Arts and Culture

Risen—The Movie

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Author Melinda Penner Published on 02/26/2016

We (most of the STR office staff) just got back from seeing the movie Risen. I think it’s one of the best Christian movies I’ve seen, and it’s a movie that would be interesting (and not embarrassing) to bring a non-Christian to. There’s one omission, but it’s a significant one.

The Roman tribune Clavius is Pilate’s right hand keeping order in Jerusalem. So on Friday afternoon, Pilate sends him out to Golgotha to finish up the crucifixions taking place. He’s there to make sure everyone is dead and is surprised to find Jesus already dead.

On Saturday, Pilate calls on him to secure the tomb Jesus is buried in to appease the Jewish leaders’ concerns about His body being stolen. It’s interesting how the character of Clavius is used to walk through the evidence—the overwhelming evidence—why Jesus is dead and the tomb is secure. There’s no question a demoralized rabble is getting into that tomb.

Pilate sends him out to the tomb on Sunday to investigate how the tomb was opened and the body stolen. Clavius is an intelligent man and begins a thorough investigation. He examines the evidence at the tomb, and it can’t be explained by a grave robbery. He interviews the witnesses and eventually interrogates Mary Magdalene and Bartholomew. Bartholomew has a silly smile on his face. Some of our staff thought that made him seem silly. I thought that if He’d actually seen Jesus alive after mourning his death that he would be giddy and have a smile nothing could wipe off his face. Clavius is finally confronted with incontrovertible evidence, and he’s literally stunned.

The movie doesn’t leave it inconclusive for the audience to decide. The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is about facts and reality, not subjective opinion. That’s a unique take for a movie about Jesus and, I think, one of the most significant things about this movie. It’s consistent with the Bible’s claims about the resurrection. It happened. He was physically resurrected, not a specter or spiritual presence. The reality and Clavius’ response to it aren’t left open for the audience to decide for themselves. It happened, and there’s ample rational evidence to believe that.

Early in the movie, it’s clear Clavius is a pluralist. He’s a typical Roman—there are many gods and it’s subjective which ones you pray to. Even Yahweh is one more in the pantheon, no more true or superior to the others. But what Clavius confronts in the evidence he finds is objective truth. It calls for abandoning all the other gods and following the true way. This is very similar to our own culture now. Kind of amazing that we have so much in common with the Romans. This is the Christian message—a claim about reality and truth.

I liked the disciples’ joy. That would be the response to seeing the man they loved alive again. They are changed men and not afraid of anything, ready to obey His Great Commission.

The one omission is the Gospel—the reason Jesus suffered that tortuous death and then rose to defeat death. Forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with the Father. It’s one detail, but it’s a glaring omission. The message we hear Jesus teach in the movie is love. There were a few great moments in the movie where a simple exchange of words could have conveyed Jesus’ purpose. The movie does convey that the evidence compels a decision about Jesus.

The movie goes the whole length of the course and then stumbles an inch from the finish line. But it may as well be a mile because of the significance of that omission.

It’s well worth seeing. The violence isn’t too graphic, so it’s suitable for older children. It does what so many portrayals of Jesus’ life don’t do—it deals in the realm of facts and reality. But Jesus’ message wasn’t about loving each other. It was about how great the Father’s love that He gave His only begotten Son to take the penalty of our sin so we could enjoy reconciliation with Him.