A detective thriller about a Roman Tribune charged with the task of finding the body of Jesus Christ in order to stop an uprising after he is declared risen from the dead.
Not Your Father’s “Christian Movie”
Most “Christian movies,” especially ones about Jesus or the New Testament are cheap looking, cheesy, and quite honestly, tired and redundant.
I don’t even care to see them, and I’m a Christian.
Risen is NOT one of them.
It is NOT a “Christian movie,” filled with mediocre or bad performances of poor preachy writing and directing.
The Hero of the story is an unbeliever. But this is NOT the fake, stilted Kendrick brother’s version of an unbeliever.
Sorry for all those, “NOTs.” It’s just that there is so much baggage with the genre of Christian movies and Bible movies like this, that you have to realize just how different this movie really is.
Oh, and one more NOT. It is NOT another abominable subversion of the Biblical narrative and God like Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Now for what Risen IS.
Risen is an honest and truthful portrayal of a skeptical mind approaching the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And it is a fantastic story. It is an authentic fresh take on the Gospel from the unique perspective of an unbeliever.
Great writing, unpredictable story, strong acting, truthful and honest portrayal. Riveting drama.
To be honest, Risen is a Christian apologist’s dream come true. It is a narrative that dramatically and existentially incarnates the historical issues surrounding the resurrection of Christ in a much better way for today’s world than the logocentric “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” ever could (That’s not a knock on McDowell. It was good in its day). Of course, using the word “apologetics” in relation to a movie is dangerous, because of all the prejudice in the public against such an agenda. But so what. Atheists and other close-minded Bible haters and Christian bashers will still hate it, no matter how good the movie actually is.
And it is very good. Here’s why:
The Drama of Skepticism
I have studied the Gospels. I have written my own novel about Christ’s ministry (Jesus Triumphant), and I still didn’t know where the story was going. Yet it stayed completely true to the Gospel, outside of the necessary creative fictional license.
And if Avatar can be just as explicitly a narrative apologetic for pagan earth worship religion, then don’t knock it here. Risen is actually much less preachy and more honest than Avatar ever was in its storytelling.
Risen follows the legal, intellectual and philosophical inquiry that a Roman authority may have had to engage in when the Jews first started the rumor that the disciples stole the body. The movie imagines the rise of the revolutionary Zealots, the spreading word of Jesus the risen messiah and his eternal kingdom – at odds with Roman empire. Of course Pilate most likely didn’t just sit there and do nothing. He probably sent someone to find the carcass and stop this “foolish” uprising.
That’s what this story dramatizes with fictional brilliance.
And Pilate here is a powerfully dramatized serpent. His dialogue is some of the best in the movie. At one moment, when Pilate is asked, “What if it is true?” that he is risen. He responds, “Well if it is, then I’ll kill him again.” (A cinematic combination of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump)
So, the Tribune Clavius, played passionately and truthfully by Joseph Fiennes, is summoned to hunt down the disciples and find out what their nefarious plans for revolution are. Clavius is a faithful Roman, who longs to one day become wealthy enough to return to Rome, have a family and find certainty and peace, and one day without death (a death which he so skillfully though questionably employs for Rome).
He finds Mary Magdalene first, and offers her freedom if she but tells him where the disciples are. “I am already free,” she says in one of the many brilliant lines that bring fresh insight into the setting and backdrop of this Greatest Story Told so many times.
Next up, Clavius finds Bartholomew, played as whimsical, and somewhat naïve in his willingness to be martyred since his encounter with the risen Christ. Until Clavius describes what happens when you are crucified, and Bartholomew tempers his naivete with sober reflection of counting the cost. This is NOT hagiography of the saints. They are human, all too human.
And the details surrounding the crucifixion depicted in the movie were also enlightening. Details we have never seen before, and most probably don’t even know about. Okay, this is NOT quite The Passion of the Christ, but it shows elements of what might actually have happened at the crucifixion that explain oddities or unknowns in the text. Factual and historical accuracies that make you see the New Testament text in a clearer light.
Oh, Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan and all the Jesus Seminar apostates and liberal critics are going to HATE this movie. It completely demolishes their fantasy narratives of pseudo-scholarship with subversive dramatic power.
That’s the glory of narrative, folks.
But this is NOT an exercise in intellectual posturing or boring factoid agenda (sorry, another “not”). There are many cleverly honest moments, like when Clavius asks Peter a litany of all the obvious skeptical questions, such as, “Why doesn’t this risen savior manifest himself to all?” And Peter responds to the questions, “I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t know.”
This is NOT the arbitrary fact-denying of a mindless faith, it is an honest admission of limited knowledge in an encounter with unlimited reality.
Encounter the Truth
When Clavius finally tracks down the disciples and encounters Jesus, well, I will not tell you anything about it, other than the chills that went down my spine, and the tears that went down my cheeks. It made me reexamine the façade of faith that I feel I live out while claiming to have encountered the living Christ. How could I be such a failure when I have a relationship with my Creator and Redeemer?!
The actor playing Jesus looks VERY Jewish, as do the disciples (for all you politically correct fascists. Hey, Academy, the Christians aren’t racist like you have accused yourselves of being! J), but more importantly, he was a wonderfully human, subtly divine lover of humanity, played with understated grace by Cliff Curtis.
Listen, Christians. It’s okay to point out the antichrist revisionism of Noah and Exodus and other Hollywood movies. But we must also praise Hollywood when it does right. Put your money where your mouth is and go see Risen. For Christ’s sake!
I mean that. If you want more positive movies about God and the Bible, the only voice they listen to (If they listen at all) is the box office. Go see this movie THIS WEEK. The early box office helps it the most. Support it. I have no financial interest in it whatsoever. But in this world of increasing persecution of Christians, we need to help all voices for Jesus Christ, especially in the media.
And even more amazing is that ANOTHER theologically orthodox film about Jesus is coming out in March. You must see this one as well. I have, and it too is wonderful. It’s called The Young Messiah, about Jesus as a young child being hunted by Herod. I wrote about that one here.
I cannot tell you how important it is for us to support these films at the box office. I am a Hollywood screenwriter, and I am even working on another amazing Bible movie that I will tell you about when it is time. But I can tell you from the inside, that your theatrical attendance at these movies helps us to convince the “money people” in Hollywood to finance movies that honor the Bible, over those that attack it.
Here is a good review by a scholar and theologian I greatly respect, Andrew Sandlin.
14 comments on “Risen: An Unpredictable Hollywood Detective Thriller – and a Christian Apologist’s Dream Come True”
Sharp and insightful review of a wonderful film. Top notch writing, acting and directing as well as overall production value.
BRILLIANT movie in every aspect possible. BRAVO!
Saw the movie and was sadly disappointed. Maybe I went with hopes too high? I found it boring…it dragged and was intellectually un-stimulating (that might sound harsh, but as a Christian, I have to be honest!). I can’t put my finger on why, but it just was not gripping to me in any way. Perhaps because we know the ending (at least from his disciples and Jesus’ ascension?) Without giving away the story’s ending, I didn’t get it. I don’t know why Clavius left the disciples, ends up at the Inn, and then walks off into the desert for the movies ending.
What I liked: the actor chosen to play Jesus…I think he’s the most realistic-looking Jesus that I’ve seen on film. I also thought the acting was fairly good (definitely not cheesy or second-tier as many other Christian films). I did get somewhat emotional in the scene where Jesus shows his wounds to Thomas…as I did the scene where the disciples pulled in the fish and recognized Jesus on the shore.
Despite my poor review, however, I agree with you on one point: that it is very important for Christians to go see this movie. If we believers want movies that are faithful to the truth (less Hollywood interpretation), we need to support efforts like this film by getting ourselves, our families and our friends to the box office.
Ray, Fair enough. I too thought the ending was a let down. I think the best story would be that the inquisitor becomes the inquisited. Knowing what Jesus’ story becomes, his story can only be anti-climactic if he leaves them, unless he became a martyr. Wasn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. And I went in with low expectations, so that probably helped. The writing though was very good. Great dialogue.
Brian, what do you think are the chances for a sequel? I did not view the ending of the movie as a let down. The movie certainly left off with many possibilities for Clavius’ walk of faith.
Not much. It only made $12 million on opening week. It needs to go blockbuster to pay for a sequel.
Excited for your review and for the movie. NOT excited about your blog post title which I can’t share with my group of friends who will be seeing the movie. Why did you have to title it that way? Just curious.
I understand and I thank you for changing the title! I am now happy to share your review with all my friends. I highly respect your opinions and appreciate your work.
A word to the wise, I wouldnt use the description of a Christian’s wet dream, that’s very inappropriate.
I changed it
The URL still has those words.
Another good article on this: http://www.reasons.org/blogs/reflections/risen-and-what-makes-a-good-christian-film