By Caroline Smith
For those who have often wondered what the first Christians were like, and how they behaved and felt in the aftermath of the crucifixion, Kevin Reynolds’ Risen offers a fresh perspective, looking at these days through the eyes of an unusual witness.
Coming 12 years after The Passion of the Christ, a controversial film on the same subject, Risen handles the material with a much gentler touch, giving an insight into the fear, uncertainty but ultimate faith of the disciples, and the reason for this faith.
While other accounts show Jesus’ life and teachings leading up to his death, the film opens with this already having happened, and its initial focus is on the political turmoil and uncertainty facing Roman and Jewish authorities as a result.
Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes) is a tribune tasked by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) with overseeing the burial of Jesus (pronounced ‘Yeshua’ throughout the film), and damping down any talk of ‘rising again’, as discussed by his followers.
With the emperor Tiberius due to arrive in Jerusalem in the coming weeks, both Pilate and the Saducees are eager to see the end to this ‘cult’ and its impact on the city.
After a harrowing scene at the crucifixion, Clavius allows Joseph of Arimathea to bury the body according to Jewish custom, and has a Roman seal installed at the crypt to ensure protection. But when the body – and the soldiers guarding it – go missing, he must track down and interrogate Jesus’ disciples to find out what has happened.
From here, the story turns to focus more on these followers, and although they are all very different (Joseph of Arimathea quietly loyal, Bartholomew inspired and expressive, and Mary of Magdalene defiant), we learn two things: that their encounters with Jesus have changed them profoundly, and they are confused and uncertain about what happens next.
Slowly, Clavius comes to realise that the story is more complex than he had imagined, and lets the disciples go, while continuing to gather evidence.
During this time, we see a change in Clavius, as he moves from a world-weary soldier with a tacit loyalty to the god of war, Mars, to one who calls on the ‘God of the Hebrews’ to help him find the truth.
However, an unexpected discovery sets the tribune on a distinctive path, as he cannot reconcile what he has seen at the crucifixion and afterwards. From here, we follow him through the Judean desert and towards the sea, finding the disciples in their natural setting, as fishermen.
The conversations and events that Clavius witnesses now lead him closer to the disciples, who have become increasingly confident in their mission. This is perhaps best exemplified by Simon Peter, who moves from a position of confusion to one of certainty, saying ‘How can I do anything else now?’
Risen is directed by Kevin Reynolds, who wrote it in collaboration with Paul Aiello and Karen Janszen. It is rated PG-13, and will be in cinemas on 18 February.