Risen: a Movie Ruined by Trying to Be a Christian Movie More Than Trying to Be a Good Movie

Risen[Spoiler alerts: I give away the plot]

I don’t write movie reviews because I simply don’t watch that many movies. Several people had told me that Risen was a great movie so I found time to watch it a few days ago. I really liked the first two thirds of the movie as it really shows the struggles of a soldier who is slowly coming to believe that the Resurrection might have really happened rather than the official story that the body was stolen.

About two-thirds of the way through, there is an epic climactic scene where the soldier recognizes the risen Lord is the same person that he saw crucified before. This climactic scene shows the definitive choice of the soldier. As a literary and artistic work, it would have been great to and with Jesus calling his name and maybe one 30-second scene for a dénouement, having a wide variety of choices such as the soldier walking with Jesus, the soldier preaching Jesus, the soldier’s martyrdom, or the soldier in a expressing his choice to another soldier.

Instead, the movie decides to write this soldier awkwardly into Jesus’ appearance in Galilee and his Ascension, broken by a nonsensical and cheesy scene where the Roman authorities send 100 men to search for them, they trace them to a hilltop, and one actually finds him but he is prevented from arresting them.

This reminds me a lot of the Gospel of Mark. The original version probably ended with the centurion saying “Truly, this man was the son of God.” (Mark 15:39) The rest of Mark tries to complete the story by adding information from other places in the New Testament. This addition helps complete the story but takes the oomph out of this statement which Mark left as declarative statement intending to lead the reader to say the same. (Note: I accept the canonical version of Mark but 15:40 onward is most likely done later to simply fill out the story.)

Now the additional information completes the Christian story but in both cases the literary unity of the work is compromised by a desire to get the whole story in. Christians want the completion of the Jesus story in the movie, so Risen gives it to them. One of the previews shown before Risen brings this out because they tell the whole story in the preview rather than leave you in suspense. Movies that are good literary works tell an engaging story but movies that try to be Christian movies first make sure the story is perfect and clean and then don’t worry about how they tell it. Why? Their audience who wants Christian movies doesn’t really care. Let me tell you I care and that’s why I be more discerning to pick up a movie just because it is a “Christian movie.”

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  1. Father, have you ever read “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art” by Madeleine L’Engle? I’ve learned so much from it: first and foremost, that the artist needs to be a servant of the work, following where it leads. Trying to create art to fit a message is really nothing more than propaganda. It sounds like you already knew that, though. Thank you for this.

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