This week I saw the new “Mary Magdalene” movie. The film stars actor Joaquin Phoenix as ‘Jesus’ and actress Rooney Mara as ‘Mary Magdalene.
The story begins in 1st century Magdala, Galilee, where the young woman, Mary Magdalene, lives with her family in the remote fishing village. The community is centralised around family life and the Synagogue. But Mary wrestles with the life that is set before her and knows there is something more.
One day after a troubled visit to the Synagogue, her family is convinced she has a demon and they attempt to exercise the demon in the night. They fail. She is treated poorly. They know about Jesus, ‘the healer’ and He is called in.
It is a very tender and gentle moment when Jesus enters the house and says to Mary “Your family says you grapple with the demon“. Mary is lying on the floor and in a moment Jesus declares ‘there are no demons here‘.
This introduction kept me in good spirits about the film, it set the theme for a peaceful, simplicity. As the film progressed, I recognised the landscape did not look exactly like Galilee, but I overlooked that because of the films correct portrayal of ‘followers of Jesus’ as peaceful, none violent people. Likewise, Jesus appeared to be portrayed as a quiet man and ‘a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief‘ (Isaiah 53: 3). This portrayal dominated the film.
As the film progressed, Mary left her family to follow Jesus and they attempt to get her back somewhat aggressively, but Jesus baptises her. This, is where the problems of this movie began to surface. Jesus is seen baptising Mary Magdalene. Something which Jesus in the Gospels never did. Jesus never baptised anyone (John 4: 2). In the film however, He baptises her once, but thrice by full immersion. The emphasis of Jesus’ baptism and message is upon being born anew and to follow the light and the coming kingdom. I did not hear any emphasis upon repentance of sin.
The film moves on, Mary follows Jesus with the Disciples and the narrative becomes somewhat void and plain. Very little dialogue holds to the memory. They move to villages and in this film Jesus does heal people. No explanation is given. He is exhausted after raising a man from the dead. He gets tired, sleepy, and appears worn out. He heals a blind girl of her sight.
For the most part the film appeared traditional in some sense, some of it appeared to be based upon Luke 8, but a fair amount of focal points are upon Jesus talking with Mary Magdalene alone. A majority of the narrative was not canonical and reflective of the apocryphal gospel of Mary. Especially the portrayal of Peter.
The miracle scenes are not over dramatised, but some of this left the film very dry and unspiritual. The film is also somewhat multicultural and the accents are mixed and distracting. Judas is given a fair amount of screen time.
As the film slowly progresses, they walk to Jerusalem, and to the Temple. Judas believes that Jesus will now usher in the new kingdom. Jesus turns the tables of the money changers over. I did like this portrayal of the anger of Jesus.
Judas gets disappointed because he has not rightly understood what the new kingdom is. The portrayal of the betrayer is rightly portrayed as someone who you would least expect to betray Christ. All of that could be argued as acceptable, however, I thought that all too often Jesus appears to know not what to do? He seeks Mary to guide Him. Although there appears no direct hint of any physical relations between them, all too often Jesus is walking side by side with Mary Magdalene as his guiding apostle.
Yet toward the latter part of the movie, the modern agenda creeps in. In one scene as Jesus approaches the ‘last supper’ Mary is seen walking beside Him on the left, then parts to the left of the meal and Jesus to the right, Mary then sits down on Jesus’ right side which clearly forms a visual hint of ‘Da Vinci’s The Last Supper’. This brought the whole film down for me and I became suspicious of the agenda.
Much of the film was agreeable and careful. But they left a lot out. Presumably to focus upon what Mary saw, not the events we’re generally familiar with. There is no anquish in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Judas does betray Jesus with a kiss. Judas does hang himself. After Jesus is crucified and has risen from the dead, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, and sees Jesus sitting on the ground. The is no rolling away of the stone. Mary goes to tell the apostles that He is risen, and although they believe her, the film presents Mary as the ‘chosen one’ who out of them all, understands Jesus’ message above Peter and all the apostles.
John barely features at all in this movie, which given the central focus on Peter, implied to me that the focus of this film was a feminist attempt to set Mary Magdalene as ‘co-equal’ apostle with Peter, who the Roman Catholic Church sees as its first pope. I noticed a hint of Roman Catholicism in the Temple scenes, it looks reminiscent of St. Peters Basilica, Vatican.
This became even clearer to me when the closing credits came up. The main religious and political agenda of this movie is confirmed by itself. It is distinctly revisionist. The aim being to further promote the position of leadership for women in the Church.
For the most part, the film was very unspiritual and lacked passion and power. Although it remained fairly respectful to the story. I never thought it was anything but well meaning (in the human sense). But the script seemed too ordinary and lacked any dynamics for a story that has changed the world. The portrayal of Peter was insignificant and had no impact. Likewise, Jesus appears, in some sense, portrayed as somewhat untrustworthy and confused? Mary appears to be the spiritual one who held it all together.
Some Christians might like this movie, others will not. The film itself made no lasting impact on me at all. I left the theatre wanting nothing but a hot cup of tea. I didn’t detest the film at all, but I doubt very much that I would even desire to see it again? But if you do go to see it, remember that there is a focal agenda. For women who think themselves as Deacons, Elders, Bishops or Pastors, they might like it. But for any woman, or man like me, who believes the Bible and knows it, we are labelled ‘misogynistic’ merely because we recognise that female leadership in the Church has no authorisation in Scripture, or by God. But the revisionist attempt is an age old claim, nothing new, but bound to continue further. Yet strickly, unbiblical.