Mary Magdalene has had a pretty tough go of it as far as her character has been represented through the years in both the biblical sense and on screen. From her casting as a “sinful woman” by Pope Gregory I, which is what we all think of when we hear her name mentioned, through to the theory popularised in “The Da Vinci Code” that she and Jesus were a couple, Mary has always been shrouded in controversy. This film attempts to tell a different side of Mary, one that is in fact closer to the way she is written the four gospels of the New Testament.
We’re introduced to Mary (Rooney Mara) as she lives her life in the fishing village of Magdala with her family. When Mary doesn’t seem to accept the life that she has laid out for her by her family, they become convinced that she is possibly possessed. Further to this, Mary brings “shame” to her family by attending a church during prayer time set aside for men only. All these incidents of alienation makes Mary’s decision to join with Jesus and his apostles an easy one, as she immediately gains the trust of Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix) and becomes one of his closest confidents as the film takes us through the stories from the new testament that we are all pretty familiar with.
What Mara and Phoenix bring to the film is an uncanny ability to convey emotion without needing much dialogue. A look, or in some cases a glance, can do more than any bit of expository dialogue. The story sticks very closely to the original gospels and the “fallen woman” narrative is totally done away with, as are any hints of a romantic relationship between Mary and Jesus. The film instead focuses on the journey of Jesus through Mary’s eyes, and also brings up the conflict within the apostles in relation to Mary, in particular the tension between Mary and Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
This is a beautifully shot and scored film that doesn’t grandstand in the way religious films have in the past. The big events are portrayed in a very low key manner that works for the film, and the performances are very subtle, particularly the two leads. It’s a film that has the potential to move you, remove the pre-conceived notions of Mary Magdalene, and is one you could be thinking about for some time after watching it.
Words of Kevin Dillon. @kevinwritestuff
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