I try to avoid any movies with biblical themes. They tend to be either cheap, cheesy or wildly inaccurate and wind up undermining the very thing they try to promote. So when my wife suggested “Risen” for our Friday night flick, I didn’t show a whole lot of enthusiasm.
As it turned out I was pleasantly surprised.
The film focuses on the Resurrection of Jesus but it’s not a reproduction of the biblical narrative, which chronicles the simple step-by-step facts through the pens of his followers. The story instead is told through the eyes of a non-believer called Clavius, a Roman officer under the charge of Pilate. Clavius is given the task of investigating the sudden disappearance of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion, in order to debunk the claim that Jesus is the Son of God.
That’s when the movie starts getting interesting.
Clavius begins his investigation, interviewing a number of key players including Jesus’ disciples, Mary and the Roman soldiers who were given the task of guarding the tomb. He’s not fooled by their story that the disciples came and stole his body while they were asleep (a story perpetrated by the Jewish religious leaders), and he is somewhat perplexed by the obvious transformation (joy and wonder) that he sees on the faces of the disciples, as well as the utter absence of any trace of a body.
His investigation finally takes him into a room where the disciples are gathered where he sees the Risen Jesus sitting right there among them. He stands transfixed and mesmerized by the sight of the very same man he watched die on a cross. Jesus stares at Clavius; the gaze causing him to stagger back and drop his sword. It’s the best scene of the movie. Although it is not in the biblical account, one can imagine this is exactly what would have happened.
There are some things that weren’t done very well. The Roman soldiers appear too flabby, gutless and weak in character. The disciples appear too old (they were likely in their twenties), Jesus looks too American, and the actor who portrayed Pilate failed to portray an individual with a very complex nature who didn’t want to put Jesus to death in the first place and had a deep disdain for the Jewish leaders who manipulated him to carry out the order. A little sharpening on those areas and the film could have had the potential for a 5 star instead of a 3.5.
Putting those things aside, it’s a movie well worth a watch – particularly if you are a sceptic of Christianity and the biblical accounts. It encourages you to be a good detective and do your own homework and come to your own, unbiased conclusion.