Movie Review: Risen

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Risen, the story of a Roman soldier investigating the events following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I also saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens for a fourth time, but that’s beside the point… (Thank you to a generous benefactor who gave me a theater gift card at Christmas!)


risen posterClavius, a Roman soldier (ranked Tiberian) is tasked by the local procurator, Pontius Pilate, to investigate a series of events following the crucifixion of Yeshua, a man that some of the Jews are claiming to be the Messiah. After Yeshua’s body disappears, Clavius interrogates several people in an attempt to find the missing body. He then proceeds to hunt down the followers of Yeshua, only to discover Yeshua himself, after which he accompanies His disciples as they proceed to the Sea of Galilee. During all of this, Pontius Pilate simply wants to wash his hands of the whole thing and seeks to end the affair before a coming visit from the emperor.

 Clavius and the disciples are pursued by Roman soldiers as they travel to Galilee, led by his former aid, Lucius. After convincing Lucius to let them go, they arrive at the Sea of Galilee where the disciples meet once again. Clavius, a hardened soldier, finds himself struggling with matters of faith and belief, and in the end, after experiencing the Ascension of the Lord, finds himself a changed man.

My thoughts

Do you remember the old biblical epics like Ben Hur? This isn’t Ben Hur. But at the same time, it’s not quite as syrupy as Touched by an Angel (although I did love that show). The writers did take some liberties with the biblical texts, but nothing too major; simply enough to inject the main character into particular events, such as the apostles fishing on the Sea of Galilee (cf. John 21). The movie was slow in parts, mostly during the interrogation scenes where Clavius is attempting to find the disciples. When he does track them down, I found Clavius’ transformation somewhat moving. At this point he encounters the person of Jesus Christ, and he struggles with what his duties as a Roman soldier ask of him while at the same time seeing Jesus right before his eyes.

The visuals and costumes were wonderful and seemed to be fairly accurate, although the language used was typical of such movies. As always, Hollywood uses British accents to give the impression of a foreign locale and some Elizabethan English to add a flavor of historicity, although they weren’t consistent on this point.

I really enjoyed seeing the crucifixion and the events following it from a different perspective. Was the re-telling perfect? No, of course not; it is is Hollywood after all, but compared with some recent biblical movies, I feel that it was very well done. I think we often forget that there were many people and events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ, and this movie helps to put some of that context back into the story.

The performances were fine, and I especially enjoyed Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), Peter (Stuart Scudamore), Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth), and Yeshua (Cliff Curtis). I wish that the characters were a bit stronger though, with a bit more development of Clavius and Lucius and perhaps more depth/background added to Yeshua and the disciples. If these two things had happened, not only would the movie be extended to a full two hours (it seems a bit short at 1 hour, 47 minutes), but it would have made a decent movie into a potentially great movie.


These are simply my observations. Personally, I think teenagers would be fine, as well as  mature pre-teens. In the end though, please don’t take my word for it; read as many reviews as you can or, better yet, go see it yourself.

Sexual content: There is a brief mention of Mary Magdalene’s profession, but it isn’t stated specifically. There are a couple of scenes where men appear with no shirts.

Violence: Most of the violence takes place in the first 15 minutes of the movie during a large battle scene. During this battle, swords, shields, and spears are used. You see people get stabbed or killed, but the person is usually turned in such a way as to not see the actual insertion of the weapon. If you do see the stabbing head-on, there is no blood spilled. All of the blood shown is either from the after-effects of battle or during the crucifixion scene.

During the crucifixion, there is quite a bit of detail shown. You will see blood running down Jesus’ face and from his wounds. He is also show as being stabbed with the lance. The crucifixion is also described in detail later in the movie.

There are scenes where dead bodies are examined. These bodies have been exposed to the climate of the Middle East for several days, and so are in various states of decomposition. Finally, there are some chasing scenes.

Language: There is no profanity, although there is some name-calling.

Drinking/Substance Abuse: You will briefly see some drunken Roman soldiers.

Content compared to other movies: While there is violence, there is hardly any gratuitous gore or blood shown being spilt. There is more blood compared to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but the vast majority of it is either dried blood from battle or what you see during the crucifixion. The crucifixion scene itself is detailed but much less graphic compared to The Passion of Christ. There is less violence than The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, and I think considerably less violence, blood, and gore than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (although all of it involves humans in this movie, rather than orcs and uruk hai).

Overall rating from The Believing Astronomer: 3.5 out of 5 stars for a good faith-based story, use of source material, nice cinematography, and managing to avoid gratuitous violence (although there are extended battle scenes), along with staying away from interpretations that were too far-fetched, but lack of character development.

Other reviews:




On the Journey: The Folly of Children

Alas, it’s been about three weeks since my last post. Studying graduate-level theology will do that to ya. Let’s move on in Augustine shall we?

Augustine’s Confessions: Book 1, Chapters 19-21

I was blind to the whirlpool of debasement in which I had been plunged away from the sight of your eyes. For in your eyes, nothing could be more debased than I was then, since I was even troublesome to the people whom I set out to please. –Confessions I.19

When I was a young boy, my mom would often call my sister and me in from playing by a loud whistle. You know the type: forefinger and thumb in the mouth, piercing blow, and heard through the entire neighborhood. When we heard that whistle, we knew it was time to come home.


By Unknown engraver [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But like all children, I didn’t always obey that whistle. In fact, one evening my mom gave the signal and I left my friend’s house but I didn’t go home. I’m not sure why; there certainly wasn’t any reason that I shouldn’t. I simply did not want to go home, and thought that I would stay out a little longer. I was already late, and I saw my mom outside our house down the street looking for me. I immediately hid behind a bush; like all children, I was real sneaky and not at all obvious. Well, what seemed like an eternity passed, and then I saw my mom ride by on her bike with a look of worry across her face. It was in that moment that I knew I was in big trouble. I’m not sure how long I had stayed out, but I knew it had been far too long.

Well, that was the first time I had ever been grounded. It wouldn’t be the last.

My point here is that as kids, we often think we know best, and so it was with Augustine: like many typical children, he wasn’t the bastion of innocence that many people see kids to be: he lied, he cheated, he got away with things, and when he didn’t, he threw temper tantrums (I.19). Augustine did not fully understand the gifts which he had been given in life.

So it is, except in rare and blessed circumstances, with us. We’ve all experienced selfishness. If there is one thing that we have learned reading Augustine thus far, it is that the saints are all human. They made mistakes, they sinned, they at times turned from God. While this may seem like a depressing reality, it should be one that gives us hope.

We have hope because while we draw breath, we can always turn back towards Him. Even when we carry some of these childish behaviors into adult life, when “commanders and kings may take the place of tutors and schoolmasters, nuts and balls and pet birds may give way to money and estates and servants” (I.19), there is always a hope, and a call, to respond to God’s grace and to embrace love. For if there is one defining characteristic of the saints, it is this: when they fell, when they committed sin, when they were turned in towards themselves, they got back up and turned back towards God, and they never stopped striving to live in His love, no matter how difficult it became. Let us too strive for sainthood and follow in Augustine’s footsteps:

“I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in Him but in myself and in His other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error. My God, in whom is my delight, my glory and my trust, I thank you for your gifts and beg you to preserve and keep them for me. Keep me, too, and so your gifts will grow and reach perfection and I shall be with you myself, for I should not even exist if it were not by your gift.” (I.20)

Questions for reflection:

  1. In what area of my life have I remained selfish, turned inward toward self, rather than outward toward God?
  2. What do I need to do in order to get rid of childish habits (cf. 1 Cor. 13.8-11) and grow more fully in love, both towards God and toward others?

Up next time: we will begin Book II, which goes into more detail regarding Augustine’s younger and teen years. We will go through the next several chapters at a faster pace so as not to get too repetitive, and some of them may be skipped, although the main ideas will still be expressed. That said, even if I don’t post about every chapter, I will be reading them (as should you). Pax.

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.


Pic of the Week



Peculiar Galaxies of Arp 273

This week’s photo, from NASA, we see two galaxies experiencing a close encounter:

The spiky stars in the foreground of this sharp cosmic portrait are well within our own Milky Way Galaxy. The two eye-catching galaxies lie far beyond the Milky Way, at a distance of over 300 million light-years. Their distorted appearance is due to gravitational tides as the pair engage in close encounters. Cataloged as Arp 273 (also as UGC 1810), the galaxies do look peculiar, but interacting galaxies are now understood to be common in the universe. In fact, the nearby large spiral Andromeda Galaxy is known to be some 2 million light-years away and approaching the Milky Way. Arp 273 may offer an analog of their far future encounter. Repeated galaxy encounters on a cosmic timescale can ultimately result in a merger into a single galaxy of stars. From our perspective, the bright cores of the Arp 273 galaxies are separated by only a little over 100,000 light-years. The release of this stunning vista celebrates the 21st anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit.

With all the talk of gravitational waves and black holes recently, I thought this was an interesting specimen. See the original here.

Wanna understand the world? Study Theology.

I just came across this video from Audrey Assad. Beautiful rendition of a classic hymn. I will give you a bit to listen.

One of the most blessed experiences I have had since coming to seminary is the opportunity to study the faith on a level I never imagined possible. There are some courses where I come out of each and every session with my mind blown, giving thanks to God for His creation and work in salvation, praying that I might be able to grasp even a fraction of this wonder. I am certainly not the best student: I procrastinate for sure, and could always work a bit harder, but the privilege of being able to take time to study these mysteries is a reality that is not lost on me, and I realize that I will likely never have it at any other time in my life.

Case in point: almost every single word in the above song takes on more weight, extra meaning. Studying scripture and theology has had a more profound effect on my own faith, how I view myself, and how I view the world around me, whether in terms of science, morality, or relationally, just to name a few, than I can possibly fathom.

Thank you Lord.

But you do not have to be in seminary or get a Master’s degree in theology to have this experience! We all have the opportunity to deepen our faith, to study, and reflect. He calls us all into a more profound understanding of His love. Whether you are taking 17 units in graduate theology, or simply want to start reading a single book, the opportunity is there. Read the daily mass readings. Make a commitment to read a little scripture each day. Pick up a book by a classic author or saint. Even if you only have a few minutes, take the time each day to study, to pray, to reflect. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

To God be the Glory.