Movie Review: Risen

“I have seen two things which I cannot reconcile: A man dead without question and that same man alive again.”  -Clavius, Roman Tribune

Risen, directed by Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: A Prince of Thieves, Waterworld), is a clash of CSI and The Robe. The story is told from the perspective of the Roman tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes).

It begins with the controlled and confident Clavius destroying the encampment of a Jewish zealot named Barabbas (presumably the one released in the place of Jesus). Soon after the conflict, the tribune, who was “yet sticky with filth”, is called before Pilate (Peter Firth). Pilate feels he is unfairly put in a tight place between the might of Rome on one hand and a murderous mob of Jews on the other, all because of a Jewish zealot named Yeshua. Consequently, he commands Clavius to oversee the removal and burial of the zealot.

Having finished his duty, he assumes all is well; however, the Jewish leadership is not satisfied. “The body must be guarded,” they say. “If the body disappears, there will be chaos.” Thus, Clavius is ordered by Pilate to guard the tomb at all costs. However, early the next morning, Clavius is rudely awakened by another summons to Pilate: a very angry Pilate. The body has disappeared. Therefore, Pilate commands Clavius along with his young aide, Lucius (Tom Felton), to find the zealot’s body and his disciples. Clavius has no idea that this one command will change his life forever.

The newest production of “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is one that displays the hopelessness of life without Christ. This theme is seen throughout the film. Clavius states to Pilate toward the beginning of the movie that all he desires is wealth, peace, power, and a quiet home in the country. Pilate later tells Clavius that no matter what one attains he will still end up like the corpse that is lying before them – dead. Here Pilate recognizes that whether one is rich or poor, weak or powerful, death will come and take everything.

As Clavius realizes the hopelessness of what he lives for, he is slowly drawn to the hope that is found among Jesus’ disciples, a hope that he can hardly understand. Despite the hope he sees, he resolutely refuses to accept it. This is seen most clearly toward the end of the movie, when Jesus asks Clavius during a late night conversation, “With your own eyes you have seen, yet still you doubt? Imagine the doubt of those who have never seen.” In other words, how can you not believe; you have seen!

Even though this theme is portrayed in the film, there is one downside. The hope that is found in Christ is never clearly explained. If you were a non-believer watching the film, I’m not sure that you would come away from the film with an understanding of the Gospel.

Although, the central theme of the movie is good, it does have a few issues. First, the movie ends anti-climatically and the hope Christ offers to Clavius never seems to be fully explained. As this critic rightly articulates: “Believers and nonbelievers alike may well feel that the mystery has been dispelled too quickly, and in a way that devalues the very faith that is the movie’s ostensible foundation.”

The film’s script writers never clearly articulate the reason Jesus died and rose again. The idea of believing is heavily emphasized, but believe in what? Yeshua, yes. But what does that mean? You never find out that belief in Christ’s death and resurrection brings one back into relationship with the Father from whom mankind was separated because of sin. Furthermore, belief in Jesus Christ brings freedom from sin, the power to live holy lives, and eternal life with Him. This is the amazing news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Just a warning to those of you with young children, this movie is fairly violent – less so than other movies of this genre, yet there are corpses seen throughout the film in different levels of decomposition. Also, the crucifixion is realistic and the film begins with the destruction of a zealot camp by the Romans.

However, the movie is clean of language, with only slight reference to sexual innuendo. This is found in relation to things said about Mary Magdalene, and also in one scene when Pilate asks Clavius if he would like a woman. In this same scene, Pilate and Clavius are seen bathing, but they are wearing loincloths; mainly chest is exposed except for two full body shots; one of Pilate as he leaves the room and one of Clavius as he enters.

I enjoyed the film and I think it is one of the better biblical films Hollywood has produced in the last few years, although I do not think it will be at the top of my favorites list. Hopefully it will cause those who watch it to think seriously about the meaning of life and where they will spend eternity; however, I believe that it will be more likely to be seen only as entertainment. Pray with me that it will be otherwise. If you do watch Risen, let us know what disappointed or challenged you.  

Aaron Aaron Beery lives in Elnora, Indiana, and has one brother and two younger sisters. He is receiving Biblical counseling training at Elnora Bible Institute while working as the school’s administrative assistant. He enjoys playing piano, singing, reading and horseback-riding. He hopes to use counseling in this sin-cursed world to speak into people’s lives for the glory of God.

Sources Used:

Change, Justin. “Film Review: ‘Risen’”. Variety.  Web. 18 Feb 2016.

<http://variety.com/2016/film/reviews/risen-review-1201709094/>.

“Movie review: ‘Risen’ is an old school Biblical procedural with Joseph Fiennes.” Daily News. Web. 18 Feb

  1. <http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/risen-old-school-biblical-procedura

l-article-1.2535819>.  

Catsoulis, Jeannette. “Review: ‘Risen,’ a Tale of Conversion Starring Joseph Fiennes.” The New York

Times. Web. 18 Feb 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/19/movies/review-risen-a-tale-of-conversion-starring-joseph-fiennes.html?referrer=google_kp&_r=1>.

Hornaday, Ann. “Biblical drama ‘Risen’ takes an oblique look at the resurrection of Jesus.” Web. 18 Feb

  1. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/biblical-drama-risen-takes-an-oblique-look-at-the-resurrection-of-jesus/2016/02/18/0c164292-d5a6-11e5-b195-2e29a4e13425_story.html?tid=kp_google>.

Holtz, Adam R. “Risen.” Pluggedin. <http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/risen-2016/>. Web. 18

Feb 2016.

6 thoughts on “Movie Review: Risen

  1. “Calling Young Anabaptists back to the Root”… where we will sit and watch violent Hollywood films…
    “I have seen two things which I cannot reconcile”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What are you most concerned about, the fact that it is a movie or the fact that it contains violence? Surely you realize the movie is based off of a Bible story. The Bible is a very violent book. Should we not read the Bible stories that contain violence? What are you trying to say?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t answer for Abner, but I have a question, Using the same reasoning as above, would you watch a hollywood portrayal Song of Solomon? The Bible contains a lot of sensuality, wouldn’t a movie portraying scripture automatically be good?

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  2. Thank you Abner. I guess that is how far many have strayed from the Root, where we enjoy sitting back and letting the enemy’s kingdom spoon feed us the very opposite of Christ.

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  3. Thanks to those who posted comments. We at Radi-Call understand that one’s choice of media consumption is a sensitive issue among Anabaptists. Many disciples of Christ who truly seek discernment and desire to honor God in all areas of life still arrive at different conclusions when it comes to media. While recognizing and desiring to be sensitive to these differences, Radi-Call has made the decision to occasionally review movies and music, both to inform those of our readership who may be considering taking in new media releases and to encourage Anabaptist youth who undoubtedly do take in such media to think with a biblical perspective about their media choices. Our media writers attempt to write critically and factually about movies and music, leaving the ultimate decision of whether to engage between each reader and God. We desire our entire readership to exercise personal discernment in media choices, and we hope to be a beneficial part of the process.

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  4. I know I probably have talked too much…. But I would like to say a few things if I may.

    Radi-Call, I can appreciate your decision and stand on media. Many Anabaptist youth consume a lot of media, and to draw a blanket line against whole types of media would also be hindering the ability to teach, encourage, and convict in those areas.

    I’ll admit to regretting my first comment. (about the enemy spoon feeding us) Not because I don’t believe it is the reality most congregations are in, but rather because it wasn’t clear and could be taken as a blanket statement against video, or more specifically the film being reviewed. It is a reality that many youth inwardly enjoy the kingdom of darkness. Before you hackles raise up, can I ask a few questions? What aspects of films keep you watching and do you enjoy? Is it light and truth? Is it the suffering love and peace of our Savior? Is it the laying aside of the wealth and pomp of this life, and the forsaking of everything for the kingdom? Or is it something that is glorified by the “other camp”? Killing and war? Turmoil and strife? Justice instead of redemption? Ungodly, sensual, unrealistic, or “flash” relationships.

    I don’t think it’s as much that seeing wickedness is sin, but rather it’s more about am I enjoying the other kingdom? Thus the response to Joe. It’s not that seeing a bible story is wrong or not, is it? But wouldn’t it be sad if we read our bible to enjoy the war and fighting? That sounds silly, but is that any different then watching a reenactment of the story to enjoy the drama and violence? In watching a movie like Risen, shouldn’t we come away grieving the workings of the kingdom of this world, rather than enjoying it?

    Just some thoughts…… I really would love to hear more discussion on this!

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