MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-III
Reel Rating: (4 out of 5 reels):
as a proto-detective story about a first-century Sherlock Holmes
investigating the claims of Resurrection hours after its supposed
happening. It’s a fascinating premise, so it’s a bit a jolt when the
puzzle is solved less than an hour into its screen time. Yet it is even
more surprising that the story becomes more interesting, not less. As a
piece of craftsmanship, there are some flaws, but as a theological
narrative and history mystery there is much to glean, as Bishop Barron has noted. Like the evidence itself, it lingers, even after acceptance.
There are three reasons in particular why I enjoyed Risen.
because of the “detective”. He is Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph
Fiennes), Pilate’s “enforcer” who squashes any Judean dissent with
violent retribution. A weathered veteran of many wars, he freely admits
in a moment of rare vulnerability that all he wants is “peace…a day
without death.” When Pilate asks him to supervise the crucifixion of
three criminals, he carries out the task with all the zeal of notarizing
an envelope. Yet, only days later, there is a rumor that one of these
men has risen from the dead. “We must have a body,” Pilate sneers.
Clavius goes to great lengths to find it: interviewing disciples,
visiting the site, and even digging up graves. The answer seems easy at
first, but a keen eye and cool intellect leads him to into places that
question the “official story” and reveal something extraordinary.
Secondly, the gritty realism. This is the first such film since Pasolini’s Gospel According St. Matthew
that feels like an accurate depiction of first-century Palestine. The
sparely populated landscape stands out immediately, setting a key visual
tone. An early battle scene between Romans and Jewish zealots does not
include thousands of CGI-created legions locked in heated combat but
only a few dozen soldiers who easily overpower their poorly disciplined
adversaries. This is true to a time when populations were, of course,
substantially smaller. There is also far less stuff, and it has to be
used and reused. And so the crucifixion is shown to take place on
interchangeable planks, used over and over, the bodies dumped in a heap
only yards away. Food is scare; poverty is common; everyone has a
toothache. Even the best clothes are faded and ripped. The world is
bloody, sweaty, and caked in dust. For most people, this was just
Third, the film goes in an unexpected direction,
despite viewers knowing The End. The disciples, interviewed by Clavius,
have reactions that seem out of place. Mary Magdalen’s is uneven, first
acting fearful then immersed in bliss. Bartholomew comes across even
worse. It’s a reminder that the days immediately following the
Resurrection was a strange time. The disciples know the tomb is empty
and that Christ was risen, but struggle to fathom how it could be and
what it could mean. They know something incredible has transpired, but
they are dealing with natural and confused emotions. Oddly enough, it is
Peter the denier who is the most solidhe is invigorated, excited for
whatever is to come.
Halfway through the narrative, Risen
takes a dramatic turn when Clavius unexpectedly discovers the truth. He
writes back to Pilate, explaining his confusion: “I have seen two
things which cannot reconcile: A man dead without question, and that
same man alive again. I pursue Him, the Nazarene, to ferret the truth.”
It’s at this crucial juncture that Risen
becomes more than just an Easter TV special. Director Kevin Reynolds
understands that evidence does not automatically equal faith and gives
Clavius (and the audience) time to ponder what this revelation means.
The Roman tribune temporarily takes leave of his post to join the
disciples, waiting for more answers.
When I was in second grade, I
had a wonderful teacher named Sr. Regina who would lead us through my
favorite prayer meditation. We would enter a special room in our heart
where Jesus waited. Once there, he would listen to us, comfort us, and
let us know that everything would be alright. There is a moment where
Clavius gets this one-on-one opportunity to bear his soul before this
man he helped killed.
“What are you afraid of,” the man asks.
“Being wrong,” Clavius admits, looking into his eyes.
the best of us can be worried, with all the evidence the created world
can offer, that it’s just too good to be true. In the end, faith is
choice, not a feeling or even a logical conclusion alone. The title of
the film is present tense, reminding the viewer that while the event
happened at particular time and place in the past, it is as real today
as it was then; it is a challenge that presents a choice. What is our
choice, and once chosen, what will we do?