With Easter around the corner, the movie theaters are starting to fill up with faith based films. I have a love hate relationship with this genre. Being a Christian, I love seeing Bible stories on the big screen. But many of them come across as heavy handed, and the quality level is hit or miss. I went into Risen carrying this baggage with me.
I left the film feeling like I’d seen one of my favorite movies in a long time.
The premise of Risen is different than most films about Jesus. It does not tell the story of his life, and only briefly portrays his death. Instead, Risen involves an investigation into what happened immediately after. Pontius Pilate, feeling pressure from the Sandhedrin and fearing a Jewish uprising, hires Clavius, a battle hardened tribune in the Roman army. Clavius is given the task of unearthing whether Jesus’ body was stolen, or if something miraculous had occurred.
For the film’s first 30 minutes or so, it feels like you’re watching CSI: Jesusalem. Clavius looks at recently executed bodies, then begins interviewing anyone connected with Jesus. He is unsettled when he meets a woman who claimed to have heard Jesus’ voice after he had died. He is further perplexed upon questioning Mary Magdalene, a mysterious woman of the street who maintained her faith despite his questioning.
The movie reveals a lighthearted tone when he meets Bartholomew, one of the twelve disciples. In one of my favorite scenes of the film, Bartholomew demonstrates a whimsical, childlike belief in Jesus, even when threatened with his own crucifixion. Stephen Hagan is great in this role, giving it a lighthearted feel, a la The Hobbit. My only complaint is that he didn’t get more screen time.
In perhaps the film’s most powerful scene, Clavius receives a tip as to where the disciples might be gathered. He then goes to a home and sees Jesus himself seated with the his disciples gathered around him. Shaken to the core, he waves off the soldiers under his command and stays to witness Jesus in the flesh.
The rest of the film shows Clavius following the disciples as they go to meet Jesus one more time in Galilee. After helping them narrowly escape their pursuers (the soldiers who had previously been under Claudius’ command), they meet Jesus again, and see him perform miracles before ascending into the sky in a blinding flash of light.
Several things set this film apart from others about Jesus. One was the sense of humor woven throughout. Most Christian films take on a seriousness so heavy that the film can barely support it. Not here – it was very refreshing to break up the serious subject matter with a little laughter. Also, the perspective of the story. Told from the point of view of an outsider, the viewer is able to glimpse into the world of the disciples and understand where they were coming from.
That last point is probably what endeared me the most. The film portrayed the disciples as very real and very human, complete with doubts and fear. Those elements also heightened the joy at seeing Jesus again, and seeing his miracles.
I went into Risen not knowing what to expect. I left the film with a deepened faith and a new understanding of Jesus and his disciples. I want to see it again and take everybody I know with me. Isn’t that the goal of all films? I can’t recommend this one highly enough.