February 17, 2016


"Risen," the new Bible movie about a Roman soldier and Jesus, is excellent and "Ben Hur" imaginative. This is not Bible schlock, this is Joseph Fiennes as the Roman soldier. And since you can't have a decent Scripture movie without a healthy dose of Brits in the cast, this extremely well-cast international troupe of actors boasts quite a few British actors, including the actor who plays Pontius Pilate.

One of the best things about "Risen" is that its unpredictable. If it was simply the Bible itself with a few fictitious subplots, we'd know what's coming. But this is the fictitious story of a hardened Roman tribute ("Clavius") commissioned with not only overseeing the Crucifixion of the Nazarene, but also tamping down his whole movement, starting with his inner circle, the Twelve--or rather now Eleven--Apostles.


The whole point of the movie is very "Theology of the Body": "Where is THE BODY?" Because the body matters. A great deal. At one point, the tribute interviews various followers and disciples about Jesus and His "dead" body's whereabouts: a device that could have been trite and boring, but is nothing of the sort. Clavius is torn between carrying out his mission of destruction and his attraction to the Jesus these witnesses describe. We sense a man at the end of his rope, a man who has seen much violence and is wondering what the point of it all is and what Roman violence really accomplishes. He's full of skepticism about what he has devoted his life to and is realizing there must be a better way than the "pax romanum": order imposed through a conquering brutality. He has a heart for people and is a stern, but not ruthless man. Clavius is also a religious man--as most Romans were. He prays to Mars, the god of war.


"Risen" is subtly funny throughout. You don't even have to be religious to get the jokes. They're human jokes. In fact, the whole film is very "human." The three criticisms I can just feel coming are this: 1) Too gritty in the beginning (the Crucifixion is "The Passion of the Christ"-style realistic), 2) the Apostles come across as too human and flawed, and 3) Jesus isn't handsome. To which I reply: Crucifixions are horrific, the Apostles were a motley crew (especially pre-Pentecost--as this film is), and what if Jesus wasn't Brad Pitt? (I would like to go on record as disagreeing with all these criticisms.)

"Risen" explores parts of the New Testament rarely seen on film, and it's glorious. Glorious in a bumbling sort of way (it's meant to be bumbling). The Apostles don't have all the answers. Nathaniel (the man Jesus described as being "without guile") is young, hippie-go-lucky and part of the comic relief. His display of childlike optimism and hope is the sole time we see Clavius crack a faint smile.

This is not a child's Bible picture book come to life. This is a carefully and cleverly imagined, fairly airtight "what if" film that keeps faithfully within the bounds of the sacred text. Much of the dialogue is outstanding. We begin to see the logic of all the parties involved at this "fullness of time" into which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity chose to enter human history.


Jesus. I don't know if folks are going to like Jesus. He's not a pretty Jesus, but He is Jesus-y. He will not go down in my film reviewing annals as my favorite screen Jesus, but I have been thinking a lot of late about our obsession with appearances and how the New Testament describes no one's appearance. There are no descriptions of people's faces, features, etc., (except perhaps stature: Zacchaeus was a little man). Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant thus: "For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him." The passage goes on to talk about the mysterious Suffering Servant's appearance after being battered:

He was despised and rejected by mankind,

    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem." (Isaiah 52:3, KJV)

Some Bible footnotes will just lump the first part of Isaiah (v. 2) in with the account of the Passion, but I've always wondered if they should be separated.  Was Jesus was just plain looking? On purpose? Even though artistic renderings of the face of the Man of the Shroud make Jesus look like a babe, and my personal  favorite Jesus is the guyliner Sacred Heart from Hales Corner, Wisconsin--I wonder. What would be a better antidote to our looks-obsessed, Insta-famous, photoshopping culture than a dull-faced Jesus? (Have you seen the Veil of Manoppello???)

But hopefully no one will argue when they see some of  the other Bible characters brought to life. The centurion! Joseph of Arimathea! A jolly and fiesty Peter! An old woman loved by Jesus!
Sony is behind "Risen," and it looks like they put a fair amount of money into it (which must be done for any period piece), but it looks like could have put even more. (The same hillside set doubles for two different locations and Peter flashes metal fillings when he smiles. There were a few other glitches like a teeny weeny battle scene that could have been made to look much bigger with simulated FX "extras," or just not shooting the peripheries of the battle.)


My one and only complaint about this well-done, thought-prodding, heart-provoking film is the simply wretched, unnecessary, and thankfully brief "bookends" at the beginning and end of the film wherein the wayfaring tribune is lodging at a stranger's house. ("Oh! You must be a Roman tribune because I see your tribune's ring! Pray tell, what brings you to my humble abode?" The whole movie then becomes flashback.) The first little lead-in to the film is so bad that I distrusted this film was going to be any good--and it took all of the marvelous Act One to win me back. The few minutes of the opening is that bad. This film did not need bookends. I repeat: this film did not need bookends. So, do NOT be put off by the opening scene. Just ignore it. Fiennes' face also has a "Snoopy vulture" look for the first few scenes, but he quickly recovers.

Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a former--*heaves a tremendous sigh*--prostitute. The Bible never says she was a prostitute, and we can thank Pope St. Gregory the Great for mistakenly conflating her with one. I thought we were over this in 2016. But maybe the continued mistake is willful because it just makes for a juicier story?

At a certain point, Clavius becomes a man in front of his God. Whoa. Powerful. Clavius is all of us.

Sony should keep making fine Bible films. And try even harder.


--Best line: "Sometimes Jesus is hard to recognize."

--Several years ago there was a low-budget, straight-to-VHS, Max Lucado film similar to this that I really liked.

--"Risen" is also a novel (adapted from the screenplay).

--@RisenMovie #RisenMovie on social media everywhere

--All during my free pre-screening of this film, a film studio security dude was standing right next to me (I was on the aisle) facing the audience and  shooting some infrared lens into the crowd to make sure no one was recording film. #TresDisconcerting

--Just as when I saw "The Passion of the Christ" in the theater, folks were LOUDLY MUNCHING POPCORN DURING THE CRUCIFIXION. Really???

--One of our Sisters, on hearing that Jesus wasn't good looking, immediately countered with: "Oh, no. Jesus was perfect. He was perfect in all things." :)

--The biblical soundtrack is standard. But just standard. Nothing creative about it.

--Clavius wanted the TRUTH.

--Nathaniel reminded me of "Godspell." Which I love. And was a background dancer for in our high school production thereof. And I got to meet Stephen Schwartz later in my life. Who's a great guy.

--Don't forget to watch "Full of Grace"! A film about Mary and the Apostles, post-Resurrection, that would be great a great companion film to see after "Risen." (See my recent review of "Full of Grace" on this blog).  http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2016/01/movies-full-of-grace-story-of-mary.html#.VsTKRvIrKM8       www.FullOfGraceFilm.com

--I am just TICKLED PINK that so many wonderful new Jesus, Mary &  Bible movies are coming out.

--"Our only weapon is love."

--"We are followers. We follow to find out."

--The Apostles defer to Peter.

--Clavius is a man in front of his God. It would be different for a "woman in front of her God." It just would be. (The film captures this a bit with Mary Magdalene.) One main difference? Her utter certainty.

--Jesus is a "strange case," says Pilate. Yes He is.


  1. Anonymous2:34 AM

    Saw it today with my husband (who happens to be Jewish). We both enjoyed it but were distracted by 'Clavius' and his cut lip that never healed. I know that's a picky thing to notice but it was distracting. Other than that, we thought it was excellent. Didn't notice Peter's fillings. lol!

    1. Anonymous4:21 PM

      I saw it yesterday.

      It moves like a history channel dramatization. I found the apostles demeanor incredibly offensive as there is no doubt these men did not act in such a manner...laughing and sarcastically reciting the Lords prayer while partaking of the body of Christ.. disgusting.

      The only plus pf this movie was the depiction of Christs body..perhaps he did look more like an Arab than the typical white man with beard portrayal.

  2. Anonymous5:20 PM

    Just saw "Risen" and I liked it very much. I thought the humanity of the apostles--especially the pre-Pentecost men--was spot on. Seeing them laugh and tease each other is how a group of guys act. They were a motley crew, and very confused as to what was happening. I liked this "Jesus" and didn't mind at all that he was not leading man handsome! He had the most beautiful, expressive eyes that spoke without saying a word. When he did speak, it was softly but with conviction. The fictitious Roman tribune, Clavius is a mix of doubt and hope like most of us. It was incredibly courageous of him to follow the apostles to Galilee as he had everything to lose. And he represents all who are weary of the way the world is and holding out the tiniest hope that it can be better. The only thing I wondered about was the Roman Centurion, who we do know from Scripture, just disappeared after delivering his "Truly he was innocent" line. I would have liked to see Clavius perhaps seek him out. I didn't mind the bookends, but I agree with Sister that it wasn't necessary. (But I didn't notice Peter's fillings either)

  3. Anonymous9:18 AM

    If you look closely, the cut lip slowly heals (albeit not completely) over the movie, which I think perhaps is symbolic.