Mary Magdalene- oh no Mary!
If we are approaching Easter than it must be time for another film of the Passion. Mary Magdalene is that film for 2018 and in a nutshell it is a real disappointment.
Written for the #MeToo times that we are currently living through, it is a revisionist view of the Gospel stories and especially the role and character of Mary Magdalene herself.
Written by Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett it goes back to the Gospels and especially what are known as the Gnostic (unauthorised to you and me) writings that indicated that Mary was a major and senior Disciple of Jesus- and not the Prostitute or ‘fallen woman’ that Christians had been brought up to believe down the generations. As a Christian myself, I have no difficulty over these twin arguments although her role as a senior disciple can be over stated – see Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code to see the ultimate heresy!
As Mary, Rooney Mara (The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo) is the stand out performer playing the Magdalene as an independent and forceful young woman who is trying to find her place in the world. People (mostly men) interpret her wishes and actions as a sign of madness and in a scene which is not that far from abuse they try and drown the Devil out of her. The Gospels of Luke & Mark refer to her having “seven demons” cast out of her of course. Mary withstands this brutal treatment and goes to find her future by leaving her family.
This leads to her meeting Jesus and his Disciples. Now in this tale, Jesus is played by real life boyfriend of Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix- who is better known for his performance as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. And this is the problem. As Jesus, Phoenix plays him as a kind of drifting philosopher who is reliant on his disciples to tell him what to believe, think and do- rather than as the Son of God who was on a critical mission for mankind. You wonder why people would follow him as Phoenix’s Jesus is so insipid and uninspiring. His disciples include Chiwetel Ejifor as Peter and a very impressive Tahar Rahim as Judas- playing him as much as an Agent of God than as pure traitor.
Mary Magdalene does not loyally follow the biblical texts and cuts out major parts of the story to tell its own tale, so for example we have a scene where Mary is asked by other women whether they should obey their husbands or God.
Overall, I found the movie a disappointment. There is a big film waiting to be made about Mary but to understand her you need to understand Jesus, and you cannot see why she did what she did for Phoenix’s Jesus. The photography in the film is though splendid and you see some great views in Southern Italy where the movie was largely filmed, but that apart it is quite drab and it may instead be worth waiting for Mel Gibson’s sequel to his Passion of the Christ which is in the works….