risen

TV spots say that Risen gets it right, that the events describe are according to the Bible. Well, generally speaking, they are. The movie would make a great double-billing with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. 

Where that film ends with a shot of feet walking out of the tomb, Risen (mostly) picks up right after Jesus' death and burial and follows the story through the next forty days. When the Sanhedrin demands a sealed and guarded tomb, Pilate assigns a soldier named Clavius to supervise. When the broken seal, burst ropes, and empty tomb indicate something has happened to the body, he must track down the Nazarene's followers to try to find the stolen body. An anxious Pilate needs a body in hand prior to an approaching visit from the Emperor.

What the viewer watches next is a procedural crime investigation. Who stole the body? Why do the guards not speak truthfully about what they saw? (The script has an ingenious way of revealing that the guards are not telling Clavius the truth about what they saw.) For the first half the film, Clavius is trying to discover the truth that is out there somewhere. This approach is fascinating because most Christians are so familiar with the story that they find it hard to identify with people who do not jump on board immediately with the fact of a resurrected Christ.

The well-written and researched film presents some careful details. The crucifixion victims' hands are fastened to their crosses at the wrist with each nail covered by a washer to prevent them from pulling loose, certainly more accurate than the standard nail-through-the-palm image. Feet are nailed to each side of the cross rather than crossed over each other at the front. The matter-of-fact disposal of the corpses is jolting. Nails are removed with pliers and corpses are thrown into a common grave not far from the crucifixion site. A little lime shoveled over them hastens their decay. Shades of the Holocaust! The buzzing of flies and other subtle details of the pit are more unsettling than all of the blood and torn flesh which The Passion of the Christ portrayed. I believe this is the first Passion film in which the dead Jesus' eyes are open, an unsettling image I won't soon forget. The intelligent script expects viewers to know that Mars is the Roman god of war, Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom, and the name of the Jewish God is Yahweh, in order to appreciate some of the dialog.

It is the latter half of the film which most deviates from the Gospel accounts. It almost as to do that in order to tell its story of Clavius' first-hand discovery of the truth about the crucified body. In the context of first-century Palestine, it is jarring to hear a line from various TV commercials: "This changes everything." But Christians agree with that statement. It is a truth many have sung in an old favorite: "I once was blind but now I see." But if one has been a Christian for as long as he/she can remember, Clavius' experience may be hard to identify with. Raised in Christianity from the crib, many have not experienced the same struggle which the Resurrected Christ presents to unbelievers. Nevertheless, I will think of Clavius whenever I read from Matthew 28: "When they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted."