“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped
for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Too often, Jesus films are low-budget, are done with
something less than A-list actors, and carry that off-putting
bathrobe-and-sandals-church-Christmas-pageant kind of awkward
amateurism. Not so “Risen.”
The main character, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), is a Roman
tribune, under the employ of the Governor, Pontius Pilate (an oozy
Peter Firth), around 33 A.D., yes, that propitious time when the
rabble-rouser Jesus of Nazareth was summarily executed in
Clavius had just finished skirmishing with some
poorly-armed zealots in some ill-conceived rebellion.
It's not a challenge, really, dispatching untrained
militia, no matter how zealous, but the constant unrest puts the
Roman garrison in a state of unease.
They dare not go anywhere unaccompanied, and as unpopular
occupation troops, they can be as brutal with the populace as they
want, but they can't expect fawning cooperation.
Pilate, for his part, is preoccupied with the upcoming
visit of The Emperor (a plot device not historically likely), and
the last thing he wants is for it to appear that things are out of
control out here in the provinces.
So when Caiphas, the chief priest of the Jews, comes to him
with some cockamamie fear about the Nazarene's followers stealing
the body and claiming a resurrection, Pilate, attempting to
placate, sets an armed guard at the tomb, dispatching Clavius
himself to supervise the sealing of the heavy rock around it.
That's why Clavius is really surprised to find that the
sealed stone appears to have blown out of the cave, and the ropes
not merely cut but frayed as if from some internal explosion
coming from inside the tomb. But
how would that be possible? Questioning
the guards doesn't seem to help; they were sleeping off a drunk,
or maybe they saw bright lights, even they're not sure, and
they've obviously been paid (presumably by Caiaphas) to claim that
they were overpowered, and the Nazarene's disciples stole the
Pilate orders Clavius to find the body, which forces him to
search in the Golgatha boneyard (which stinks every bit as much as
expected), and other recent Jewish graves (the natives don't
appreciate the disinterrments, either).
Clavius himself had seen the Nazarene dead on the cross, so
he's not believing any resurrection story, not unless he sees for
Here's where the movie departs from not only the Gospel
accounts, but, in my opinion, from good faith-based storytelling.
In my view, it would have been much more effective had
Clavius somehow come to the faith by virtue of his investigation,
where he talked to Mary Magdelene, and Nicodemus, and eventually
the disciples themselves.
But the moviemakers decide to make things so obvious to
Clavius that he can hardly have any doubts:
he actually sees the Risen Jesus, both when He is forgiving
Thomas for doubting, and showing him the holes in His hands and
side, but also by the seashore, when He directs the hungry
apostles to cast their net on the other side, after not catching
anything all night, and suddenly the net is teeming with fish.
And then Clavius gets to “rescue” the disciples from
pursuing Roman soldiers? Clavius even gets to “hang out” by
himself with the Risen Jesus after everyone else is asleep, but
merely says, “I can't think of any questions to ask you.”
Jesus asks him, “What are you afraid of?”
Indeed, it would seem that the makers of this film were
afraid that unless they made it overwhelmingly obvious, nobody
could possibly believe the fantastic story of the resurrection of
Jesus. Ah, but that's
precisely what believers have been doing ever since, and are
called upon to do, even now.
Sure, it might be nice to see “proof.”
But then, the necessity for faith disappears.
It seems to me that a really good “faith-based” movie
about Jesus missed a grand opportunity.