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:




Belated Birthdays, a Hobbitish Toast, Beren and Luthien

Yesterday, January 3, was the 123rd birthday of Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, an author whom I have had a bit of time to study. So at 9PM last night, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and men raised their glasses to that old Professor of Anglo-Saxon, who has changed so many lives.


My own experience with Tolkien has not been insignificant. Source: Sr. Hilda Kleiman, Mt. Angel Seminary Journalism, 2012

I suppose some say I take this whole “Tolkien thing” too seriously, and I would respond to them this: you take yourself too seriously. In Middle-Earth, we find a world of beauty, and in that beauty resides truth. But what was that truth for Tolkien?

Tolkien was a man of faith, a faith that would infuse his works, sometimes intentionally but mostly unintentionally. He was devoted to his Catholic faith, particularly to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. This imagery is easy enough to see throughout the books, and would be too much to detail here. But I believe his faith also taught him something else, something that also creeps into the land of elves and hobbits: it taught him that in every moment of life, there is a bit of magic, a bit of wonder. As one worried person once asked me, no I don’t mean that kind of magic, but rather a type of magic that brings music to the soul, and calls forth the best out of all people. Perhaps rather than use the word “magic” I should say that in Middle-Earth and in his own life, Tolkien saw grace. in even the smallest of occurrences, life became for him a living fairy-story, infused with grace. To borrow his own term, Tolkien lived a very mythopoetic life, full of wonder.

Last known photograph of Tolkien. Source: Michael Tolkien via Tolkien Gateway

None of this can be seen more clearly than in his romance with a certain Edith Bratt. Tolkien would meet Edith when he was 16 and she was 19 while they lived in the same boarding house, and he was subsequently forbidden to have contact with Edith by his then-guardian, Fr. Francis. Being the good Catholic that he was, Tolkien obeyed of course, but in his heart he persisted, and waited patiently until he turned 21, after which he declared his undying love to Edith. Their marriage was not easy, as no marriage ever is (Edith even had to convert to Catholicism, which was not looked upon favorably by some individuals), but they led a blessed life. In his romance with Edith, he saw wonder and grace ever-present, and believed Edith to be the Luthien to his Beren (see below for the “Song of Beren and Luthien,” written by Tolkien, which details the story of two elven lovers).

The grave of John and Edith Tolkien. Source: Álida Carvalho via Wikimedia Commons

I do believe Tolkien was a hopeless romantic, and I also believe that we need a bit more of that in today’s world. We need to see the grace and wonder that infuses everything around us, whether it is in finding our Beren or Luthien, being sent on a quest to change the world, or even as simple as planting a garden outside one’s hobbit hole. If we lose sight of this magic, we descend into mediocrity, and that my friends is no life any elf, dwarf, or man would ever want to live.

So, Professor Tolkien, we salute you, and hope that we may live that mythopoetic life which you so expertly demonstrated!

And for the record, yes, I have other interests outside of J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-Earth, some very elvish. 🙂

Song of Beren and Lúthien

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinúviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.

There Beren came from mountains cold,
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled
He walked alone and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following.

Enchantment healed his weary feet
That over hills were doomed to roam;
And forth he hastened, strong and fleet,
And grasped at moonbeams glistening.
Through woven woods in Elvenhome
She lightly fled on dancing feet,
And left him lonely still to roam
In the silent forest listening.

He heard there oft the flying sound
Of feet as light as linden-leaves,
Or music welling underground,
In hidden hollows quavering.
Now withered lay the hemlock-sheaves,
And one by one with sighing sound
Whispering fell the beachen leaves
In the wintry woodland wavering.

He sought her ever, wandering far
Where leaves of years were thickly strewn,
By light of moon and ray of star
In frosty heavens shivering.
Her mantle glinted in the moon,
As on a hill-top high and far
She danced, and at her feet was strewn
A mist of silver quivering.

When winter passed, she came again,
And her song released the sudden spring,
Like rising lark, and falling rain,
And melting water bubbling.
He saw the elven-flowers spring
About her feet, and healed again
He longed by her to dance and sing
Upon the grass untroubling.

Again she fled, but swift he came.
Tinúviel! Tinúviel!
He called her by her elvish name;
And there she halted listening.
One moment stood she, and a spell
His voice laid on her: Beren came,
And doom fell on Tinúviel
That in his arms lay glistening.

As Beren looked into her eyes
Within the shadows of her hair,
The trembling starlight of the skies
He saw there mirrored shimmering.
Tinúviel the elven-fair,
Immortal maiden elven-wise,
About him cast her shadowy hair
And arms like silver glimmering.

Long was the way that fate them bore,
O’er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of ireon and darkling door,
And woods of nightshade morrowless.
The Sundering Seas between them lay,
And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away
In the forest singing sorrowless.


More Tolkien than Thou?


I just came across a wonderful piece in response to criticisms against The Hobbit, Peter Jackson’s cinematic interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved literary classic of the same name:

It is a bit unfair – and frankly rather illogical – to expect one artistic medium to be able to express itself in the way that another does. King David, after all, was a real person, who lived a long time ago, and his deeds are described in the Bible. That, in itself, is an interpretation of his life through the inspired Scriptures. Do we complain that Michelangelo or Bernini’s statues are unfair representations of David, because they do not actually move? Do we whine because paintings of David by artists like Castagno or Caravaggio do not speak?

You can read the rest here.

Many people criticize Peter Jackson for needlessly cutting up Tolkien’s masterpiece. There are times when I have made the same arguments. I first read The Hobbit when I was 7 or 8, and then The Lord of the Rings late middle school. Ever since then, I have had a sort of…love affair…with Middle-Earth. Tolkien’s work has had a very meaningful part in my life, and when I converted to Catholicism, a faith to which Tolkien was ardently devoted, it took on even more meaning for me.

I understand that some people might be upset. When I watched The Hobbit last Sunday with wonderful friend (movies are, after all, best enjoyed in the company of such people), I noticed that there were a few more departures from the book than I expected. I wished this or that could have been left in, etc. etc. But you know what? It was a darn good movie. Just as I understand why Jackson left out Tom Bombadil in the LOTR movies (in the cinematic medium, that part of the story would have felt long and disjointed; in the book it was excellent), I can see why Jackson made certain changes om this current film.

Do I agree with all of divergent points between the books and movies? No, of course not. These movies, however, are not mine. They were created by Peter Jackson, who has his own vision of Middle-Earth, which I am sure is very different from my own. I do think, however, that irregardless of differences from the text, they are very good indeed, and I will be seeing the next two on their own opening weekends. And you know what? I think Tolkien would agree with these sentiments. I also believe that these movies, along with the LOTR Trilogy, Narnia films, and Harry Potter series, serve as an excellent way to lead people back to the original texts, causing them to create their own visions of these worlds. That is certainly a good thing!

Now I just wish I could find my Hobbit costume…

Pax et bonum.