Review: Revisionist look at Mary Magdalene as dull as the landscapes
PUBLISHED: 15:05 16 March 2018
Lion director Garth Davis’s revisionist religious drama, which attempts to wash away the stains of ill repute from Jesus’ devoted disciple, stars Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus.
Mary Magdalene (PG)
Mary Magdalene is one of those religious films that you are never quite sure is religious or not. Hollywood usually prides itself on giving audiences what they want but whenever religion is involved this principle goes out the window.
Even though the films would seem to be aimed at an audience that likes its stories unmucked about with, in recent years they have been given Ridley’s gaudy Moses film Exodus, Darren Aronofsky’s almost sci-fi abstraction of Noah and now this drab rendering of the New Testament.
This version of the Jesus story, from Garth Davis, director of the much loved Lion, gives it a topical ‘Me Too’ twist by concluding with the not-a-prostitute-actually Mary Magdalene explaining the true meaning of Jesus’s teaching to all the male Apostles.
Rooney Mara looks as pretty as an Icon painting in the title role but everything else is dreary and barren. It’s like a Terrence Malick picture without any pretty images; an outdoor passion play performed in rags on some of the dreariest, dustiest terrain in southern Italy.
A bearded, dishevelled Joaquin Phoenix provides a mumblin’ messiah, wrapped up in rags and moving towards a stomach-sucked-in crucifixion. His Jesus doesn’t look a great deal different from his hammer-wielding mercenary in last week’s You Were Never Really Here.
The first hour or so of the film is a wishy-washy workshoppy act of thespian penitence, all loafing and mumblefish. It tortuously dull but if you make it that far the last third does offer an interesting, perhaps provocative, interpretation of the gospel.
Something about Mary Magdalene beyond film controversies
Writers from Nikos Kazantzakis to Dan Brown have explored and reexamined the role of Magdalene, but this version is probably most interesting for how it treats Judas (Tahar Rahim).
Here he is the most enthusiastic of the apostles, beaming with revolutionary zeal at the prospect of a kingdom of heaven being installed here on Earth. His betrayal is prompted by the realisation that the movement he gave up everything for isn’t going to deliver.
Possibly the whole film is about this disenchantment. At the end, all the male apostles have to face their disappointment in discovering that the promises about justice and the overthrow of tyranny they’d assumed were meant literally were actually much more metaphorical and whimsical.