MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
What do we know about Mary Magdalene? The Bible tells us that she was a follower of Jesus who joined his disciples after being exorcised of seven demons. She is a witness to the resurrection (in John’s gospel, she is the first one to see Jesus face-to-face). And that is that. In 591 A.D. she was mistakenly identified by Pope Gregory as the sinful woman mentioned in Luke 7:37-38 who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume; that tradition has continued to this day.
Mary Magdalene is a beautiful new film that seeks to redeem her from her bad reputation and suggest other intriguing possibilities. This Mary (Mara) is a beautiful but withdrawn person who spends much time in solitude in conversation with God. Her disinterest in courtship and marriage combined with her spiritual mysticism makes her an outcast among her family; her religious zeal is considered offensive when she dares to approach the patriarchal elders of the synagogue. Her father and brothers treat her to a forced exorcism which nearly drowns her.
Who could possibly relate to a misfit like Mary? Enter Jesus and his ragtag group of disciples. As played by Joaquin Phoenix, this rabbi shares a similar quiet intensity about spiritual things and is accompanied by other faithful followers including Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Judas (Tahar Rahim), who enthusiastically looks forward to the day when Jesus will follow through on overthrowing the oppressive Romans who occupy their land. Judas is also presented in a way that avoids the villainy of other film depictions.
Mary Magdalene is a quiet and thoughtful meditation of a film with the rough terrain of Italy standing in for the Holy Land. The movie is told entirely through Mary’s perspective without feeling obligated to quote Scripture. We observe Jesus more often than not in his quiet moments with Mary and his disciples, taking time from his teaching and healing ministry. (The movie is soft spoken – you need to listen attentively to hear much of the dialogue.)
Rather than rehashing their quasi-romantic roles in Jesus Christ Superstar (“I Don’t Know How to Love Him”), the connection between Mary and Jesus is spiritually pure, and duly noted by his mother Mary (also included here as part of the community): “You love my son, don’t you? Then you must prepare yourself to lose him.”
Mary Magdalene will likely be ignored by the general public (and it is not on very many screens) but I encourage you to seek it out (if possible) during this Easter season. It is a stirring and immersive experience that sidesteps sentimentality and proselytizing and offers instead forgiveness and grace to Mary Magdalene, Judas Iscariot, and all of us, as well.
Note: Mary Magdalene received its R rating for its bold but understated scenes of the crucifixion; I see no reason why mature 8th graders and up couldn’t handle this film.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: An inspiring story of faith.
Two pitchforks: Scenes of bloody violence and crucifixion.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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