned company involved with the production. They were the producers of the popular The War Room motion picture of 2015. The film is rated PG-13 for images of “Biblical violence.” By modern standards those images (a battle scene, post-crucifixion scenes, corpses, etc.) are not unwarranted or overly “gross.” As the reviewer from CBN noted in her analysis, however, the movie is probably not suited for very young children.
Like the classic Biblical epic Ben Hur this film is a fictional story built around the historical events recorded in the four Gospels. It does an excellent job of speculating on what life was like for the early disciples of Jesus immediately following His death and resurrection. The personal struggles of faith, and the challenges of day to day existence in Roman occupied Judea, are perhaps more easily understood by modern audiences through means of motion pictures and Risen does a good job of getting those things across.
Too often, it seems to me, when we read the Gospel stories we read them as if they took place in a never-never-land removed from the daily lives of real people. A well-done motion picture helps show that the lives of ancient people, although different in terms of modern technology and conveniences, were really not so different from our own.
The story of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are portrayed in this film from the eyes of a non-believing Roman tribune (military officer) who struggles with events unfolding before him, events that challenge the whole fabric of his life. Joseph Fiennes, who portrays Clavius, the Roman tribune, does an outstanding job in that role.
One very strong point of the film is that the Jesus character looks very much like a Semitic Middle Eastern Jew of the time, as do several of the actors who play the twelve apostles. On the other hand, one of those actors, who portrays Bartholomew, and who has a significant speaking part in the film, looks and acts like one of the stereotypical hippie’s of the “Jesus people” of 1970’s America.
As for the film’s faithfulness to the New Testament, and its overall theological orientation, there are areas for improvement.
For example, the Mary Magdalene character perpetuates the discredited myth that she had been a prostitute before becoming a follower of Jesus. In another scene, the Bartholomew character summarizes Jesus’ message as being about having “eternal life,” whereas the Gospels indicate that His message was more about the Kingdom of God (that includes life eternal, but in a way not well understood by many evangelical Christians today). In the ascension scene, Jesus speaks to His followers with words from Matthew 28:16-20, however, the writers omitted Jesus words that “…all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Me…” and “…make the nations My disciples.”
Those things notwithstanding, the film does an outstanding job of giving moviegoers a realistic idea of how events in the life of the post-resurrection followers of Jesus were experienced. I was glad to see that the writers and producers did not cater to “political correctness” by avoiding or downplaying the role of the leaders of the Jews in the death of Jesus. The movie, accurately following the historical record, shows that to have been a joint effort between the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, and Pontius Pilate (i.e. the Roman government).
One of the most moving scenes is that of the resurrected Jesus comforting and healing a leprous man who had been savagely treated by local villagers. We also get a sense of the joy and excitement the apostles must have felt in realizing that Jesus was alive, mostly admirably portrayed by Stewart Scudamore, (the apostle Peter in the film).
As indicated at the beginning of this review, I am give it a B+ and am glad to recommend it. If nothing else it is a welcome change of pace to see a modern, well done motion picture with no profanity, nudity, or otherwise reflective of the crudeness of modern American culture.
For anyone interested, it remains for me to say a word about the movie theater experience as a whole. (I include this both because it is part of the overall experience and since the quality and/or content of most films today is so bad, it is worth considering the quality of the seating and food as a balance.) I saw the movie at a local Regal Cinema house. My reserved seat (one of the recliner chair types) was comfortable and well placed for viewing. The least appealing part of the experience was the seemingly endless “previews” of soon to be released films. Since I saw the earliest matinee showing on a weekday morning, the crowd was light, probably around 40-50 people.The popcorn, being freshly popped for the day, was excellent.