Movie Review: Risen

Risen is a biblical dramatisation directed and co-written by Kevin Reynolds, which follows the timeline of events following Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Joseph Fiennes as the Roman Clavius (Photo: Risen)
Joseph Fiennes as the Roman Clavius (Photo: Risen)

Pilate (Peter Firth) is anxious to settle the mystery of Christ’s ‘disappearance’ from the tomb and wishes to disprove the destructive rumors that Jesus has risen form the dead. Fearing uprising in Jerusalem he tasks, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), his aid Lucias (Tom Felton) and his Military Tribune to lead the hunt for a body. “The emperor cannot arrive to unrest. We must find a body”, Pilate says as he anxiously commands Clavius for his assignment.

And so begins the key thread of the story, told from the perspective of Clavius himself, an ambitious solider seeking wealth and status yet clearly battle-worn and keen to find, as he says “an end to travail, certainty, peace, a day without death.” Joseph Fiennes plays this weariness exceedingly well and with great sensitivity.

There is a subtle intensity to his performance which invites the viewer to follow his earnest plight for truth as he encounters the various twists and turns in his search for this mysterious and ‘dangerous’ man, “Jeshua”, and marvel with him as this search becomes ever-more mysterious yet enticing at the same time.

Clavius at the Crucifixion (Photo: Risen)
Clavius at the Crucifixion (Photo: Risen)

The cinematography is beautiful, but, in terms of action, this was a relatively ‘no thrills’ experience. Rather, the thrill was in the journey and emotion in which the characters and situations were framed with facial expression and subtlety in dialogue which was interposed with a little light humor and wit.

Jesus’ disciples were also cast very well and demonstrated a varying array of personalities and quirks, yet one thing was clear in uniting them – their ‘simplicity’ and earnestness of heart. In a barrage of questions thrown at Peter from Clavius about the intricacies of Christ’s resurrection, Peter simply replies “I haven’t every answer. We’re astounded too.”

The viewer is drawn into this sense of surprise, awe, mystery and discovery and is supplemented by this earnest humility, simplicity and honesty of the disciples. We are all invited to be awe struck, even a little confused, by the mystery of the resurrection. The disciples do not pretend to have all the answers and neither does the film.

At the Sea of Galilee (Photo: Risen)
At the Sea of Galilee (Photo: Risen)

Scripture was woven in very well throughout the narrative, making it a believable interchange of dialogue between actors and not merely a selection of bible verses rammed into the mouths of the actors for them to repeat. It arguably offers a straighter and more direct retelling of scripture compared to what the public might be used to with the likes of films such as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, in which some may feel a certain amount of liberty was taken in the retelling.

There is also clearly a historical uncertainty to the story of Clavius (whose this narrative is not told anywhere in authorised scripture), but one should be advised to approach this narrative with the intention of understanding the director’s poetic license.

Clavius with the disciples (Photo: Risen)
Clavius with the disciples (Photo: Risen)

Clavius seems to represent that search each and every one of us has for Christ and the journey of discovery, uncertainty and intrigue that often accompanies that path. It is possible (and advisable) to follow the narrative with this understating and to consider one’s own journey of faith (however that looks for them) as they watch.

The film is paced just right to allow this internalisation and leaves space to consider and think, encouraging the viewer to journey both on screen and internally, to consider and even re-consider all that they think the ‘know’ about Jesus and the resurrection.

There is so much more we can know of Jesus. Watch with open hearts and open eyes and just maybe there will be a new ray of light in our understanding of ‘the greatest story ever told’.

“You’re looking for something you’ll never find. Open your heart and see,” (Mary Magdalene to Clavius)