Sunday, 1 April 2018

Mary Magdalene Film Review

I saw the Garth Davis directed Mary Magdalene film this week, a re-telling of the story of Jesus leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. But for Easter this is Mary's story. The film was beautifully shot with the iridescent Rooney Mara playing Mary of Magdala. With gorgeous costumes by Jacqueline Durran, Rooney looked like she was dressed in haute couture style 33AD. The linens and wool fabrics with delicate embroidery designs were stunning.

While the women work hard fishing and mending the nets near Galilee, the men are at pray, or listening to the new preacher who has rocked up in town. Life for women is hard and their lives are not their own. And the family, the men anyway, now believe that single Mary should be wed. Not keen on the idea she goes to pray fervently at the synagogue among the scholars.

Embarrassing for her family, who believe she is filled with bad spirits, in a surprise exorcism one night she is half drowned, to make her a good and obedient woman. Until having second thoughts her father Elisha, played by the always terrific TchĂ©ky Karyo, stops the men gathered. The preacher is brought to her and he comforts her with his quiet words of wisdom. Of course we know the preacher is Jesus of Nazareth. Played by Joaquin Phoenix, who is such an interesting actor, and watching him made me think of brother River, and how these two men would have bestrode the acting world with their mega talent.

Joaquin's Jesus is the leader of this new cult. Christianity is offering something different to its followers. You're poor and downtrodden but will live in the Kingdom of Heaven. As a teenager I went to hear Billy Graham speak on his UK tour in the 1980s. For almost a week of events. And it was very persuasive. I remember my Mother worried I was being converted to a Christian cult. And although we went weekly to Church my sudden devotedness was just because of a boy!

Mary is baptised and compelled to join Jesus with his male disciples, and I wondered if this is why she was considered a prostitute. Following this man and being cast out, as her family tell her will happen. But I prefer to believe that Mary here was looking for something deeper in her life, and finds it with Jesus. Maybe she was just attracted to the man all those years ago. For love and a marriage we don't see. And Mary does seem to cast a spell on Jesus. Spending time alone with him and asking him questions about his faith that none of his disciples have asked. Chiwetel Ejiofor's Peter believes that Mary has affected Jesus, weakened him and his message. But Tahar Rahim's Judas is helpful and kind towards her. They see themselves as soldiers who will rise up with the people against the Romans. But we are a long way from that as Jesus goes about his quiet business raising Lazarus from the dead, being mobbed by the crowd, and Mary being used to encourage other women to join the cult. Although raising the dead is pretty persuasive as to someone's credentials. And the Messiah is born.

But the film is leading us to Jerusalem, and when Jesus and his followers arrive the disciples who were sent there have spread the word. I was waiting for Hosanna from Jesus Christ Superstar as they entered with palms waving. There is an ominous Last Supper, but only we know what will follow. And Judas gives Jesus up to force his hand, and start the revolution. Not for the 30 pieces of silver we have been told. But there is no revolution and the disciples scatter. Judas is heartbroken.

Mary follows Jesus bearing his cross, and we watch the agony on his face as the painful nails are hammered in. And after his death when he is carried to his resting place, stones seal the entrance, with Mary still waiting. This time alone. And when she wakes the entrance is open and Jesus is beatific in his white robes.

Amazed that Jesus has risen Mary believes that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now, and tells the other disbelieving disciples. And I couldn't help thinking of the richest 1% and how they are living their luxury life here on Earth. It really is true for them, the Kingdom of Heaven is now. But I cannot believe that God exists as the world is. And that the 99% will see anything better in the afterlife. If there is a god then he's a poor defender of his people.

But I very much enjoyed the film even if I don't really believe in the story.

John Legend the musical superstar will be playing Jesus in the live musical Jesus Christ Superstar on NBC tonight. And it is on tour around the US. Without John though.

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