After watching the movie, Risen, I had to coin a new word to express my disappointment with what I saw. The word is “Metascripture” movies, referring to, in context, movies that go beyond Scripture. Movies, such as Risen, are well meaning, but, on a basic level, they are counterproductive. As a conservative Christian my heart longs to see the Biblical narrative faithfully captured on the screen. That does not seem to be a major concern with those who make commercial movies, even faith-based movies. I do not know why. The Biblical stories are compelling, they are life changing, and they are the Word of God.
Much of that is set aside to tell a fictional story of an initially unbelieving high ranking Roman military tribune, Clavius, and his aide, Lucius, who have been personally instructed by Pontius Pilate to kill Christ and secure His body, so that a resurrection claim can never be realized. To the amazement of Clavius, and the chagrin of Pilate, the body of Christ is reported missing. Clavius seeks to find the body of Christ, alive or dead.
At this point the narrative begins to go beyond Scripture, as artistic creativity is called upon. In the narrative, the disciples of Christ are sought for interrogation. Bartholomew is found, and brought before the tribune. He is presented to the audience as a happy idiot. Smiling, he claims to be willing to be crucified immediately, and so kneels with his arms outstretched. After being told of the horrors of crucifixion, his smile briefly disappears. It soon returns when he is able to whisper into the ears of the tribune that the disciples of Christ are “everywhere.” Then, Bartholomew leaves the room of interrogation with a happy wave of his hand for the tribune.
Another disciple of Christ is arrested as she tries to flee Roman soldiers. This disciple of Jesus is Mary Magdalene. The erroneous view of Mary as prostitute is perpetuated, in a comic way. There is nothing comical about denigrating a woman’s character. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates Mary Magdalene was a prostitute.
The traditional idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute comes from the account given in Luke 7:36-50 of a woman who anointed the feet of Jesus with her tears, and ointment. She is described as a woman in the city who was a sinner. This woman may have been a prostitute, but her name is not given. After forgiving her of her sins, Jesus told her, “Go in peace”. People have thought that this woman was Mary Magdalene, although there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that.
The only mention of Mary Magdalene in any of the gospels before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is in Luke 8:2, where she is described as one, “out of whom went seven devils”, or demons. With a number of other women Mary Magdalene travelled with Jesus, and His Apostles as the Lord ministered in Palestine. No dishonor should be attached to her name, and yet in “Risen”, she is dishonored.
When word reaches the tribune, from a paid Jewish informer, that Christ has been found in an upper room of a house, the tribune dismisses the other soldiers, and joins the meeting of Christ with His disciples. The tribune is therefore with Christ when Thomas bursts into the room to see the nailed scared hands of Jesus, and the wound in His side.
The tribune remains with the disciples, in order to protect them from harm, and guide them to safety to the Sea of Galilee where they will meet with Jesus. Roman soldiers pursue the tribune, and the Twelve, who must sometime crawl in the cliffs of the rocks to safety. It is all too much, and strays far from Scriptures which presents the Twelve as bold and fearless men following the resurrection of Jesus.
The movie finally, and mercifully, ends, but not before letting Jesus walk into the sunset, and then shooting off to heaven in a flash of light, and the sound of a rocket blasting off at Cape Canaveral. The biblical account of the ascension of Christ, in Luke 24, and in Acts 1, is much simpler, and just as amazing.
The director of Risen, Alex Proyas, is to be commended for directing a faith-based message. However, if he wants to be culturally relevant, he must be Biblical. It is the Word of God which is alive and powerful, and not the misguided imagination of a movie script writer.