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!)
Clavius, 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.
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.