I’m not a film buff. I can’t spot subtle character nuances in films or speculate on what directors were trying to subconsciously communicate. But I do love a good movie with a clever plot and Risen (which I saw tonight) is just that.
It tells the story of Clavius, a high-ranking Roman official serving under Pilate’s rule. Clavius and his men had the grim task of removing bloodied and beaten corpses from crosses after the offenders had been crucified. Even for experienced soldiers, this was a gruesome job; pulling nails from broken limbs or taking the remains to a fly-infested paupers’ grave pit nearby. Removing the body of Jesus, or ‘the Nazarene’ as he’s called in the film, was one of their projects.
Clavius is not a believer. He thinks the whole idea of one God is ridculous, but he is still a man of conscience who feels wearied by bloodshed and yearns for just ‘one day where there is no death’. Having seen the bloodstained, flogged body of Jesus being taken down from the cross, Clavius knows that Jesus is dead. He saw him breathe his last breath. So when 3 days later, the body of Jesus disappears, with rumours that he may have somehow come back to life, Pilate sets Clavius the unenviable task of finding the body.
The story of Clavius is fiction but it runs neatly alongside the Biblical account of the in-between days after the crucifixion and before Jesus ascended to Heaven. It’s beautifully told, probably all the more because Clavius is a sceptic. People don’t die in front of you…and then 3 days later, come back to life. They just don’t.
I have to admit, I’m usually disappointed by the slightly insipid character of Jesus in most Biblical epics. I’ve yet to watch a film about Jesus, where the character is normal, relatable, warm and so like the Jesus that I know. But you know what, Risen cracked it. This Jesus was strong, friendly, genuine, relatable, the real friend who understands the bits of us which need to be fully known and loved, in spite of our doubts and insecurities. In one scene, Jesus asks Clavius, ‘what are you afraid of?’ And then He waits for the answer before gently telling Clavius what he’s really thinking.
It’s a great film – it recounts the greatest story ever told, but from the perspective of a battle-wearied cynic. The film has its grim moments, as you might expect from a movie which centres around a Roman execution, but it’s also clever, engaging and who knew the Sanhedrin could actually be funny?
It’s out in cinemas on March 18 – it’s well-worth the price of a ticket. Take someone who doesn’t know the story and tell them about the Jesus you know.