MARY MAGDALENE - THE FILM - More a Reflection Than a Review

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene - the movie. Reviews are always going to be subjective. How was Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus? What about a script based on Mary? Was it Scripturally based? What about the fictions parts? 

For me, as someone who has lived in the Gospel accounts for almost 40 years of my life it was never going to be about a movie review. I do not find myself watching Bible films as entertainment open to review. Rather it is about spiritual meditation and reflection. Oh yes, I was asking about whether Phoenix’s Jesus felt authentic to me and I was interrogating every part of the fiction. Yet, more intensely I was asking what I could learn about the Gospel accounts and how they apply to my life?

A few things has me surmising. Most obviously Mary Magdalene’s role in Jesus’ life and the aftermath. I remember a friend who was doing an Art Thesis around Mary Magdalene asking me where the Bible said that she was a prostitute? You we wrestled with that one. It seemed so obvious. Yet, nowhere in the Scripture is that suggested. This movie ended with the fact that Pope Gregory was the one who made Mary Magdalene a prostitute and how the Vatican made it right as recently as 2016. Protestants, on the whole, seem to have followed Pope Gregory! 

A film about the Gospels centred on Mary will obviously need some filling out and there was a lot of that. However, being the Bibliophile, I started at the end. Matthew and Mark both make it clear in their accounts that Mary Magdalene was there at the crucifixion and the tomb. The men are scattered. 

Mary witnesses not only Jesus’ death but also the resurrection. This is major truth, a central part of the story. Often times, though we always have a woman declare the resurrection in Fitzroy to hold to this Biblical truth, we often see this as circumstantial. The movie sees it as being about Mary’s insight into Jesus plans and teaching. It opens up interpretation!

Jesus radical approach to women is obviously a thrust of the plot here but never in a garish way. That women are following him is enough. That Mary is the witness of Jesus' death and resurrection is ultimate punch... and a Biblical one!

What I find particularly helpful about such movies, even ones that stray a lot further from Scripture than this one, is to get a feel for the times Jesus lived and taught in. The context for Biblical text is vital. This Mary Magdalene movie reiterated for me the violence of the times. There are scattered crosses and a fictional part where Peter and Mary go through Samaria and come across a village where the people have been attacked and left to die, reminded me of the violent context for words about forgiveness and mercy and peace and love. Jesus call to such things in his day was not an easy or popular message. We in Northern Ireland, in our pots conflict context need to be aware of the radical an costly call to forgiveness in Jesus’ setting and therefore ours.

Most of all the movie brought the prophets right into Jesus message. Isaiah and Amos seem particularly important to the writers Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett. Jesus contextualises his teaching in the demand for justice in these prophecies. Most vital throughout is the difference between the ritual of religion and this Kingdom coming spirituality which is authentic and active. The overturning of the table sin the Temple really benefits from this juxtaposition of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament Jesus.

So, on Easter week, much to surmise indeed. I imagine the film will struggle with the critics. Anything Christian tends to begin with either pre-viewed prejudice or ignorance of what Christian faith is about. Added to this I think there are moments when the movie moves a little too slowly and lacks some energy. Phoenix’s Jesus is a little other worldly and lacks a little charisma. Rooney Mara is much more convincing as Mary Magdalene. The resurrection scenes don’t burst with miracles and hope like they could and should.

So, Mary Magdalene might not get an opportunity to draw a wider audience than those of with a vested interest. No matter, watched with an open mind and sieved through the actual Scriptural accounts, it can open up many insights, a helpful resource in these last days of Lent!


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