FILM REVIEW:  RISEN – A Powerful, Fresh Look At The Risen Lord Jesus Christ

NOVI, MI -  This movie takes a look at them traumatic, gruesome execution of Christ through the eyes of a Roman soldier. It is grim. At times you will not want to look at the screen because of the lack of humanity and compassion. It is hard to fathom  life like this on a day to day basis. Even though you know it is just a film you cannot tear your eyes away from the screen. Between the ugliness, the grit, and the senseless brutality there is forgiveness and beauty.

The story centers on Clavius, (Joseph Clavius) , a Roman Centurian soldier, who is callous, crude and violent. Above all he is committed to the Roman Empire and to Caeser.  He wanders through the wilderness and his lips are cracked from the blistering heat and lack of water. That is how the film opens and I cannot figure out where he is coming from. He staggers to a lone house and makes his way in. He is processing the events that have changed his life. He is trying to make sense of it. Clavius has been through a historic ride and has come face to face with Christ.

From there the film rolls backwards and shows the brutal life of Clavius and his role in the crucifixion. The story has been told many times on film but this time there is another dimension of suffering and darkness. That comes through in the audio. This is the only time I can remember hearing flies buzzing around at Golgotha, the place of the Skull, the site of the crucifixion. You do not have to be introduced to the characters to know who they are. Instantly you can recognize Mary, Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdelene. They are wrought with tears and are inconsolable. It is a deep eternal sadness that they – and the rest of the world – has never known. Your heart will sink at the sight of them. The crucified men around Jesus are actually crying in agony. They are not the stoic actors in previous adaptations. Clavius and his men are watching the “proceedings” and are showing no emotion. It is just another day at the office for them.  There is an earthquake and a large crack appears in the palace walls.

I know by this point I have stepped into dangerous waters. This wouldn’t be like the other films I have seen.

This latest offering is from director Kevin Reynolds, (Waterword, Robin Hood Prince of Theives) and he takes us into a very introspective journey that is all too real. You really feel like you are there with the people. Something catastrophic has occurred. Jesus Christ was executed by the people, there was a mob in the streets, and disciple Judas Iscariot had killed himself.  Those scenes are not illustrated here in this production but that is the history. You can feel them – mere echoes in the films silent moments.  Clavius has to wrestle with all of these events in his moments of quiet thoughts and anguish. He is living in some sort of circus….. a bad dream… and he is in the center of it. Pontius Pilate wants answers because something else has gone wrong. The body of Christ has disappeared from the tomb.

Why is this a big deal?

With the body of Christ missing it will only add to the belief that he has truly risen up to Heaven. This is going to create a disruption in the balance of power. There will be more believers there will be more people wanting to turn to the ways of Christ. This is bad for the Roman Empire.  The thought here is that some of the Christians had come in the night and have stolen the body. Clavius returns to the scene of the crime. The tomb is indeed empty and something or someone has rolled back the enormous stone wheel that guards the tomb. Inside of the empty tomb is the Shroud of Turin. The ropes that sealed the tomb, along with the red wax seal of the Empire, has been ripped to pieces. The ropes were not cut but looked as if they had burst apart. This is the only time I have seen this scenario played out as an investigative crime scene.

The guards who were hired to watch the body of Christ were tracked down at a local pub. It is there that Clavius learns what really happened the night Christ was taken from the tomb. There is a story about a great light and strong beings that ripped the rope into pieces. These are mighty angels. The guard telling the story is emotional as he is telling of how helpless he was against this mighty force. They took the body and went up leaving the tomb empty. Clavius has to go back to Pilate with this story.  The clock is ticking here and Pilate is under scrutiny from not only the local Pharisees but from Ceaser who is coming to inspect the events for himself. These individuals demand to see a physical body.

The scenes that follow come to us from the various moments in the Gospel. Clavius tracks down the living Disciples who are in hiding and there he comes across the living Lord…. Restored, smiling and welcoming.  There are no signs of the traumatized figure we see in the beginning of the film but a renewed person.

We start to examine our own consciousness to the Christ story as an audience. We identify our own short comings of belief in various instances of these incredible events. At which point do we stop believing? What parts do we accept as undeniable truth? And more importantly, where do we as individuals draw the line? Or, do we go all the way and follow the message and even go as far as to live the message? We are part Clavius too in this flim. We approach the impossible through his eyes and are on the journey. But just how far are you as an audience member prepared to go?

It is one thing to read the Gospel and the New Testament for yourself and another thing to see its most gruesome parts reenacted. We see bodies dug up from lime pits in various states of decomposition and see rotting flesh and bone as the search continues for the body of Christ. We are also confronted with a real case of a leper. Again, it is one thing to read about them but another to see one recreated for the film. I couldn’t fathom the monstrosity of the person depicted in the film. I wasn’t prepared to see people throw stones at this person and scream obscenities and for the lack of humanity. Christ walked up to the man and placed his hands on him and healed him completely. A face that wasn’t even recognizable had transformed to someone who was humble and grateful. Claviius is bewildered and continues to walk with the group.

Christ disappears from time to time during this reunion. Sometimes he appears on the beach where he tells his men, “try throwing your net on the right side of the boat”. It is there they catch enough fish to feed an army. This type of appearance happens to those who study His Word. God and Christ are one and will appear to you at the most unexpected times.  The faithful will always be on the lookout for him to show up as he is still doing this today.

Clavius sits on a sand dune with Christ looking up at the stars while the other men are sleeping. Jesus is smiling and looking up at the starry sky and asks, “What troubles you?”.  How can we as audience relate to this question along with Clavius. Most of us have never killed anyone or have done the horrible things Clavius has done as a Centurian soldier. But all of us have something that we need to correct or fix to be in alignment with the Almighty. That question can go out to us as well. At what part of the film are we spectators and at what part do we become participants?

The message was profound then. It is profound now. God’s message never changes. This generation needs to be reintroduced to His Holy Grace. This film is part of a new wave of Christian based films that are full of hope, message, and life changing information  if we are willing to accept it. As brutal as the narrative is there is incredible beauty and depth in here. This film invites a second viewing.





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