My "Risen" Review

Last night I went with my young adult group from my church to see the new movie "Risen." I had heard good things going in, but as someone who tries to avoid buying into the hype at all costs—I can say with confidence I had no expectations either way for this movie.

"Risen" is an extra-biblical account (similar to the classic Ben-Hur) which looks to depict a Biblical story (death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) through a different perspective. This time that different perspective is a Roman Tribune who goes by the name of Clavius (Joseph Feinnes).
Clavius is an ambitious Roman soldier who puts down rebellions, receives frequent summons from Governor Pilate, and in general sees a lot of death. But as the plot develops, the viewer finds himself identifying and rooting for this pagan gentile who tells Pilate in a moment of honesty that inside he "yearns for peace." Furthermore, the Tribune seems to carry himself with honor and humility, so “go Clavius!”
The movie takes off when Clavius unknowingly gets thrust into the greatest story in world history. His role: to find a missing body before he and Pilate lose their heads. If Jesus’s body stays missing there is potential for rebellion as the radical Jewish sect will have reason to identify their Messiah. To avoid that likely bloody encounter Clavius begins his search. 

What follows is an enjoyable movie which I would not mind to see again.

What I liked:

  1. Raw Rome. I thought this movie did a good job depicting the severe nature Roman rule. Some movies, especially the older ones, represent the Romans with colorful red plumes on their helmets, cladded in polished, glistening armor as they march in perfect rank and file. Now the Romans were a brilliantly organized military machine, but in Risen there was a "rawness" about them which I think was much closer to accuracy than these "PG" portrayals. These guys were not your elitist "pretty boys," they were brutal scrappers who were as tenacious as they were violent. War against the Romans was never a civil affair with quick and clean deaths; rather it was dirty, crude, and almost primal; I think this movie captured that well.
  2. Jesus. It is rare that you see Jesus depicted with a Middle Eastern nationality, and it is even rarer that he is relatively unattractive. In Risen
    Jesus as depicted in "Risen"
    was neither white nor good looking; which from me gets two thumbs up. Isaiah 53:2 gives us the impression that Jesus was not some immaculately robed, carefully manicured angel, but a normal guy who doesn’t get a leg up due to his physical appearance. He entered our sinful world and got dirty in the process.
  3. The times. While reading the gospel accounts is one of the most valuable things you can do, watching a movie about them often gives a sense of what it was like to live back then, perhaps because it engages different senses. Through hearing the crashing of the metal and seeing the rocky, arid landscapes, the viewer quickly realizes that the times of the Savior were most savage and Spartan. I for one am thankful to not be alive then, and I thought Risen gave a good description of what the cruel world was like 2,000 years ago.
  4. Nothing butchered. For Hollywood, with a track record with the likes of "Exodus" and "Noah," "Risen" well exceeded my expectations. Generally speaking, "Risen" followed the script of the New Testament (Spoiler alert: Jesus died, Jesus rose again, and Jesus’s body was not found dead) which for me was shocking. Obviously the story is extra biblical and there were several details which did not quite line up (Jesus only shown revealing himself to his disciples and the “special guest” or the disciples narrowly escaping Roman capture by evasive maneuvers in tall grass) but overall I was happy.

What I did not like:

  1. Clavius’s bottom lip. If you are going to be a main character in the movie can you please not pick the massive scab on your lip throughout? It will heal if you leave it alone.
  2. Small set. Jerusalem is a big city and there were no doubt a lot of Romans there too. As I watched the movie the set just seemed small to me. I wanted more guards wandering about, more crowds around Jesus during the crucifixion, and bigger buildings and walls. The whole thing should have been "bigger" by my estimation.
  3. Lack of followers. Though the movie is viewed through Clavius’s limited perspective it seemed Jesus’s following is strangely minimal. It appeared to me as I watched that the eleven disciples plus Mary Magdalene (and a few others) were the only ones who had any idea of the resurrection. We know however that Jesus did not ascend in a vacuum, but it was well documented and verifiable as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:6.
  4. The end. Where the heck is Clavius going at the end of the movie? If he sticks around with Peter for the next couple of weeks he would get to experience perhaps the single greatest moment in church history: Pentecost. You know, the moment where the Holy Spirit is poured out without measure and the church explodes with power totally transforming the known world? Strangely the former Tribune prefers to wander a barren wasteland, with a vague comment that he will never be the same. You think?

Overall "Risen" is a good movie, and I will not complain about a "Christian" Hollywood movie as close to the New Testament account as this. If you have not seen it, I recommend you go.


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