Review of “Risen” by Andrew Suite – warning: spoilers!
A small youth group has some great advantages. It is easy to fit the whole crew into a couple of cars in order to go see “Risen” starring Joseph Fiennes as Roman military tribune Clavius.
The movie is well done and strives to be historically and biblically accurate. For example, the crucified victims have their feet nailed through the heals to the side of the cross and nails through the wrists instead of the hands, which is likely more accurate. (Biblically speaking, the word “hand” can be used to refer anything below the forearm.)
A debatable issue though is whether or not Mary Magdalene and the prostitute referred to in the Gospels are the same person. So the movie does its best, and there are certainly other inaccuracies. While soldiers were referred to in the Gospels, “Risen” obviously takes some liberties by seeing the resurrection story through the eyes of Clavius who is tasked by Pontius Pilate to investigate the missing body of the Nazarene.
“Risen” does a great job exploring how the controversy and cover up actually became a decent proof for the resurrection. Clavius’ encounters with the risen Christ are powerful reminders that even those who saw to the death of Jesus can be redeemed. After all, isn’t that the story of Christianity? When we who were far from God encounter the risen Christ, we will never be the same again.
Youth make great reviewers. Some thought it was “just okay.” I admit it that as a seminary student currently in a New Testament class, and as someone who likes movies, I am nerding out on movies like this, the “Young Messiah” coming out today, and the “Kings and Prophets” series now on ABC. Hollywood is taking note that people really want to see faith based films and stories like this.
I was proud of the reasons some of the youth didn’t like “Risen.” In a culture where we think they have lost their imaginations because they would rather see things played out for them via images on big (or tiny) screens, they said the movie didn’t necessarily fit with what they have imagined, for some of them, from a very young age. This is a great reason to think a movie was just “okay” because it means they know the stories!
I would, however, suggest that if you see movie like this with youth that you help them to understand that the producers are seeking to make money and are doing a certain amount of theological interpretation as they should and as we should. This is the poor reason many Christians got hung up about over so-called inaccuracies in somewhat recent films like “Noah” and “Egypt: Gods and Kings.” I enjoyed these movies as well because I did not expect them to be some sort of word-for-word strict “visual translation” of Scripture.
Reviewing “Risen” as “strange” or “it was okay” is fine by me and has much merit because we are meant to approach Scripture imaginatively and theologically just as movie producers and writers do. When youth read “Harry Potter” for the first time, they invariably have different concepts for what they think characters look like verses what they look like on film. Case in point, we half expected Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy in “Harry Potter” and plays Lucius in “Risen” to pull out a wand instead of a sword.
For those in Christ, though, as Bartholomew states in the movie, “our only weapon is love.”
Andrew is a pastor and seminary student who continues work with youth in the local church and at the District and Conference levels in Arkansas with a call toward urging the United Methodist Church to do a better job at passing on the faith to the next generation. He lives in Hot Springs Village, AR with his wife Kelli and their two kids Cole and Olivia.