Did Hollywood Ruin The Resurrection? A Review of the New Movie Risen by: Jonathan Morrow

Did Hollywood Ruin The Resurrection? A Review of the New Movie Risen

I had my whispered hopes but couldn’t be certain until I saw the evidence for myself. I had heard rumors…but could this really be true? Could Sony pictures be associated with a film on the resurrection of Jesus that was actually recognizably Christian that didn’t reinvent the ancient Gospel narratives into a sensationalized and cheesy script with poor acting?

Yes! The PG-13 rated Risen delivers at multiple levels and I am excited to share the good news with you this Easter season. Boasting actors like Tom Felton as Lucius (you will know him as Draco Malfoy form the Harry Potter movies) and starring Joseph Fiennes (American Horror Story, Enemy at the Gates, and Shakespeare in Love) as Clavius, this film is well acted. (Watch the trailer here).

Like other movie reviewers I have grown accustomed to B-grade Christian movies—well-intentioned—but not up to the quality of other major productions.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for Christian movies made for an evangelical Christian audience. But we also need movies that can capture the imagination of a post- and even anti-Christian culture—even for a few minutes. Because like it or not we are a culture of entertained skeptics.

Charlotte Allen wrote in her review of Risen published in the Wall Street Journal that:

“Nothing says cultural marginalization of Christians like the phrase “faith-based films.” The connotations: mediocre acting, directing and writing; cut-rate production values; and, most of all, niche product.”

And that sums up the common perception of Christian movies pretty well, but then she adds “‘Risen’ largely avoids melodramatic cliché…” and the title of her article is telling “A ‘Faith-Based Film’ Rises Above the Usual.” That’s not bad from someone inclined not to like Risen.

My Observations

Having spent a lot of time studying about and teaching on the historical evidence for the resurrection there’s a lot that could be said about Risen, but here are just a few of my thoughts.

First, the film had the ring of authenticity to it and did an overall good job with the historical aspects surrounding the fate of Jesus of Nazareth. Notice I didn’t say a perfect job. But that is not a slight because there is always a difference when translating a narrative to the medium of film and putting it on the big screen. Risen also succeeds in the historical imagination category. You couldn’t have a good movie without filling in some of the gaps in details to tell a compelling story. It didn’t trivialize or sensationalize the event and had the ring of a genuine historical timepiece even down to the Roman soldier burial practices.

Second, I think people familiar with the Gospel accounts included in the Bible would recognize important details (e.g., Joseph of Arimathea and the honorable burial of Jesus, the cover up by the Jewish leadership that the disciples had stolen the body, the fact that the dominant view of 1st century Jews was that the Messiah would be a military leader and overthrow Roman occupation, the gruesome practice of crucifixion, and key witnesses like Simon Peter and Mary Magdalene). It leads the viewer along and didn’t hit you over the head with everything.

Next, the violence in the movie is what earned it a PG-13 rating. But having seen it, I would put it in the category of “appropriately violent” (with the vast majority of the violence in the first 1/3 of the movie). It’s hard to have Roman soldiers, a Jewish revolt, and crucifixion scenes without some images that are gruesome (Parents Note: You will need to know your younger child to know if they are ready for this kind of realistic violence but a teenager could definitely see this film).

Also, I want to highlight that this film is “skeptic friendly” and is told through the eyes of a skeptic. You follow the trail of the evidence with Clavius. The production value is very good and believable and the acting is also well done.

Lastly, Risen signals what I hope will be the beginning of a positive trend in Hollywood making movies that are closer to the biblical accounts but that are also good movies. People will go see them and spend money. But more importantly, Risen also leaves the viewer emotionally moved and with a positive view of the evidence for the most important event in human history. As a Christ-follower I was moved on several occasions as I thought the film accurately captured important emotional moments often missed in other films about the resurrection (e.g., the disciples breaking bread together on the run and the interaction with the risen Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee). This adds to the earthiness and humanness of this event as well.

Overall Risen is powerful movie that captured the complexities of people with different lenses and motivations trying to reconcile the events surrounding he crucifixion of Jesus and subsequent search for the missing body. I can honestly say Hollywood came through on this one! (That’s rare!)

Now that you have seen the movie, why don’t you explore the real historical evidence for yourself and come to your own conclusion.

And while you’re at it, invite a friend along with you.

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