(Happy Easter to all! Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem inspired by letter-writing, so I rhymed up a letter that the main character of this movie might have written by the end.)
Dear Lucius, please forgive
My sudden absence. I yet live,
But returning to my former life I simply cannot do.
I was Tribune, son of Mars,
And have weathered many scars,
But such were merely physical and all I ever knew.
I’ve seen many crucifixions;
I had no need for predictions.
Every broken, bloody body had its final resting place,
Till one random victim slain
The chosen grave could not contain.
I’ve never seen a man whom even death could not erase.
I doubted, how I doubted,
And was adamant about it;
I have seen and known too much to trust the supernatural.
I don’t expect you to believe,
For true faith I’ve yet to achieve,
But life can never be the same when it has known a miracle.
MPAA rating: PG-13
While all the other posts for NaPoWriMo have been decided mostly by the prompt, I knew there was no other recently seen film to review on Easter than Risen, the most prominent of the three Jesus movies from 2016 (the others being The Young Messiah and Last Days in the Desert). Risen was considered a spiritual sequel to The Passion of the Christ, picking up essentially where Mel Gibson’s film left off and focusing on the events of Jesus’ resurrection. Instead of merely showing the Biblical story as many previous films have, Risen differentiates itself for the better by applying an outsider’s view, specifically in the fictional character of Tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes).
Somewhat like 1953’s The Robe, the crucifixion is seen through the eyes of a Roman when Pontius Pilate sends Clavius to keep the crowds in check at Jesus’ execution. Clavius has never even heard of this man, and he absorbs all the reports and promises of his supernatural return with the mind of a pagan skeptic, putting his faith in Mars, the god of war. When the body of Jesus disappears, he is commissioned by Pilate to track it down and put all the rumors and worries to rest. Clavius’ investigations may not be strictly Biblical, but it makes sense that the authorities’ first response would be to disprove the resurrection with physical evidence, a search that is made surprisingly gripping by the urgency of the mission. The interviews Clavius conducts with the likes of Joseph of Arimathea and Bartholomew give him an idea of what Jesus’ followers are like, steadfast and often giddy with hope, and some of the side characters provide some excellent acting. The account of one of the unnerved guards from the tomb is especially well-delivered.
While Risen strives to be a cut above other faith-based films, it falls into the familiar mold by the end. Its similarities to The Passion of the Christ mainly consist in the use of the Hebrew name Yeshua for Jesus, and it does reimagine certain details with gritty zeal, but it doesn’t really follow The Passion’s sterling example of “show, don’t tell.” The film’s depiction of the resurrected Jesus (Cliff Curtis) felt rather insubstantial, quick to vanish without explanation, and the events following the resurrection are compressed to the point that the disciples seem to have barely a day with their Lord, much less forty. The ending is also ambiguously wrought and not in any satisfying way.
I liked Risen quite a bit, from its impressive re-creation of Roman warfare to its admirable performances, and it’s a film I would gladly watch again to celebrate the Easter season. It is let down by a weak second half, but it’s not as preachy or trite as some faith-based efforts, and unlike similar films, the script employs dialogue befitting the ancient world. Even if it doesn’t match the emotional impact of The Passion, Risen is a worthwhile story that stresses the life-changing significance of the Resurrection.
Best line: (Clavius) “I cannot reconcile all this with the world I know.” (Yeshua) “With your own eyes you’ve seen, yet still you doubt. Imagine the doubt of those who have never seen. That’s what they face.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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