I’m going to admit at the outset of this post – I have a UNHEALTHY bias against movies with a biblical theme. I, like many of you, enter theaters at the peak of expectation attempting to discover moments where the passions and imaginations of my heart come to life. And, yes, I have transformed into a “mild” (at least in my mind) cynic over the years. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that I encouraged some of my closest friends, blog “followers, Twitter and Facebook friends to acquiesce to the reality that NO BIBLICAL movie can ever match the drama and power of the real story. If you want to read that post (which, I must admit, would be worth your while), click HERE.
So, I entered the theater tonight to see the film, RISEN, with a bit of skepticism. Would they ruin the story that shapes my life? Most of the time over the years, I’ve taken my seat in the theater (handfuls of either popcorn or caramel nips), and I start to pray, seriously, I pray: “don’t let them screw this up!” This is my life…my heart…my vision…my purpose…the love of my heart. Yes, I acknowledge the fact that artists (which filmmakers are) can and do take liberty with stories in order to make a point. Every artist enters into their medium with a specific “goal” or objective in mind…to capture a truth, to communicate reality as they see, to persuade and convince of a specific worldview. You remember the Noah movie with Russell Crow? I actually liked that film! I appreciated the filmmaker’s creativity with the story, BUT I enjoyed it because I had NO (or little) expectation that they would be faithful to the text. You see, I don’t expect “Hollywood” to be faithful to the text of the Bible. For one reason, the Bible may at times read like a drama, in fact, a good majority of the text of the Bible is filled with drama and story. Even so, the story has “holes”…the authors of the Bible were NOT writing a screenplay. They never expected the reality that they experienced in God to be captured or harnessed for somebody’s (of some movie producer) whim or profit ambition.
Well, without getting too technical or too wordy (which I am apt to do), my purpose in this post is NOT to give you an extensive review. But what I can do is say, “BRAVO” for the film, “Risen.” Many of you know that I have not only dedicated my life to living and sharing this story, but I also dabble in the academic environment posing myself as a scholar of the text. Yes, I have a couple degrees, and I know some things…in many respects, so what! It all comes down to truth, doesn’t it? It all comes down the life transforming POWER of the One who is the inspiration and protagonist of the sweeping and untamed nature of the text. All of us who love and follow this God-story have our own imaginations, hopes, and dreams shaped by the realities communicated in ancient words. Through imagery, poetry, prose and genres not often experienced in other literature, the Bible delivers more than can even be summarized less extrapolated out of its context and put on to the screen. All this to say, my expectations were low for the film. They were “messing around” with Jesus and that aspect of the biblical narrative that is the core of my being. I’m not embarrassed to say that Jesus is my passion and I love and follow Him. So, in many respects, I walk into ANY film (or watch it on television) with a bit of a chip on my heart saying, “you better not mess with my Jesus!”
Friends, “Risen” was fascinating and captivating. The story, in my humble opinion, was fresh. It was well acted, the scenery was what we, in biblical circles, would call “faithfully” contextualized, and (a very big surprise) Jesus actually LOOKED Jewish! The story of Jesus was the backdrop for a journey of a Roman tribune and his experience with the crucifixion, burial, resurrection, post-resurrection appearances, and ascension of Jesus. There were just one or two places where I wish the filmmakers would have maybe backed off a bit…but after a bit of thought, I tell you this, they respectfully took their best shot at trying to encapsulate in film the realm of the miraculous. I’m not going to get more specific than that…”Risen” was a movie I not only enjoyed but actually was one where I walked out of the theater smiling…I laughed out loud with delight in various parts of the movie when Jesus and his disciples did what the gospels say they did because the film did its best to do it right. If you go, don’t expect perfection. Our faith community is having a “movie night” this week and, by all means, I could find ways to place unrealistic expectations on this movie. But in actuality, I liked it and found myself, literally, at the edge of my seat anticipating the next scene where Jesus was on screen. Joseph Fiennes does a great job at reenacting the brutality and subsequent despair of a man whose life dream is to live for ONE DAY without death. The plot is engaging because of the fact that that we are witnessing onscreen the real life journey of a person, who is not simply a skeptic, but a person who is outright antagonistic towards the supernatural realities of the Jesus story and the experiences through which he is living. This Tribune does not want to believe…and, the one thing I did like about the film, is that it did NOT feel contrived or manipulative as if you knew where this whole thing would lead. Put it this way, the Tribune does not become Peter’s or Paul’s right-hand man at the end of the story. So, the film did not attempt to complete or close your imagination to predetermined, Christianized and sanitized ending. Likened to many of Jesus’ parables, this story leaves some things open for us to to be sufficiently challenged but to “complete” the story as the Spirit leads.
I promised at the beginning of this post that I would “keep it simple and short” (you can fill in the final word of that cliché). Hence I will end it here. I’m not going to tell you to “run out and see the film”…that would be presumptuous and feel a bit phony in my mind. I can tell you truthfully that it is one of the most “faithful” to the textual context of the gospels…the land looks like ancient Judea, the Romans act like Romans, the Sanhedrin are truly self-righteous, and Jesus is actually a Jew! All I can tell you is that I smiled and was delighted with the film. I discovered in my experience not a moment of frustration and a bit of anger because the filmmakers “messed with Jesus” but rather I left the theater MORE passionate about Jesus than before. I said to myself, “I could follow that Jesus!” I said to myself, “I’d like to live with that band of brothers.” AND, to my surprise, I was for several moments able to say I understood how Clavius felt. This is a truly unbelievable story! But yes, it is a story of faith and transformation which truly is the ONLY WAY to experience the presence of Jesus. So, take this as an honest encouragement to see the film. As I said above, I’m looking forward to seeing it this coming week with some fellow Jesus followers in our community. Beyond that, all I can say is that I can’t wait to see Jesus in the film again if only to smile and say, “yes Lord, it is You I love and follow.”