Sunday, February 21, 2016

Risen, A Review

Two years ago, I posted an entry on the tetrad of movies that released in late Winter and early Spring. The movies were promoted as Christian, whether they were or not. You can read that post here. This movie is different though. So, I will put in my two cents with the understanding, I am not a movie critic, nor do I care to be. But as a pastor, professor, and a student of the Bible, some have asked, and others will ask, my thoughts on the movie. So, here goes, with a promise of no major spoiler as it relates to the movie. Well, Jesus did rise from the dead, but regarding the movie, that happens early...Regarding life, that isn't a spoiler, that is the reason for our Blessed Hope (Titus 2.13)!

The movie is told through the story of a Roman soldier who must investigate the truth into the disappearance of Jesus from the grave. Thus, it is told through the eyes of someone living in a culture who did not believe (nor would he care to have believed) in a Messiah. In fact, Clavius (the soldier) states his main god is Mars (a Roman guard of war). The movie begins with Clavius beginning to tell his story to a man in the Judean wilderness (as soon as I saw the landscape, I told Susan "That looks like the Judean wilderness." It is nice to have traveled there, but alas the movie was shot in Spain and Malta, so props to the CGI staff!)

Clavius recalls returning from a battle (interesting sidenote: Barabbas is a part of the battle just after having been released during Jesus' trial), and being sent by Pilate to ensure matters of a Nazarene being crucified are carried out properly amidst unrest in the area. Thus, Clavius is present for the death which sets the background for all that follows. My intent here, however, is not to recount the movie, but to provide a few insights.

First, I liked the movie. I went to be entertained, not to grow in my faith. This is Hollywood, not the Bible. I did enjoy the movie and can say that without reservation. It is well-acted, and a good story. There are a few scenes that would not be comfortable for young children (or squeamish in general), but it was not gruesome. What was shown was truly a part of what might have happened (for instance, digging up dead bodies which had died within the same time period to determine if one was Jesus). This was the beauty of the film which largely centers on potential events based upon Matthew 28.11-15. While the events are not perfectly known, certainly Roman soldiers were looking for any of Jesus' followers, Pilate was definitely concerned with a bad report reaching the emperor, and any who saw Jesus dead could have had extreme difficulty trying to reconcile what the possibility of Him returning to life (we criticize Thomas for doubting, but put yourself in those shoes).

Ultimately, the movie does a good job depicting these story lines. It also does a reasonable job of setting the scenery for the movie. For instance, near the end of the movie, when the disciples were gathered at the Sea of Galilee, the background looked EXACTLY like a beach at St. Peter's Restaurant where we had lunch one afternoon, with the mountains in the background removed as well as the restaurant, obviously.

Again, I liked the movie, it was entertaining, but...there is always a but. This "but" is not about the movie so much as it is the expectations. Again, I don't go to movies expecting to be taught about the Bible. Thus, when biblical inconsistencies arise, I tend not to get too disturbed. But others might, and I do realize that such issues can create doubts. This is why I am writing this blog. But because I do not want to nitpick, I will share two issues from the same scene.

First, I have seen a comment or two that the movie is as biblically accurate as any movie in quite some time. I agree that it is biblically accurate WHERE the Bible is directly used. Again, most of the story takes place outside of what is recorded in the Bible. The use of the Bible is NOT exact when it is used, but it is used quite reasonably.  Some minor sequence issues might catch the attention of the astute observer, but nothing is earth shattering. For instance, as Jesus prepares to depart the earth, John 14.1 is mixed in with Matthew 28.19-20 and Acts 1.8. In reality, Jesus could have said that He was going to prepare a place as a part of the other verses, but Matthew nor Luke record it. But that IS what He is doing right now, so it cannot be considered erroneous, it is just out of sequence.

The second point (again, related to the same scene) does cause some measure of concern. The portion of Jesus' command to baptize in the "name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded" was omitted. Is the omission purposeful? Did contention arise over those words between the makers, director, producers, etc? I have no insight to the matter, but perhaps it was not essential to the story. The command to make disciples of all nations is essential (but I promised no spoilers), but the how, for what the movie was trying to portray, was not.

One final note, the main character was Clavius, but a couple of Jesus' followers had their character developed a little. One of the high points of the movie for me, was seeing Bartholomew as a living person. His is a name we read in the list of disciples in three of the gospels and Acts. Because we do not hear much of him in the Bible, we know little about him. Such facts give free reign to an actor and director, and all I can say is "Well done!" His character was very refreshing, and especially so, at the point in the movie where his character was introduced.

So, would I recommend seeing Risen? Yes. If you are going to see a movie, this would be a good choice. I wouldn't call it an epic (some are), so if you are not the movie-going type, simply wait until it is on video, and get together with a group to watch it. Watching with others is my primary recommendation - regardless of whether the others present are Christian or not. Risen can create a good deal of discussion, and the conversations that follow this movie might have eternal consequences for someone. Very few movies provide that possibility, so we should take advantage of those that do.

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