“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 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.|
Change, Justin. “Film Review: ‘Risen’”. Variety. Web. 18 Feb 2016.
“Movie review: ‘Risen’ is an old school Biblical procedural with Joseph Fiennes.” Daily News. Web. 18 Feb
Catsoulis, Jeannette. “Review: ‘Risen,’ a Tale of Conversion Starring Joseph Fiennes.” The New York
Hornaday, Ann. “Biblical drama ‘Risen’ takes an oblique look at the resurrection of Jesus.” Web. 18 Feb
Holtz, Adam R. “Risen.” Pluggedin. <http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/risen-2016/>. Web. 18