Looking for a movie during Holy Week or Easter? We recommend “Risen,” a fresh take on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. “Risen” is seen through the eyes of a Roman tribune, Clavius (well played by Joseph Fiennes), who is assigned to Palestine, the rebellious Roman outpost ruled by Pontius Pilate. We meet Clavius as he and his soldiers put down a Jewish uprising. They come back to Jerusalem, victorious but bloodied, bearing their wounded and dead, and wanting only to rest from battle.
The 1st century Clavius is a natural stand-in for most 21st century moviegoers: he’s a careerist . . . he’s a sceptic . . . he has no time for fairy tales.
But Pilate has a pressing need. He summons Clavius to go and finish off the Jewish insurrectionist, Yeshua, who has been crucified. It’s Passover in Jerusalem and Pilate is worried about the mob gathered around the dying rebel. Clavius mounts his horse and sets off to kill the man — in whom he has no interest — and disperse the crowds. Clavius finds three criminals hanging from crosses. Two are dispatched by soldiers who smash their legs. But the man in the middle is different. The Roman soldier who has witnessed his crucifixion is clearly troubled, and even Clavius finds something compelling about the dying man’s gaze. He changes his mind about smashing the man’s legs and orders his heart pierced with a lance instead.
The job done, Clavius goes back to his quarters, only to be summoned once again by Pilate. The emperor is due in a week and Pilate wants peace. The Jewish leaders are worried that this Yeshua, who seemed to to prophecy that he would rise from the dead, might still be causing trouble. They fear that his followers will steal the body and cry, “Resurrection!” What unrest might follow?
So Clavius is ordered to seal the tomb and set a guard over it. He does so on the Jewish Sabbath, and once again tries to forget this troublesome Jew. But, the next morning brings disturbing news: the tomb is empty. The stone, which took seven men to roll into place over the mouth of the tomb, is on the ground. The ropes, which bound the stone, look not to have been cut. Rather, it looks as though the the ropes have “exploded.” Entering the tomb, Clavius finds the burial linens, but they are no longer plain white. He finds on them the imprint of a human face, a human body. They look scorched.
Pilate sends Clavius and his men out to find the body. They go out searching, but what do they find? A knight goes on a quest: “Risen” takes this ancient storyline and gives us a satisfying look at the ancient Easter story. It’s satisfying, in part, because the 1st century Clavius is a natural stand-in for most 21st century moviegoers: He’s a careerist, interested in doing his job and retiring to the good life in the suburbs of Rome. He’s a soldier, so his chosen Roman god is Mars, the one who is most likely to help his career. He’s a sceptic, weary in the way of one who has seen too much corruption and death. He has no time for fairy tales. But the Yeshua he encounters is not like anyone he has ever met, nor anyone he could ever imagine.
“Come, and you will see,” Jesus says to the disciples of John the Baptist who ask him, “Where are you staying?” Like them, Clavius finds himself asking, “Who are you? Where are you from? Where do you live?” And, like them, Clavius, goes. And sees.
This movie is rated PG-13. There is some violence and some graphic scenes of dead and decaying bodies. I saw the movie with a twelve-year old who found “Risen” every bit as engaging as I did. We recommend it for thoughtful teens and all adults.