It’s sometimes been said that the best films about Jesus aren’t ‘Christian’ films at all. This is certainly the case for Mary Magdalene, a mainstream release which contains a surprising and powerful interpretation of the Gospel stories.
The film follows Mary (Rooney Mara), a young woman who isn’t content to live a traditional life. Her family wants her to get married and have children – but she wants to be close to God on her own terms. As she faces abuse and rejection for this choice, she meets a travelling preacher called Jesus of Nazareth (Joaquin Phoenix), and knows that she has found her true calling. She soon finds a place for herself within the movement and at the heart of a journey that will lead to Jerusalem.
For Christians, this beautiful, challenging film offers an opportunity to reflect on the Jesus we think we know. Mary Magdalene portrays the disciples, including Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as well-meaning but often misguided. Some of them question Mary’s place in their group, just as we might question God’s calling on the lives of people who aren’t like us. Like all of us the disciples face the temptation to make Jesus a part of their agenda, rather than embracing a kingdom which will turn their lives upside-down.
The filmmakers behind Mary Magdalene aren’t believers themselves, but perhaps it’s this which allows them to come to the Gospel stories with fresh eyes. They’ve set out to create an imaginative vision of how this key Bible character came to be so ignored and misunderstood. After all, we don’t know much about the real Mary – and what we do know is filtered through years of church history and tradition, most of it written by men.
What we do learn from the Gospels is that she was one of Jesus’s closest followers, present at his death, and the first to see him resurrected. The film sets out to restore her status as a witness and apostle – someone who loved Jesus and was prepared to give up everything to follow him.
Mary Magdalene is released in UK cinemas on 16th March. Damaris Media and Mothers’ Union are guiding the conversation with free church booklets, available at http://www.mothersunion.org/mary-magdalene.
This article comes from Damaris Media, who create free film resources for churches and community groups. Keep up to date on the latest Damaris Media resources by subscribing to our e-newsletter at damarismedia.com.