Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is Rome’s elite warrior. If a military strike needs to be successful, call Clavius. When a bunch of whining Pharisees harass Pilate (Peter Firth) about protecting the body of Jesus, the troublemaker they just murdered on a cross, Clavius inherits the job to oversee protection of the tomb. When the tomb is found empty, a search for Jesus and the truth about His identity sweeps across Judea.
This plot is actually a great vehicle to take viewers through the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion. The story of Clavius is fictional, but the writers wanted this murder mystery to remain “Biblically harmonious.” Is it?
Risen provides more to like than to nit-pick…
Risen succeeds by including several Biblical points seen through the view point of Clavius to:
- Earthquake occurs when Jesus dies (Matthew 27:50-51)
- Death of Jesus confirmed by spear, no bones broken (John 19:33-34)
- Joseph of Arimathea provides the empty tomb for Jesus (Mark 15:43)
- Bartholomew mocked by Clavius for leaving crucifixion (Matthew 27:55-56)
- Thomas doubts the resurrection of Jesus (John 20:25)
I’m probably leaving out some points, but as you can see, Risen really worked hard to incorporate Biblical moments in plausible and creative ways. Two moments really blew me away:
The Prostitute Mary Magdalene
As Clavius hunts down Jesus, witnesses are needed. Anybody that’s been seen with Christ must be brought in for questioning. Mary Magdalene’s name is discovered in questioning and must be brought in, but what does she look like? Simple fix. Go ask the soldiers in the barracks, surely one of them can identify the former prostitute, Mary Magdalene. Sure enough, Clavius asks his men who knows Mary Magdalene and slowly the hands rise up.
At that moment it struck me…Mary Magdalene was really a prostitute. Even more powerful is the realization that Christ forgives us and did not condemn her.
The Love of Jesus
The best scene isn’t complex, but played every string in my heart.
Lepers were outcasts of society, disregarded by all but Jesus.
Leviticus 13:45-46 (NIV)
“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.
Risen portrays a meeting between Jesus and a leper and it’s worth the price of admission. A crowd hits and throws the leper to the ground, pushing him out of town. Jesus walks over and sits in the dust with the leper, embracing the outcast.
Failure of False Gods
Clavius provides a great look into the Roman religious climate. Romans would be polytheistic; serving many pagan gods. During his most stressful mission Clavius wonders, “Are the gods there? Help me!”
Of course the false gods don’t deliver, but it opens a window to the reality that false religions rubbed shoulders with Christians.
New-Age Christ Moment
Ultimately the big idea is expressed consistently in Risen. During his interrogation, Bartholomew states the necessity of a resurrected Jesus, “…eternal life for everyone who believes.”
I was let down when Clavius finally met Jesus. The advice Jesus shared with Clavius was “Open your heart and see…” But Jesus actually told sinners,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Clavius, who has murdered countless people, apparently doesn’t need to repent. He is instead told to simply “open up.”
I won’t be adding Risen to my Easter collection of movies, but it contains some creative and insightful scenes that are worth a watch if you haven’t already seen it.