Saturday, April 30, 2016

With 'Risen', Hollywood Pulls Off a Miracle -- a Respectful and Enjoyable Fictional Retelling of a Bible Story

Plot summary:
Fearing that the disappearance of the recently crucified Yeshua of Nazareth (Cliff Curtis) from his tomb will cause a general sense of unrest in Jerusalem, especially during the upcoming visit of the Roman Emperor, Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) tasks a Roman tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), with the help of his aide (Tom Felton), to find the missing body quickly.  The agnostic Clavius initially dismisses the rumors that Yeshua has risen from the dead.  But as he immerses deeper into this remarkable mystery, his sense of reason struggles with the things unraveled by his investigation.

Being the “Greatest Story Ever Told”, various takes on the life of Jesus have been conveyed many times already in various media.  But the premise of Risen is a brilliant, distinctive one.  As a mystery story through the perspective of an unbeliever, it’s a fresh and unique approach.  (It reminded me of a novel I read years ago called The Christ Commission by Og Mandino, since that has a somewhat similar premise.)

However, though the script is okay, I think that it didn’t utilize the premise’s potential thoroughly.  For one (SPOILERS from here on) the “skeptic investigator” aspect of the story – the strongest thing about its premise – only lasted until one hour into the movie.  I was hoping that Clavius’ investigation and struggle would last up until the latter part of the movie, and only then would he finally encounter the truth and/or make his conclusion.  I believe that if that had been the case – having some vagueness on where the narrative would go for most of the movie – it would have been more thrilling, emphatic, and thought-provoking.
As far as committing Biblical offenses… well, since it’s a fictional story, it does have creative liberties that contradicts some Biblical details (e.g. Clavius hanging out with the Apostles; Peter has his shirt on while fishing; only the Eleven plus Clavius witnessing Jesus’ ascension – depicted as him walking towards the sunset, then shooting upwards in an explosive blink of an eye, like a combination of Superman taking off and a rocket launching up; etc.)  However, they’re harmless and non-gratuitous (depending on how you consider and approach Revelation 22:18-19) – not at all sacrilegious like those done in Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings.  It’s a fictional retelling of a Bible story that doesn’t dilute the essence – comparable to what had been done in Super Book and Flying House.

Lastly, Potterheads will definitely find it amusing that the name of Tom Felton’s character is Lucius.  Ha.

Risen isn’t free of fault.  It didn’t use its premise quite right.  It could definitely have been better.  But in the end, as a cinephile and a Christian, I did enjoy and appreciate this movie.  Effort has been put into it – with its great performances, direction, and production value – and it treated its Biblical references with respect.  Having something like this from Hollywood is rare nowadays – a miracle.  Thus, for all its flaws, it still has the novelty that makes it worth checking out.    

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