Watching Mary Magdalene was like being in a dream. I didn’t want to wake up.
Rooney Mara (Tanner Hall, the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street) plays Mary in this controversial documentation of the ministry of Jesus as seen by the 13th disciple – a woman. Typically, Mary Magdalene is known in modern Christianity as a ‘sinful woman’, or a prostitute. After watching the movie I did some research on it, and it turns out that this is actually a misconception.
Many Christians believe that Mary Magdalene was the sinful woman that anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, but actually, this woman is unnamed. Mary does anoint Jesus, but it’s in a different time and place. The truth is, Mary Magdalene is present in the gospels in two significant roles (which were probably underplayed since she was a woman): she was a disciple of Jesus that left her life in Galilee to follow him, and she was a primary witness to his death and resurrection.
I’m a Christian. So when I walked into the screening I guess I couldn’t help but have some preconceived ideas (but then I guess anyone who isn’t a Christian would too?). But I tried my hardest to have a totally open mind. I thought, “I’ll appreciate the movie for what it is, no matter about the ‘accuracy’ of the theology, etc.”
I’ve watched Jesus movies that get the storyline of Jesus’ life in the right order according to the Bible, and document all the miracles ‘correctly’. This wasn’t that.
It was a beautiful, ethereal experience. I say experience because my skin prickled at every knowing look between Jesus and Mary, I could almost physically feel the textured cloth that they wore and slept on, and taste the bread they broke together. When the opening shot of a screaming woman in labor bombarded me, I wanted to writhe in pain with her. When they tried to cast so-called demons out of Mary by nearly drowning her, I spilled tears in pain for her. Everything was sensory.
I believed Mary. I was sold on her. I believed Jesus too, but I wasn’t as sold on him. Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Her) plays a fairly somber Jesus with a tiny bit of spark. But his muted tiredness is made up for in Mara’s passionate performance of Mary: a woman who rebels against the restrictive life imposed on her by her society. Who leaves her life of safety in Galilee and risks everything to follow Jesus.
Who was given the title of ‘sinful woman’, until now.
Seeing this story, which I’ve heard and read hundreds of times growing up, through a woman’s lens, was life-changing. I could relate, finally. Not that I can’t relate to men, but there was something different and powerful about watching someone more like me encounter Jesus. I felt like I was part of the narrative, rather than watching from a distance.
Mary Magdalene’s is a new perspective. If you’ve read the Bible, you will find things to pick at in the storyline, inconsistencies with Biblical text. You will find what you want to find. But I hope that you find that the movie’s unmistakable message of love is the thing that matters more than whether it shows Judas trading Jesus for 30 pieces of silver or not.
Some people might think this movie misses the mark, but I think it hits the mark that matters most.